31 October 2015

Weekend Cooking: The American Plate by Libby H. O'Connell

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 American Plate by Libby H. O'ConnellYou might know Libby O'Connell's name from the History Channel or A&E, where she's one the networks' historians, educators, and documentary film producers. You might not know her as a food historian, but perhaps you should.

In The American Plate, now out in paperback, O'Connell chronicles the history of America through the perspective of food and drink. She talks about not only native Western Hemisphere edible plants (squash, corn, beans) but also foods developed, produced, and relished by Americans over the centuries (rum, barbecue, hot dogs).

The text is divided into 103 "bites," or short sections, each focusing on a single food or drink item. O'Connell follows no set formula, so you never know what you'll learn as read about the food trends of America, from pre-contact times to the present. Fun facts, vintage photos, recipes, and/or drawings accompany the brief histories. O'Connell's style is informal, and she highlights interesting tidbits and fascinating details associated with each bite.

This isn't the kind of book you need to read cover to cover. Instead, you might want to flip through, stopping at whatever catches your attention: baked Alaska, beaver tail, Brunswick stew, Election Day cake, war rations, frozen foods, or microwave popcorn. The American Plate provides hours of entertainment and dozens of vintage and classic recipes.

Here are a few things I learned:
  • John Rolfe (Pocahontas's husband) was the first colonist to plant tobacco as a cash crop.
  • Sassafras was once the second-largest export because it was thought to cure syphilis.
  • The word barbecue is likely derived from barbacoa, the terms for a Caribbean dish consisting of spicy meat, slow roasted over coals.
  • Coffee consumption surpassed tea after the Civil War because Federal troops were issued coffee as part of their rations. After the war, few veterans went back to tea.
  • The Hershey Kiss was first sold in 1907; the paper ribbon was added in 1912.
Add Libby H. O'Connell's The American Plate to your wish list. Better yet, add it to this year's holiday list. The book is a great gift for foodies, trivia lovers, and history buffs. Pick up an extra copy or two -- The American Plate would be a terrific thank-you gift if you travel for the holidays or go to a friend's or relative's for Thanksgiving dinner.

Published by Sourcebooks, 2015 (paperback edition)
ISBN-13: 9781492609865
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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29 October 2015

4 Adult Coloring Books with a Twist

I hardly need to introduce you to adult coloring books. They are everywhere, and many grownups have spent countless hours relaxing by coloring in pictures using pen, pencil, or crayon. Here are four recent coloring books, each with a unique twist. Whether you're looking for a new book for yourself or are considering a gift for the holidays, you can't go wrong with any of these. Click on the images to see them full size; each shows the cover of the book and one of my creations.

Lost Ocean by Johanna BasfordLost Ocean by Johanna Basford is subtitled "An Inky Adventure & Coloring Book." Besides having dozens of beautiful pictures to color in, artists will enjoy taking a virtual dive into the ocean, looking at shipwrecks, fish, coral, seaweed, and more. To up the fun factor, Basford has included a treasure hunt within the pictures: As you color, search the pages for watches, keys, rings, jewels, and other treasures that were lost to the depths of the oceans. Can you collect them all? (Penguin Books, October 2015)

The Time Garden by Daria SongThe Time Garden by Daria Song is subtitled "A Magical Journey and Coloring Book." The pictures included in this book illustrate the story of a young girl who gets inside a magical cuckoo clock and from there discovers a fantastical world. The first drawings (one is seen here) are simple, but the pictures become more complicated as the girl climbs trees, meets a fairy, flies with an owl, and explores a variety of shops. You'll use your imagination, telling the story in your own way because the words disappear after a couple of pages. Boost several levels of your creativity with this beautiful book. (Watson-Guptill Publications, September 2015)

The Little Prince Coloring BookThe Little Prince Coloring Book is just what you think it is. The entire story, complete with the familiar illustrations, is contained within the covers of this book. But you'll also find new drawings to color in. All are inspired by the original artwork and are just as enchanting. This is a must-have book for all Antoine de Saint-Exupery fans and a wonderful way to reacquaint yourself with the beloved classic. Share this coloring book with a young person, and watch him or her light up and fall in love with the Little Prince, as he learns about Earth and tells us about his home. (Harcourt Brace & Co., November 2015)

