31 August 2015

Review: The New Book of the Month Club

Book Of The Month ClubDo you remember the Book of the Month (BOM) Club? I have been a member off and on most of my adult life, so I was excited to see they've revamped and are making it more appealing than ever to be a member.

When given the opportunity, I accepted advanced access to their updated program because I was curious about the club's new look. The current program includes an impressive committee of judges, an online forum, and an easy way to pick which book you'd like to read every month. It's great to see this book-lovers' institution enter the new century.

How does it work? On the first of every month, BOM announces the judges' five current book selections. Members then have about six days to log in to the site, read about the selections, and pick the book they want to read that month. All books (hardcovers) are shipped at the same time (on the 10th of the month). After you've had a chance to start reading, you can log in to the club forum, where you can discuss the book with other members. Sometimes the BOM judge joins the conversation and sometimes even the author pipes in! This means you can participate in the new BOM almost as you would a traditional book club, if you'd like.

Thank You, Goodnight by Andy AbramowitzWho are the judges? The panel of twelve judges consists of award-winning authors (like Emily St. John Mandel), print journalists (like Christopher Cox from Harper's magazine), and online journalists (like Liberty Hardy, from Book Riot). For those who keep track: Most of the committee are women and (based on their profile images) there is one person of color.

What is the cost? If you want to try BOM on a month-by-month basis, the cost is $16.99 per month (for a hardcover book, shipping, and access to the website and forums). If you commit to three months, the cost is $39.99 ($13.33 per month), and the yearly plan costs $99.99 ($8.33 per month).

What did I read? I picked Andy Abramowitz's Thank You, Goodnight, selected by Judge Liberty Hardy.

My quick take: After nearly twenty years as a lawyer, a middle-aged man is unexpectedly inspired to write music again and revive his once-famous rock band. Can the foursome still make a hit album? This is a fun and funny look at trying to regain one's youth.
I'm glad I picked Thank You, Goodnight because I'm not sure I would have read it otherwise. My only disappointment is that this is the only BOM August selection that doesn't have an active discussion on the forum, so I wasn't able to take advantage of that feature--although, to be fair, I didn't have to wait to see what others were saying, I could have started a discussion myself. (See below for the other August selections.)


What's my recommendation? I encourage you to check out the new Book of the Month Club. It's a terrific way to learn about newish books; to connect with other readers, book journalists, and authors; and to buy hardcover books at a decent discount. Based on my past experiences with the BOM, they have a responsive customer service and are a reliable and trusted source for book lovers. Read the Book of the Month Club's FAQ for details on how the program works.

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29 August 2015

The Kitchen Journals: Late Summer Food Obsessions

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 Kitchen Journal @ www.BethFishReads.comThis has been an odd kind of week in my kitchen. First, the ten-day county fair is in full swing and we went over two nights to basically eat our way through it. We get all the forbidden foods: fries, sausage sandwiches, cinnamon buns, deep-fried chicken, peach dumplings with ice cream, pork sandwiches, lemonade, and all the rest of the wonderful-tasting, bad-for-you treats. Hey, it's only once a year, right?

As a consequence, the nights we ate at home were rather spartan in a silly effort to combat the fair food. I'm not quite sure why we all think we have to do that. Anyway, we had mostly vegetable dishes: stir-fries, soups, chilies, and that kind of thing. All this was made easy because I had a lot of great veggies from the farmers market to play with.

In fact, this is one of my favorite food seasons and here are just some of my current obsessions.

Prune plums: I just can't seem to get enough of these sweet-tart little fruits. We've bought a half bushel and have been eating them almost all day long. So, so delicious. I need to cook up the rest this weekend and am thinking of a plum claflouti or maybe a plum cake. On the other hand, this plum tart from Ina Garten looks pretty heavenly.

For more sweet and savory recipes using prune plums, check this 2008 NPR article: It's the Time of Year to Go Plum Crazy. That pork looks delicious. . . . Okay, who am I kidding? I know I'm going to be baking up dessert.

Tomatoes: I love, love, love the Juliette tomatoes that are popular at the farmers market right now. They are like a mini Roma -- much meater and more tomato-y than grape tomatoes or regular cherry tomatoes. I've been throwing these into everything from salads and sandwiches to yogurt. And, of course, we can rarely resist picking up one or two whenever we happen to walk through the kitchen.

The orange tomatoes are a low-acid variety and also fairly meaty. I buy an heirloom variety, but I believe there are more modern orange cultivars too. I've used these beauties in salads -- especially a tomato and cucumber dish with a mustard vinaigrette. The rest of them are going into a stuffed cabbage casserole I plan to make Friday night (right after I finish this post).

Peppers: It is hot chili pepper season here in central Pennsylvania, and we adore them. This week I got jalapenos and poblanos. They went into our vegetarian chili, we've roasted them with other veggies to eat over rice, and my husband slices them up to add to his omelets in the morning. The poblanos are a little tricky: the heat doesn't hit you right away. They like to sneak up on you!

If you don't like a ton of spicy, then be sure remove the seeds and ribs, where most of the heat resides. And please, please, please wear kitchen gloves when handling these babies to avoid feeling like your fingers are on fire. Also: never rub your eyes or touch "delicate" body parts after handling hot peppers! Our irresistible way of eating hot peppers is to make these grilled poppers.

Apples: Apples? Yes, apples. I love summer apples. And if you think you aren't an apple fan, then I'm guessing you don't buy your apples straight from an apple grower. In fact, I think of apples in the same way as I do tomatoes: those red things you buy at the grocery store don't taste anything at all like the real fruit. Farm fresh apples are definitely one of my obsessions, and we buy different varieties each week from August through November, when our outdoor market closes.

For me, the tarter the better, and this week, Summer Rambos are my apple of choice. These are crisp and tart and heavenly. My husband wants a little bit sweeter, so we also got Paula Reds, which are very similar to McIntosh apples, but crisper. The lighter green apples are a new one for us: Ginger-Golds, which are crisper and tarter than Golden Delicious, but juicy and the sweetest of the three we got. We'll eat the apples as is, saving the baking for fall.

What are your current food obsessions?

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27 August 2015

Getting to Know You: 2 Nonfiction Recommendations

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah HepolaBlackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola: Blackout is a brutally honest look at life under the influence of alcohol. From her first sip of beer at the age of seven through most of the following thirty years, Hepola's world revolved around drinking. She wasn't a homeless, deadbeat drunk; instead she had a respectable job, meeting her writing and editing deadlines with the help of a bottle or two. In the after-work hours, however, she often drank herself into blackouts, waking up in a stranger's bed or with no recollection of how she got home. In her frank, straightforward memoir, Hepola writes of her love of drink, her deepest insecurities, and her fear of becoming sober. This can't-stop-reading memoir gives alcoholism a context within Gen X sociocultural pressures and post-feminism expectations. (Grand Central Publishing, 2015, ISBN: 9781455554591)

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail SantamariaJoy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria: The poet Joy Davidman is best remembered for her brief marriage to C. S. Lewis, beloved author of the Narnia series. Santamaria's well-wrought biography, based in part on unpublished family papers and letters, focuses on Davidman's struggle to overcome her sheltered childhood to find her own footing, both professionally and spiritually. Although she was successful as a writer, Davidman didn't find deeper fulfillment until she was exposed to Lewis's books on Christianity. After years of correspondence with the famous author and as her first marriage unraveled, she traveled to England, sure that Lewis would return her growing infatuation. Although the two shared an immediate intellectual connection and friendship, several more years would pass before the couple married, just when Davidman was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Santamaria confirms that Davidman deserved her reputation for being aggressive and socially awkward but also details the poet's significant positive influence on Lewis's late work. More important, however, Santamaria makes the case that Davidman should be remembered as a smart, productive, and strong person in her own right, not just as the woman who lured Lewis out of bachelorhood. (Houghton Mifflin, 2015 ISBN: 9780151013715)

NOTE: These short reviews first appeared in Readerly magazine and are reprinted with permission.

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26 August 2015

Wordless Wednesday 356

Pink Flower, 2015


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24 August 2015

Review: Thicker Than Blood by Jan English Leary

Thicker Than Blood by Jan English LearyAndrea Barton has always wanted to be a mother. Now in her late thirties, with no marriage in sight, she decides to adopt a child. When she learns an African American newborn has been abandoned at a church, she goes through the process of first fostering the girl and then adopting her. Andrea hopes her experience as a social worker working with refugees will give her the insight needed to raise a black child in her mostly white world. Is the mother-daughter bond formed when Pearl is a baby strong enough to last a lifetime?

Quick take: Jan English Leary's Thicker Than Blood is a story of three generations of women, each of whom must live with the consequences of their decisions. Families and the ties that hold them are defined by much more than genetics.

Writing style and Andrea: Leary's prose has almost dream-like quality to it, which reflects the way Andrea approaches her home life. Andrea is smart and capable at work, helping families resettle in America after fleeing their former lives, usually because of war or oppressive political circumstances. But in her personal life, Andrea is constantly second-guessing her skills as a mother and her interactions with her sister and mother. She wants the best for her daughter, Pearl, but is often slightly clueless (or blind) to the issues the girl faces at school, especially during the tumultuous teenage years.

The other women: Andrea's sister, Joanne, is interested in money, social status, and having everything just so, which strains her marriage and her relationship with her daughter, Blair. Joanne has trouble warming up to Pearl and doesn't always approve of Andrea's choices. Nancy, the matriarch, adores Pearl, perhaps because she herself was adopted and always felt a little outside the family she grew up in. Blair suffers the consequences of her mother's controlling nature, and Pearl faces many issues as she juggles reality without her mother's rose-colored glasses.

Themes: Thicker Than Blood explores choices and consequences. Among the issues that Leary addresses are adoption, single motherhood, family, siblings, racial relationships, following one's dreams, being impulsive, trying to fit in, and keeping secrets.

What I liked: Leary brings up several topics that makes her Thicker Than Blood a great book club selection, especially with its themes of mixed-race families, sisters, and adoption. The relationships and interactions among the women seemed mostly realistic and showed that no matter how you form a family, you will find both love and problems.

What I didn't like: Although I understand Andrea's general insecurities and how her hopes for Pearl could blind her to some of the issues her daughter faced, I was disappointed that Andrea didn't gain confidence and insight over the years. Nancy had a secret that was, presumably, revealed to Andrea and Joanne by the end of the book. This secret, which readers learn earlier on, helps explain much of Nancy's behavior toward her daughters and granddaughters, but Leary let this drop for a bigger story line involving Pearl. I would have liked to have seen the impact of Nancy's revelation on the sisters.

Recommendation: Jan English Leary's Thicker Than Blood would appeal to readers who are interested in women's relationships, especially in the context of family.

Published by Fomite, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781942515128
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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22 August 2015

Weekend Cooking: Dinner Solved! by Katie Workman

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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Dinner Solved! by Katie WorkmanI was so thrilled to get a copy of Katie Workman's new cookbook, Dinner Solved!, that I've already made three recipes from it and I've owned the book for only four days! Seriously, this book is going to be my best kitchen buddy for the next several months and will remain a close friend for years.

This will come as no surprise to any of you who have tried Workman's first book, The Mom 100 Cookbook (check out my interview/review). And good news: Dinner Solved! includes all the great features of the earlier cookbook plus another hundred easy, delicious, and healthful recipes.

I cannot review any Workman Publishing cookbook without raving about the design. Their book design team is tops. The beautiful photography, easy-to-read fonts, appealing colors, and cute icons make Dinner Solved! a joy look through. (Note: All the photos in this post were scanned from the cookbook; all rights remain with Workman Publishing.)

Of course, pretty gets you nowhere when it comes time to get a meal on the table. Fortunately Workman has you covered, making it easy to feed your whole family. She takes into consideration such factors as different tastes, vegetarian diets, and just plain individual quirks.

The key is her trademark Fork in the Road advice. What is this little piece of brilliance? It's the point at which you can divide your main dish into portions to satisfy both the adventurous eaters and the cautious eaters (or meat-eaters and vegetarians), without having to make two completely different meals and without having to sacrifice your own tastes to please the other diners at your table.

Here's an example: Let's say you're craving shrimp and Mexican, so you decide to make the Shrimp Tacos recipe. You love shrimp but rarely make it because no one else in your house will eat it. No problem. Simply make the tomato-based taco filling, separating out a serving for yourself at the end. Then add chicken to the larger portion and shrimp to the smaller. You all get to eat tacos, everyone is happy, and there was very little extra work for the cook.