The Vampire Combat Field Guide by Roger MaThe Vampire Combat Field Guide by Roger Ma is an informative coloring book from the well-respected "Institute for Undead Combat Studies." Ever wonder how to tell vampire from human? Need to practice your self-defense moves? Unsure about what weapons to have on hand? This coloring book has your back. From basic anatomy to detailed training moves, the pictures in this book will teach you survival skills as you color in the pages. Whether you're young or old, you need to know the correct way to stake that fangy fiend who's trying to drain your body of its vital blood. Perfect for Halloween or for anytime you suspect there's the possibility of a vampire attack. (Berkley Books, October 2015)

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28 October 2015

Wordless Wednesday 365

Fall 2015


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26 October 2015

Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey CranorIn case you don't know, Welcome to Night Vale is a wildly popular podcast that's part horror, part conspiracy theory, part humor, and definitely strange--in a good way. In twenty-five-minute segments, authors Joesph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor invite us into the odd world of Night Vale, a unique town somewhere in southwest desert of the United States.

The novel Welcome to Night Vale tells a stand-alone story that fits seamlessly into the Night Vale universe. Although fans will immediately feel at home, I wonder if those new to Night Vale will be just as enchanted. The very premise of the town--with it's not-so-secret surveillance, nonhuman residents, and inconsistent flow of time--may be difficult to grasp within the pages of a book.

The audiobook (Harper Audio; 12 hr, 3 min) is probably the better way to read the newest offering from Fink and Cranor. The novel presents a complete story about Diane, a single mom, and Jackie, a store owner who is perennially nineteen years old, and their relationship to a strange man who is remarkably forgettable. The book contains some of the podcast's usual segments (the traffic report, for example) as well as the signature unexplained events, weird characters, and complex connections.

Podcast listeners will be immediately drawn into the audiobook, thanks to narrator Cecil Baldwin's soothing and familiar voice (he is also the primary voice of the twice-monthly show). The plot is fun and mysterious, and I love some of the characters, especially Diane's son, Josh. I've always appreciated Night Vale's easy acceptance of sexual identity, individual differences, and lifestyle choices; all of that--plus an abundance of otherworldliness--is included in the novel.

I was excited to listen to the Welcome to Night Vale book because I love the podcasts, which always leave me wanting more. Unfortunately, the longer format didn't hold my attention very well. Perhaps because I'm used to the show's short format or perhaps because my brain can take only so much weirdness in one stretch.

Here's the good news: The audiobook production is outstanding. We're lucky that Baldwin was available to do the narration. Seriously, he is the voice of Night Vale, and I can't imagine anyone else carrying the script. The story is also classic Night Vale, which means everything I expect out of the podcast is found in the novel.

So my suggestion is to listen to the Welcome to Night Vale audiobook a chapter a day or only during your commute. Had I done that, I think I would have avoided burnout and a wandering attention.

Fans have to listen to the Welcome to Night Vale. You really have no other choice. You will not be disappointed, but do yourself the favor of listening to the story in shorter segments rather than in large chunks.

Watch out for the Glow Cloud, stay away from the library, and don't admit you've seen angels.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780062351425
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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24 October 2015

Weekend Cooking: 6 Culinary Cozies

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 haven't written about cozy culinary mysteries for a few months, but that doesn't mean I'm not reading them. Cozies are fun, non-gory mysteries, featuring amateur detectives who have an interesting job or talent. Because the stories are as much about the characters and locale as they are about the murders, I think cozy mysteries make for great escape reading. The six books I feature today even include recipes, from pumpkin cookies to Greek meatballs and pecan soup.

The Start of Something New

Basket Case by Nancy Haddock; The Big Chili by Julia BuckleyBasket Case by Nancy Haddock, the first in the Silver Six Crafting series, stars six retirees who love to craft and who know their way around a kitchen, even though they may set off a smoke alarm or two. Set in Arkansas, this story is full of Southern charm and feisty characters. The mystery involves underhanded real estate developers, folk art festival planners, and six opinionated seniors. (Published September 2015)

The Big Chili by Julia Buckley, the first in the Undercover Dish series, features Lilah Drake, a private caterer who encourages her clients to take credit for the home-cooked meals she provides. When someone is poisoned from eating one of her dishes, Lilah must find the killer before she loses everything. Set in Illinois, this twisty mystery with realistic characters will keep you guessing till the end. (October 2015)