Dinner Solved! is full of great advice: cooking tips, ideas for getting the kids involved, make ahead alerts, and more. Even the most timid cook will find the recipes accessible and doable. The ingredients are readily available and mostly fresh, although Workman doesn't hesitate to use a little convenience when it makes sense, as in canned tomato products.

Do not be fooled by the family-oriented slant to the recipes and text. This is a cookbook for everyone, no matter what group is sitting around your dinner table. Just because the meals will appeal to youngsters doesn't mean the dinners are childish. These dishes are flavorful and fresh, with wide appeal.

So what have I made? I made the Lemon-Horseradish Potato Salad (the Fork in the Road is for a more classic dressing), the Spanish Pork Chops (the Fork in the Road is a less spicy version), and the Maple-Barbecue Pork Meatballs (I made the Fork in the Road spicy variation). What else do I have my eye on? Everything! Okay, here are some recipes I have marked to try:
  • Mexican Tortilla Soup
  • Savory Zucchini Puff Pastry Tarts
  • Vegetable Lo Mein
  • Chicken Vegetable Potpie Casserole
  • Sausage, White Bean, and Kale Soup
There are so many great ideas in Dinner Solved!--vegetarian meals, Southwest-inspired dishes, down-home comfort foods, simple pastas, and hearty soups (oh, and appetizers and desserts!)--that I promise you'll find plenty to love in Katie Workman's new cookbook. I'll be turning to Dinner Solved! time and time again; this is a cookbook with staying power.

Maple-Barbecue Pork Meatballs
Serves 6 (makes 42 small meatballs)
  • Canola or vegetable oil, for oiling the pan
  • ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
  • ½ cup barbecue sauce, plus more for dipping if you like
  • ½ cup grated peeled apple
  • ⅓ cup minced onion
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Kosher or coarse salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or see Fork in the Road for a spicy swap-in
  • 1½ pounds ground pork
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet.

Combine the bread crumbs, barbecue sauce, apple, onion, egg, and salt in a large bowl. Add the maple syrup and stir to blend. Add the pork and combine well using your hands, but try not to squeeze the mixture too much. Form into 1-inch-round meatballs and place them on the baking sheet.

Bake the meatballs until cooked through, 16 to 20 minutes. Serve hot, with extra barbecue sauce on the side.
Fork in the Road: Spicy Pork Meatballs

Instead of the maple syrup add 2 teaspoons chili powder and pinch of cayenne pepper to the apple mixture. Add the pork, combine, and bake as directed.

To go half sweet and half spicy, divide the panko mixture at the beginning of [the second step] into 2 bowls. Add 1½ teaspoons maple syrup and half the pork to one bowl, and 1 teaspoon chili powder, a small pinch of cayenne, and the other half of the pork to the other bowl. Blend, form, and bake as directed (be sure to separate the spicy and nonspicy meatballs on the baking sheet).
BFR's notes: I didn't oil the sheet pan; I used a piece of parchment instead. I made the spicy version, and we loved these meatballs! Workman suggests serving them on rice or couscous, but we used them to make meatball sandwiches. Delicious!

Published by Workman, August 2015
ISBN-13: 9780761181873
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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20 August 2015

Celebration & Giveaway: Percy Jackson's Birthday and Newest Book


Did you know that August is a special month for Percy Jackson, a modern-day demi-god and hero? Just this week, August 18 to be exact, Percy turned twenty-two years old. Yikes! How'd he get to be a young man already? August 18 is also the publication date of Percy's newest book, which is all about the Greek heroes.

Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes by Rick RiordanDo you remember your Greek mythology? If you're like most of us, you remember the basics (Charon ferried people over the River Styx; Medusa turned people into stone) but are fuzzier on the details. Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan is the perfect way to brush up on your knowledge of the heroes, such as Jason, Psyche, and Hercules.

There are so many things I really love about this book, starting with the fun, light conversational style. The stories are told from Percy Jackson's point of view, and so the language is modern, funny, and immediately accessible. I love Percy's sense of humor and it really shines in this book.

I also like the way the stories of the heroes are tied into the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books. The references to Percy's adventures help us understand the myths from a modern-day perspective. Finally, I am pleased to see that Percy (and Riordan) has included women heroes too. We learn about the Amazons and Cyrene along with Theseus and Phaethon.

Whether you're thirteen or thirty, Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes is a delightful way to get to know Greek mythology. And fans (like me!) of the original Percy Jackson books will love getting to spend a little more time with our favorite demi-god.

Wait there's more! The Disney-Hyperion group has put together a fun activity kit for Greek Heroes (click the link for the PDF). The full-color printable kit includes puzzles, quizzes, games, and party ideas all tied into the latest Percy Jackson book. One of quizzes helps you discover which of the heroes you're most similar to. I got Atalanta! Which hero do you relate to?

Ten Things I Love About The Titan's Curse

Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse by Rick RiordanAs you know, I've been celebrating ten years of Percy Jackson adventures by rereading the original Olympian series. This month, I give you ten things I love about Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Titan's Curse:
  1. The opening sentence: "The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school."
  2. Getting to better understand Thalia (daughter of Zeus).
  3. Blackjack! I wish I could ride him one day.
  4. Realizing that Apollo is kind of a cool dude!
  5. Percy is growing up: do we sense a little hint of a romance to come?
  6. Bessie, the Ophiotaraus: mooooooo!
  7. Cute little saber-tooth kitties.
  8. The intrigue of Nico and what his parentage may do to the balance of power
  9. Atlas as a bad guy.
  10. Percy finally starting to know his father better and the promise of a closer relationship with him.
Don't forget to scroll down and enter the very cool giveaway. And stay tuned for more Percy news and my thoughts on The Battle of the Labyrinth, coming up in September.

To get more Percy Jackson anniversary news, follow hashtag #ReadRiordan across your social media sites and to keep up with author Rick Riordan follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Giveaway: As part of this year's tenth-anniversary celebrations, I have a great giveaway for you. Thanks to Disney-Hyperion, I'm able to offer one of my readers (with a U.S. mailing address) a special Percy Jackson backpack and a copy of Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes.

This is one giveaway you don't want to miss. The backpack is nicely made, with several compartments, a water-bottle pocket, and comfortable straps. It's big enough to be used as book bag and is also perfect for stowing lunch, a book or two, and a towel when you hit the beach or for a snack and jacket when you go for a walk. Plus you get a copy of the beautifully illustrated and fun to read Greek Heroes book!

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 the winner on August 28 using a random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed and his or her address has been passed along to Disney-Hyperion, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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19 August 2015

Wordless Wednesday 355

Seedhead, 2015


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18 August 2015

Today's Read: All That Followed by Gabriel Urza

All That Followed by Gabriel UrzaWhen you think about the past, do you remember accurately? Do others recall what you do? The memories of Joni, Mariana, and Iker overlap, but they aren't exactly the same, especially when it comes to the murder of Mariana's husband, Councilman Jose Antonio Torres.

This morning the front page of the Diario Vasco—for once—shares the same headline as the other Spanish newspapers. Sabino Garamendi's newsstand is wallpapered with photographs of the Atocha train station in Madrid, each cover depicting train carriages that had burst from the inside as if they were overshaken cans of soda, the aluminum paneling peeled back, revealing their contents: strips of dark fabric, handfuls of foam cushioning, bits of bone, women's shoes, the pages of a child's notebook. It is the twelfth day of March 2004.
All That Followed by Gabriel Urza (Henry Holt, 2015, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: village of Muriga, Basque country, northern Spain, 2004
  • Circumstances: The March 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid cause three villagers to remember the murder of a local politician, which occurred five years earlier.
  • Characters: Joni, an American ex-pat English teacher (male); Mariana, the widow of the murdered politician; Iker, serving time in prison for the murder of the politician (male); various family members, friends, neighbors, and townsfolk
  • Genre: thriller / mystery
  • Themes: insular behavior of small towns, levels of violence (local, global), politics, memory, complex relationships among people
  • Main characters: The story is told from three perspectives and we learn through their eyes that each person sees and remembers different things. Their lives are intertwined in complicated ways, for example: Joni, though married, has always been attracted to Mariana. Mariana writes to Iker, who is in prison for killing her husband. Iker used to be a student of Joni's.
  • What I have learned so far: I haven't read much of the book yet, but I did look over reviews and publicity material, and I like the complexity of the novel and how the past and present can become twisted together. How an event in a big city, far removed, can have an effect on small town with a strong cultural identity. The Basque country, culture, and language are important to the story. The novel is set up like the old Columbo television show: we know the outcome at the beginning, but we don't yet know how events culminated in that crime. 
  • About the author: Gabriel Uraz's family is from the Basque region and he has also lived there; this background informs his novel. He has both an MFA and a law degree.

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17 August 2015

How to Cull Your Personal Library and Live to Tell About It

It must be in the air because so many of my friends in the book world are taking charge of their personal libraries. I started a couple weeks ago by reducing my massive cookbook collection by half. Feeling energized by that venture, I decided to tackle the rest of my books--both physical and virtual (more on that in a different post).

A couple of focused weekends later, and my house is breathing a huge sigh of relief. I feel tons lighter too. So how did I cut my personal library by more than half, get organized, and live to tell about it? I'll share my goals, process, degree of success, and plans for the future.

Goals

  • Get all books off the floor
  • Remove all books that I have no hope of reading, despite how much I like the premise or author
  • Remove all books that I have no hope of rereading, despite how much I loved the book the first time
  • Leave no bookcase double-shelved
  • Clean up my LibraryThing catalog
  • Organize my remaining books so I can find them 
  • Organize my Calibre eBook collection with same goals in mind
Process

Note that I freely stole ideas for culling books from my blogging and Twitter friends, especially Florinda from The 3 R's Blog and Amanda from The Zen Leaf -- and maybe even you!

I began by opening up my LibraryThing catalog, so I could create a fairly accurate database of the more recent unread books in my collection. Next, I simply chose a shelf and dumped all the books in a pile. Then I picked the books up, one by one, and decided if I was going to keep it or not.

I didn't have any particular criteria for keeping a book. I read the publisher's summary, the first page or so of the book, and looked at the publishing date. Then I made a realistic guess on whether I'd really read (or reread) the book or not. I was pretty harsh during this process because I was determined to end up with fewer books.

I found it was easier to cull older books than newer books (more hope?). And I also discovered there were authors and series I wasn't ready to say good-bye to, even if I don't plan rereading. On the other hand, I realized there were whole genres I could remove without a second's thought.

I scanned every book I kept and entered each one into LibraryThing's inventory feature. I also made notes in the comment column if there was particular reason I kept a book (for example, for a freelance article).

After I finished each shelf, I went through the discard pile and separated the books into two groups: those that are destined for donation (Goodwill, library, AAUW) and those that will be given away (friends, family, book bin). I bagged up the donation books and took them right to the car. The giveaway books are in stacks until I can get around to moving them out of the house.

Success
  • No bookcase or bookshelf is double-stacked. This means there are no hidden books anymore. What I see, is what I have. Win!
  • All books are not off the floor, but instead of having piles of books all over the house and on every step, I have just a handful of books without a shelf. Much improved!
  • Books are organized and I can easily and quickly find what I'm looking for. Win!
  • LibraryThing is cleaned up and useful. Win!
  • Caibre is cleaned up and useful. Win! (more on this in another post)
  • Regrets? None whatsoever!
Thoughts Going Forward
  • Next time I do a major culling, I'm going to get rid of every ARC older than some arbitrary date (say, two or three years?), no matter how much I still want to read the book.
  • I'm going to remember that I have a library card, an eReader, and I love audiobooks. Plus I know where to buy books. I absolutely do not need to hold on to a review copy; I can still get the book later.
  • I am going to try to keep the status quo for my personal library. I doubt I'll do a three books in, three books out kind of thing, but I'm going to attempt to avoid accumulation.
  • Whenever I finish a book, I'm going to delete it from my LibraryThing or Calibre database and immediately decide its fate: keep, donate, or share.
I also plan to follow the very smart method of Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts before adding books to my library. Here's my take on how it works.