Fall Is in the Air

Trick or Deadly Treat by Livia J. Washburn; A Gala Event by Sheila ConnollyTrick or Deadly Treat by Livia J. Washburn, the ninth book in the Fresh-Baked series, sees the return of retired schoolteacher Phyllis Newsom, who is getting ready for a baking contest. Before she has all her recipes in order, she gets caught up in protecting the good name of the local veterinarian after he's been arrested for murder. The citizens of this small Texas town harbor secrets, which must be revealed before the case is solved. (October 2015, mass market paperback)

A Gala Event by Sheila Connolly, the ninth in the Orchard series, is set in rural Massachusetts, where Meg Corey maintains her family's apple orchard. Harvest is winding down, but her work is just gearing up: she not only has her own wedding to plan but must help an old friend uncover the truth about a crime for which he was wrongly accused. Great characters and lots of action will hold your attention as you root for Meg to sort things out before her big day. (October 2015)

Fragrant Kitchens

Nuts and Buried by Elizabeth Lee; Olive and Let Die by Susannah HardyNuts and Buried by Elizabeth Lee is the third in the Nut House series, which is set on a family pecan farm in Texas. In this installment, everything seems to be going wrong for our protagonist, Lindy Blanchard: trees are dying, people are dying, and townsfolk are gossiping. Throw in a wedding celebration gone awry, and you can understand why everyone's on edge. Lindy and her family team up to get to the bottom of things. (November 2015).

Olive and Let Die by Susannah Hardy, the second in the Greek to Me series, features Georgie Nikolopatos, who manages a Greek restaurant in upstate New York. Georgie's life is anything but dull, thanks to her mother and ex-husband, boyfriend and customers. But the family drama runs extra-high when a long-lost cousin turns up dead, and her ex's partner is tagged as the main suspect. Family secrets are exposed long before Georgie identifies the real killer. (November 2015)

All books were published by Berkley Prime Crime, except Tricks or Deadly Treat, which was published by Obsidian Mystery.

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22 October 2015

Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae CarsonThe premise for Rae Carson's initial entry in her new Gold Seer trilogy had my name written all over it: a little bit paranormal, a strong female protagonist, and set in the mid-1800s. I could expect wagon trains, good action, and believable relationships. I'm happy to report that Walk the Earth a Stranger didn't let me down.

Here are my thoughts in a bullet review.

What's the basic plot? Leah (Lee) Westfall was born with a gift: she can feel (or divine) the presence of gold. This talent served her family well in the twilight of the Georgia gold rush, until her parents are brutally murdered, their secret stash of gold is stolen, and Lee is left an underage orphan under the care of her creepy, greedy uncle Hiram. With few resources and no one to turn to, Lee disguises herself as a boy and hurries to catch up with Jefferson McCauley, her childhood friend and neighbor who left a week earlier to join a wagon train to California. Although she turned down his offer to accompany him, she's counting on his promise to wait "a spell" in Independence, Missouri, before he heads west. The year is 1949, and Lee's talents will be welcome at Sutter's Fort, as gold fever overtakes a nation.

• Lee (and Jefferson): Lee is fifteen when the story opens, and as the only child to a family that must hide its wealth in order to hide her secret talent, she has learned to help her father on the farm. She is strong, hearty, and a great shot with a gun. It's reasonable that she could pass as a boy because she can do the work of any teenager and has the rough hands to prove it. She's smart, realistic, and resourceful, but not so clever as to not make mistakes. This is good because it makes her human and easy to relate to. Jefferson is her neighbor and her only true friend. He's been bullied for being half-Cherokee and he's been beaten by his mean father. He has nothing to lose by seeking a new life in the west. Their relationship seems inevitable, but it's not built on starry romance. Instead it will grow on friendship, understanding, and trust.

The journey west: Carson doesn't romanticize the overland journey west: People die, animals die, people make bad decisions, wagons break down, food runs out. In 1849, before the Homestead Acts, there were few trading posts, towns, or other resources between Independence and the west coast. It was a rough, scary journey. The dynamics of the wagon train also played a part in the success of making it to California: decisions have to be made and people have to pull together. When the issues cannot be resolved, everyone faces the consequences. In addition, for Lee, dressed as a boy and running from her uncle, even getting to the Mississippi River is fraught with danger, and we feel Lee's fear every step of the way.