When a book enters the house, I'll make an immediate assessment. Obviously, I'll keep the titles I need for freelance assignments. But besides those -- whether I requested the book, I was pitched the book, or the book is unsolicited -- I plan to take the time to read the summary, read the first page or so, and look over the promo materials before I give the book a home. If I'm still interested in the title, I'll enter it in my database and shelve it in the appropriate place so I can find it again.

If the book's premise or author's style no longer interests me, I'll put the book in the donate pile right away. In this manner, I hope to avoid filling my house and shelves with books that have little chance of getting read or being featured on my blog or in another venue.

What are some of the ways you keep track of your books? What methods do you use to cull your collection?

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15 August 2015

Weekend Cooking: Vintage by David Baker

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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Vintage by David BakerQuick take: David Baker's Vintage is a fun romp through the world of wine as a down-and-out food writer makes a last-ditch effort to save his career and his marriage by attempting to track down a bottle of one the rarest vintages from a small French vineyard.

General plot: Bruno Tannenbaum--a Chicago food journalist--was once a crack reporter and successful book author; however, it's been years since he's felt the spark and confidence to write well. It doesn't help that he drinks a little bit more than he should and that he just can't seem to stick to budget, especially when it comes to food.

After he's been fired from his newspaper job, his friend Aleksei offers Bruno a job cataloging a wine cellar that has recently come into his possession. Bruno knows better than to ask Aleksei how he acquired the wine and happily takes on the task.

But checking out the wine is far from simple. After a series of zany and unfortunate events, Bruno finds himself on the search for a rare bottle of French wine made during the Nazi occupation. With a Russian soldier after him and a competitive reporter racing him, Bruno sets off for Europe with little more than hope and a prayer.

In the end, Bruno discovers much more than what he was looking for.

Thoughts: Vintage is a like a madcap adventure in which Bruno, a techno dinosaur, gets in to more trouble than seems possible. Fortunately, he's a charming man and makes friends easily, so he also gets out of trouble, despite a few bumps on the head. Although I liked Bruno and the story was entertaining, the best parts of the novel were the descriptions of food, cooking, and wine.

Here Bruno's telling someone how to make elk tenderloin:
Stud with garlic spears. Brush with olive oil. Good stuff. Extra, extra. Roll in fresh-cracked black pepper, not too sharp, a bit crunchy You want it seared on the outside but real pink in the middle. You're going for contrast here. Grill it. Soon as the juice is clear, you're done. Got that?
Bruno goes on to suggest serving it with grilled asparagus and wild rice and a good-quality Pommard Premier Cru or Oregon Pinot. Yummm.

Recommendation: David Baker's novel may not be the most literary you've read all year, but if you like wine, food, and a crazy adventure, then give Vintage a try. Start reading on a lazy weekend afternoon--accompanied by a glass of wine, of course--and you'll be finished just in time to cook up a lovely Bruno-inspired dinner.

Published by Touchstone, September 2015
ISBN-13: 9781501112515
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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13 August 2015

Le Tote Subscription Service (Clothing & Accessories): A Review

As you may remember, I've been a happy Stitch Fix subscriber for a few years now (see my Unboxing Post from last January). Although I'm still a fan, I've recently discovered a couple more subscription services that I may love even more.

Today I'm going to tell you all about Le Tote (clothes and accessories), which works differently from most other subscription services. I'm a little in love with Le Tote but am clear-headed enough to recognize some of the cons. I'll describe the service, show you my latest box, and then list the good, the bad, and the tips and recommendations.

By the way, I learned about Le Tote after seeing an Instagram photo from @Heidenkind (Tasha) and used her coupon to get my first month at about half price (you can get my coupon by clicking here, which also gives me a discount).

Le Tote is a completely different kind of clothing service from Stitch Fix. For $49 a month you can have an almost unlimited wardrobe because Le Tote is actually a rental service. Sounds weird, I know. But take a minute to see how it works.

After you sign in to the Le Tote website, you will take a short quiz about your body shape and size, your style, and your likes and dislikes. Then you'll browse through their inventory of clothing and accessories, adding items you like to your closet (making up a kind of wish list). Then a stylist puts together a tote for you, taking into consideration your closet, your quiz, and your size. Each tote contains at least three items of clothing and two accessories.

Unlike Stitch Fix, you get to see your tote before it's shipped. Once your tote is ready, you'll have twenty-four hours to swap out any items you want so you can get a box that fits your current needs. Hit the complete button, and your tote should arrive in a couple of days.

When your box comes, you get to wear the clothes. Yes, you heard me. Just go ahead and wear the items. You can keep them as long as you'd like: the whole month, a few days, a week. Then place all the items in the return bag and send them back to Le Tote. You don't have to clean them -- the laundry (and sterilization of the jewelry) is on them! Oh and you don't pay extra for shipping.

If you want to buy something, just keep it and return the other items. Whenever you buy an item, you receive an extra piece in your next tote. Like most such services, you have an opportunity to rate your tote once you've had a chance to try on the clothes and accessories.


Here's what I got in my box this week (you can click the image to see it full size): A black blazer that can be worn over jeans as easily as with a skirt or dress. A green loose T-shirt (it looks almost gray in the photo). A bright dress that has more shape to it than it looks hanging up. (I wasn't sure about it, but once I put it on, I thought it was fun and bright.) Stone/agate earrings in earthy colors. (These are perfect for perking up jeans and a T-shirt.) A batik-like blouse that fits like a dream. A pink and faux snakeskin purse that matches both the blouse and the dress.

Everything fit (really!), and although I don't think I'll buy anything from this box (don't quote me on this and see tips below), I'll definitely make sure I get the blouse, purse, and jacket in future totes. All three are super pieces that I can see wearing again and again. I really like the dress, earrings, and T-shirt too and am looking forward to wearing them this week, but I'm not sure they'll end up on my must-have-again list (but you never know).

What I love and some tips
  • You can have unlimited boxes each month. Once your return envelop has been scanned into the USPS system, your stylist will begin putting together your next tote. I got four totes in my first month, keeping each one for a week.
  • If you really love something but don't want to buy it, you can tell your stylist to send it again (or you can swap it back in a tote yourself). So in theory you could wear, say, a dress a couple of times of month without having to buy it.
  • If you return something and begin to regret it, you can always buy it outright for the discounted membership price.
  • Every once in a while Le Tote puts selected items on sale, so you can buy something you were on the fence about for an even deeper discount.
  • Did I mention that you don't have to do the laundry?
  • One of my most favorite things: all the clothing at Le Tote is shown on a model, and you can view the items from front, side, and behind. This means you can see how the clothing (as well as most of the accessories) look when worn. No surprises that a shirt is too sheer or a skirt is too flouncy. I loved being able to fill "my closet" this way.
  • Le Tote subscribers sometimes upload photos of themselves wearing their Le Tote clothes or accessories, giving you another way to check out items before you add them to your wish list.
  • Although Le Tote's quiz is shorter than the one I filled out for Stitch Fix, in four boxes, there has been only one item that didn't fit me perfectly (including dresses, sweaters, shirts, skirts, and jackets). And that shirt, though a little loose, was still wearable. This is HUGE, everything really fits.
  • I like surprises just fine, but I love that I can see my tote before it ships -- just in case I want to make a swap.
  • I've discovered that my opinion of clothing and jewelry can change once I've worn an item for a while. Sometimes a shirt or skirt looks great in front of the mirror but is not so great after I've worn it for six hours. So instead of buying such a garment (like I would have with Stitch Fix or in a store), I get to simply return it.
The not so good
  • On the negative side: When you buy an item from Le Tote you pay a discounted price, but you are paying above and beyond your subscription fee. So to get a true cost, you have to take into consideration the money you're spending on the subscription as well as the price of the clothing.
  • On the other hand, unless you simply can't live without the piece, there isn't a reason to own it. You can always rent it again.
  • Although I recognized many of the brands, the quality is not high-end designer. If this is important to you, you might be disappointed. (I, however, am fine with mid-level brands for everyday garments and fashion jewelry.)
Final tips and recommendations and thoughts
  • If you're used to Stitch Fix, you'll be tempted to buy something from each box (at least I was). For Le Tote to be cost-effective, you need to keep only what you absolutely MUST have. If you aren't totally in love, then let it go and rent it again.
  • If you work outside your home or live in a city where you're out and about a lot, then Le Tote seems like a no-brainer. For about $50 a month you can have new-to-you clothes and accessories every single week and you won't have launder any of it.
  • Although I'm sure all the clothes and jewelry I've gotten from Le Tote were pre-worn, everything looked new. The quality was good, and I recognize many of the brands.
I guess you can tell that I am whole-heartedly recommending Le Tote. I have only one reservation: because I work from home and we don't go out a lot, I'm not sure whether Le Tote is going to be a good deal for me in the long run. I plan to keep going with Le Tote for now, but I'm going to have think long and hard about it over the following months.

This is a big dilemma for me -- I really love the clothes, accessories, and service, but I'm just not sure if I'm a good candidate. If you have to look nice for work every day, Le Tote could be a life-saver. If you'd like to try a month of Le Tote for about half price, you can use my referral code (which will also give me a discount). If you do decide to try it, let me know what you think. I hope you fall in love too.

Note: This is not a sponsored post. I paid for my own subscription.

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12 August 2015

Wordless Wednesday 354

Number 4 (Denmark)


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11 August 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: If Onions Could Spring Leeks by Paige Shelton

If Onions Could Spring Leeks by Paige SheltonWhat if you could see ghosts? Not the spooky kind, but restless souls who have unfinished tasks and are looking for lasting peace. Isabelle (Betts) Winston is one of those people who can talk to ghosts, and she tries her best to help, whether the person in need is living or dead.

At first the mournful whistle sounded far away and lonely. I was asleep and I liked the noise, as though it were part of a sad but hopeful dream. But then it became less a part of the dream and more the thing that was waking me up.
If Onions Could Spring Leeks by Paige Shelton (Penguin Random House / Berkley Prime Crime, 2015, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Broken Rope, Missouri, modern times and 1888
  • Circumstances: Betts and her grandmother run a country cooking school, but they share more than a love of food: They both can see and talk to ghosts, who are generally harmless and are seeking assistance. This summer Betts has her hands full, helping star-crossed lovers from 1888, coping with tourists, dealing with culinary students, and solving a modern-day murder. Can living and dead get together to solve the dual mysteries?
  • Characters: Betts and her grandmother, Miz; Cliff, her boyfriend; Jerome, a cute ghostly friend; Grace & Robert, ghost lovers seeking help; Jake, friend & historian; Roy, Derek, and other culinary students; various townspeople and other ghosts
  • Genre: cozy mystery with paranormal elements and a culinary slant
  • Themes: friendship, race relations, family, town politics
  • People & mysteries: I loved Betts's personality; she's a kind, caring young woman and is a friend to both the dead and the living. Her dual boyfriends (ghost & breathing) and her relationship to her grandmother and friend Jake are fun to read about. The success of a cozy mystery rests on its characters and setting, and Shelton has done a super job with both. I felt fully invested in both mysteries and wanted things to work out for everyone involved.
  • Setting: Broken Rope, Missouri, is a place of action: both now and in the past. In the 1880s, the town boasted a lively train station and today it's a tourist attraction, complete with Wild West shows. There's a lot to like about the town and its people.
  • Cooking: You all already know that I love a good culinary mystery, so the cooking school aspects of the story grabbed my attention. The evening summer class at the cooking school was all about veggies, and the book includes a few recipes.
  • Good to know: This is the fifth in the Country Cooking School mystery series, but the first of the books I read. Paige Shelton offered just enough background so I didn't feel lost. I'm adding her to my cozy reading list. 
  • Recommendation: If you're looking for something different (in a good way) in your light mystery reading, you should give If Onions Could Spring Leeks a try. I plan on tracking down the earlier books to learn more about Betts, Miz, Jake, and the rest of the gang.

Giveaway

Thanks to Berkley Prime Crime I can offer one of my readers a copy of Paige Shelton's If Onions Could Spring Leeks (I love that title!). Because the publisher will be sending out the book, the giveaway is restricted to those of you with a U.S. mailing address. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the form. I'll pick a winner using a random number generator on August 18. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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10 August 2015

Review: An Age of License and Displacement by Lucy Knisley

An Age of License by Lucky KnisleyI loved Lucy Knisley's memoirs French Milk and Relish but for some reason fell behind reading her newest travel memoirs, An Age of License and Displacement. Her first two books were perfect for the foodie in me, and I was looking forward to more of the same. Although Knisley's latest work is a little less culinary focused, I still enjoyed the books.

An Age of License documents Knisley's trip to a Norwegian comic con, and then her continued travels to Sweden to see a guy she likes, to Germany to meet up with friends, and finally to France to visit another friend and spend a few days with her mother (who is traveling with friends).

Much of the book is about Knisley's relationship with Henrik, a young man she met in New York and then traveled with in Sweden and Germany and then later in Paris. Knisley also talks about her insecurities at her newfound fame in the comics world and her relationship with her mother and her mother's friends in France.

Displacement by Lucy KnisleyThe second book, Displacement, is about a cruise she went on as a kind of chaperone to her aging grandparents. Knisley is quite frank about her thoughts, frustrations, and heartache when she discovers that her grands are sliding into dementia. Juxtaposed throughout her travelogue are excerpts from her grandfather's World War II diary, which she brought along hoping to use it to prompt some conversation. Instead, Knisley gains a deeper understanding of her grandfather and her own larger background.

In An Age of License, Knisley is still a self-indulgent twenty-something, enjoying the last days of freedom before settling down into her so-called real life. She is transitioning between young adulthood to true adulthood, beginning to gain a more mature outlook. In Displacement she sees some of the harder aspects of old age, and her reactions seem very real and honest, especially for a young woman still in her twenties.

The artwork in An Age of License is mostly black and white and in Knisley's trademark spare style with unbordered panels. Displacement is in full color and the art is slightly more detailed, but it is still recognizably Knisley. The excerpts from her grandfather's diary are in sepia, which works well.

Although each of these books can be read on their own, the arc of Lucy Knisley's maturation, both as a graphic memoirist and as a person, is best understood by reading all four books in order. Food lovers beware: food and eating are not the focus of either of Knisley's latest work. I enjoyed An Age of License but thought Displacement to have the stronger emotional impact.

Twenty-somethings may be able to relate more readily to Knisley's emotional turmoil than older readers, but her artwork and openness have a wide appeal.

Published by Fantagraphics, 2014 and 2015
ISBN-13: 9781606997680 and 9781606998106
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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08 August 2015

Weekend Cooking: Dinner at My House

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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copyright cbl for Beth Fish ReadsIf you can believe it, this is my 301st Weekend Cooking post! I kind of wish I had known last week was 300, because I might have celebrated or something!

Anyway, for the first time ever I was at a loss of what to post today. So I did what any normal person would do--I asked Twitter. I got a number of great suggestions (which I'll use in the future) and decided to go with dinner at my house last night. So here we go.

I started cooking at 5:33 pm. I had five large peaches left over from the farmers market and thought I should make a peach crisp. OK, so really I wasn't planning on baking, but because I was documenting the meal, I felt compelled (I'm kind of an overachiever). I used my standard recipe, which you'll find by clicking the link.

Next, I had some beautiful heirloom tomatoes, a cucumber, and a couple of carrots, which were crying out to be some kind of salad. I ended up using only the tomatoes: I sliced them, drizzled some olive oil and balsamic vinegar on them, sprinkled them with pepper, and then grated some ricotta salada cheese on the top. Yum. And pretty.

Finally, we grilled lamb chops and zucchini. I've used a variety of seasonings on lamb chops over the years, and our current favorite is the salt-free Cajun seasoning mix from Penzey's, which I used last night. We grill the chops at about 400F for 6 minutes on the first side and 5 minutes on the second side for a perfect medium rare. I simply sliced the squash in half, brushed it with a vinaigrette, and grilled it exactly like the meat.

We were eating dinner on the deck, with a nice glass of red wine before 7:00. We'll dish out the peach crisp a little later in the evening (after I've already written this), and will likely make a pot of coffee to go with it. I kind of wish we had vanilla ice cream in the house, but alas we don't.

All in all this was an easy summer dinner that I managed to pull off after a full day of work. Of course, I didn't have time to take a walk last night and I do work from home, but still, I didn't feel rushed or put upon, and the evening on the deck was lovely. It didn't hurt that grilling means cleanup was super easy.

If Mr. Linky is gone (there are some issues today), just leave your link in the comments and I'll add it to the linkup when it returns.

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06 August 2015

Review: Two Piper Green Books by Ellen Potter

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen PotterAlthough I really enjoy reading middle grade books, I rarely read anything geared for a younger audience, but there was something about Ellen Potter's Piper Green series was just too cute to pass up. The first two books, running about 100 pages each, were published this week.

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree introduces us to young Piper on the morning she's starting second grade. Her school is likely very different from the one you went to. You see, Piper lives on a small island off the coast of Maine, and the handful of elementary-school kids who live there must ride a lobster boat every day to a nearby island, where the schoolhouse is located.

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Too Much Luck by Ellen PotterOn this day, Piper is distressed because her older brother has had to move to the mainland because there is no middle school on the islands, and she misses him a lot. Then when she gets to school, she learns there's a new second-grade teacher, and she and Piper get off on the wrong foot. Fortunately, with the help of an elderly neighbor, Piper discovers there's a special tree right in her own front yard and realizes that change is not always a bad thing.

In Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Too Much Luck, Piper learns that sometimes there can be too much a good thing. All in one morning her bedroom is painted her favorite color, she finds a perfect strawberry, she gets to eat a cinnamon roll for breakfast, and her wiggly front tooth finally falls out. Her friend Jacob is a bit worried, however: too much luck means something unlucky is about to happen, and sure enough, things soon start going downhill, beginning with Camilla, the new girl in her class. Can Piper find a way to turn her luck around?

Ellen Potter created a wonderful character in the spunky, outspoken Piper Green. She is mischievous, has an active imagination, loves her family, is a good friend, and can make mistakes--just like a regular little girl. Young readers, especially girls, will want to be her friend and will wish they had a fairy tree in their own yards.

Copyright Qin LengI have a weakness for books set in Maine, especially along the ocean, so I knew I'd be easily hooked. But anyone who loves the rugged Atlantic coast will appreciate that Potter has the details of island life just right. Lobstering is the principal profession, and the schoolgirls consider life jackets to be a fashion item.

The Piper Green stories are early chapter books, but they are nonetheless charmingly illustrated by Qin Leng. In the scan I've included here, Piper and her best friend, Ruby, are jumping for joy over Piper's good luck. The boy under the slide is pretending to be in jail; don't you love the look on his face as he watches the girls (click image to enlarge). The black-and-white drawings are surrounded by a rope border, which ties the pictures into the boating life of the Maine coast. Oh and don't miss the maps of the islands at the beginning of the books.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to read Ellen Potter's Piper Green books yourself and with your children. Although there are messages about being a good friend and about making the best of things when you're sad, most kids and adults are going to love Piper Green and the Fairy Tree and Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Too Much Luck because of the fun stories, great characters, and cute illustrations. Put these on your buy list.

Published by Random House Children's Books / Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
ISBN-13: 97808553499230 and 97880553499278
Source: Review (eGalley) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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05 August 2015

Wordless Wednesday 353

Marigold, 2015


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03 August 2015

Review: Fables 22: Farewell by Bill Willingham

Fables 22: Farewell by Bill WillinghamOh my, what to say about the final volume of the Fables series? Fables 22: Farewell by Bill Willingham) is a collection of "final stories," illustrated by Mark Buckingham and a host of other artists, which conclude some story arcs and leave others in a satisfying place.

The chapters within this volume range from a single page to several, and there are at least two prose (non-illustrated) segments as well. I particularly liked the stories about the Wolf family (Bigby, Snow, and the cubs), the Lady in the Lake, Rose Red, and King Cole. We get a peek into the distant future and learn what will become of the characters and their families . . . kind of.

I say kind of because some of the story arcs end right at a moment of transition, meaning that Willingham has shown us the characters' paths but is not leading us down them. It's up to us to figure out what may happen next. In other cases, we are given something more definitive (deaths, happily ever afters).

In general, I liked Farewell. I'm okay with some ambiguity, and I don't think the Fables universe will ever be fully at peace or at rest. I'm not so sure what I think about the integration of the mundy world (I don't want to say more for fear of spoilers), but I can live with it.

I thought it was fun that all the Fables artists had a chance to add to this final volume, but at the same time I was grateful that Buckingham drew the bulk of the book. I totally understand why so many artists contributed to Farewell, but the variety of styles meant that some of the continuity between stories was lost. Still, all in all the art -- especially the fold-out cover and fold-out end to the final story -- was fabulous. The scan is an example of Buckingham's work.

There a few extras in the back of the book, including notes from Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham, some reproductions of swag, biographies of all the people who worked on the series, plus a key to the fabulous cover.

I'm sad to say good-bye to Fables. I enjoyed the crazy journey and learning about how the Fables characters coped in our world while trying to defeat the enemy who exiled them from their own worlds. It may be the end to main Fables stories, but I'm happy to have a few spin-off volumes left to read.

Good luck to the Fables team in the years to come. I can't wait to see what else they have to offer us.

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01 August 2015

Weekend Cooking: The Kitchen Journal, Summer Cooking

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 Kitchen Journal @ Beth Fish Reads.comIf you follow me on Twitter then you know I'm getting rid of the vast majority of my ridiculously large cookbook collection. I've filled up the back of car with bags and bags of books, but I swear it seems as if I hadn't made a dent. I guess that's what comes out of having well over a thousand (Mr. BFR says more like 1,500) cookbooks. Sigh.

Anyway, there are several reasons I'm culling my collection. Two of the big ones are (1) I need the bookshelf and floor space and (2) I started collecting books before we had the Internet. In the dark ages, books were the primary way to learn about food in other countries, to discover new ingredients, and to find recipes. Now, of course, I can go online.

I still use magazines, though, and they are the source of three winning recipes from this week. I've pinned them all to my Tried and Liked board, so you can find them there, or you can go right to the source by clicking the links. Here I'll share the photos from the magazines and tell you what changes I made (cause I really can't cook without making changes).

We really loved this Honey-Turmeric Pork from Bon Appetit magazine. For this dish you marinate pork in a yogurt sauce before cooking it. The recipe also includes directions for a raw beet and carrot salad. Here's how I made this main dish: Instead of using boneless pork shoulder that's pounded flat, I used thick-cut boneless pork chops, which I cut in half horizontally and did not pound. The marinade calls for regular yogurt, but all I had in the house was Greek, so that's what I used. The directions say to cook the pork in batches in a skillet, but we grilled it outside instead. It was really tasty. Instead of the salad, I roasted carrots, beets, onions, garlic, and some fresh herbs. We will definitely be eating this again.

It's hot outside and that means tomato season! I live for these wonderful weeks of summer when the farmers market baskets are brimming over with beautiful, colorful tomatoes. This Ripe Summer Tomato Gratin with Basil comes from Cooking Light and is the perfect side dish for any grilled dinner. The tomatoes are mixed with fresh herbs and garlic, and seasoned bread crumbs are scattered on top. So easy to put together. The only change I made here was to start with dried bread crumbs, so I skipped the step that tells you to crumble up bread and then toast it in the oven. I just mixed the crumbs with the herbs, oil, and Parmesan cheese instead. This was really good and looked so pretty because I used a variety of tomatoes. We served this with grilled eggplant for a vegetarian meal with a Mediterranean twist, but these tomatoes would be delicious alongside steak or even a burger.

The third winner was a Sicilian Orzo Salad from the Food Network's magazine. This pasta salad was so good, we could barely stop eating it. And it was just as delicious the next day for lunch. This one is full of salty goodness with kalamata olives, sardines, and ricotta salata cheese. The dressing is a very light vinaigrette. I'm sure the recipe is fairly perfect as is, but, well, I made a couple of changes. First, the directions called for only 12 ounces of pasta, but I went ahead and used the whole pound. Next, I added a Hungarian wax pepper to the salad because we like the heat and I had one to use up. The recipe calls for either tuna or sardines and we opted for the sardines, although the tuna would be awesome too. The recipe says to top each serving with the cheese and some pine nuts, but I stirred them both into the entire dish. We'll eat this one again all year round.

We also had a shrimp and fennel salad that was only so-so and a zucchini and goat cheese quiche that had issues with the egg to milk ratio (as in the stupid thing took forever and ever to solidify).

Hope you try one of these dishes and let me know what you think.

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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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