Some doubts: The focus of the story is on Lee (and Jefferson), and thus not all of the secondary characters are fully developed. Some of the people and situations come across as representative of a kind: the white men who shoot buffalo and leave the carcasses behind, the short-sighted family that brings too many useless possessions, the dangers of crossing a river, a child who is almost lost on the prairie. Regardless, other characters are three-dimensional and grow and change over the course of the journey. I suspect these are the people we'll meet again in the follow-up books. I also had a couple of issues with some of the details surrounding the discovery of Lee's true gender. But these were minor problems for me.

General thoughts: Despite a few weaknesses, I like Lee, I love the time period, and I like the premise. Walk on Earth a Stranger is clearly the setup for the fuller story to come. We've been introduced to Lee, who has shown her strength, and Jefferson, who has lived up to expectations. We know the friends, and we also know the enemies. Lee's gold sense will be the future focus: If there is gold in them thar hills, then she will certainly be able to find it.

Recommendations: Yeah, yeah, I know. You're sick of trilogies, and you've vowed to stay away from YA. Get over it! Rae Carson's Walk on Earth a Stranger has a unique premise, great period details, lots of action, a believable romance, and no clear resolution. The story could go in several directions, and I suspect that Carson won't be sugar-coating life in mining camps -- especially for a young woman. This is a fast read, so pour your beverage of choice, settle into your favorite reading spot, and get ready to dream of gold.

Published by HarperCollins / Greenwillow Books, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780062242914
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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21 October 2015

Wordless Wednesday 364

All Gone, 2015


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20 October 2015

Today's Read: Red Eggs and Good Luck by Angela Lam

Red Eggs and Good Luck by Angela LamWhat kind of person would you be if you grew up feeling as if you were always in limbo? Angela Lam was neither all Chinese nor all American and had no personal power but many dreams. This is her story.

I'm eleven, not quite a little girl, not quite a young woman. There are things I know that I should not know, things of which I am not to speak, such as: I am not supposed to know my father works as a checkout clerk, not the grocery store manager. I am not supposed to know the dolls I play with are stolen. I am not supposed to know my parents have gambled away the second mortgage on the house instead of investing it in a new toilet, a shower with working doors, dual-pane windows, and a new roof. I am supposed to be a China doll, silent and submissive, an example to my sisters: Cynthia, eight, and Elizabeth, six.
Red Eggs and Good Luck by Angela Lam (SparkPoint Studio / She Writes Press, 2015, p. 1, ARC)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times, California
  • Circumstances: Angela Lam, a Chinese American, was raised by parents who had exacting but conflicting expectations for their daughters. Even more, her mother and especially her father held the sisters to an ethical standard that they themselves didn't even try to meet. Only later, after her father has a health crisis, does Angela begin to stand up for herself.
  • People: Angela Lam; her sisters, Cynthia and Elizabeth; her mother, Margaret (Lammie Pie); her father Dave (Chee); various relatives; other people they come in contact with.
  • Genre: memoir
  • Themes: family, honesty, standing up for yourself, being yourself, independence, juggling others' expectations, growing up Chinese American, hope, understanding, forgiveness
  • What I liked: The writing style and the story itself have a novel-esque feel. Once I started this memoir, I read it straight through in one sitting (it's short). Fascinating and heartbreaking all at once. My heart went out to young Angela, hoping for all good things for her. I'm not sure I would have found my voice if I had grown up in her family, but I'm glad Angela decided to speak out. You should know that, despite her father's controlling ways, Angela felt loved, even if she learned not to trust what she was told.
  • Recommendations: Lam's well-written memoir gives us a look at a family struggling with personal vices and clashing cultural traditions, with personal dreams and family obligations. Now that Lam has found her voice, you won't want to miss her poignant observations, poetic language, and master storytelling talent. Highly recommended.

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19 October 2015

Review: After You by Jojo Moyes

After You by Jojo MoyesThere's no question that Jojo Moyes's Me before You was an emotionally strong novel that was loved by millions. And although it was a complete story, the final pages promised a new beginning for protagonist Lou Clark.

In the years since we first met Lou, many of Moyes's fans, me included, wanted to know how the young woman fared once she left the Traynors' employ. Well, wonder no more. In After You, Moyes fills us in.

Note that to best appreciate After You, you should read Me before You first. On the other hand, Moyes offers enough of Lou's background so new readers will not feel lost. This bullet review assumes you read the first book.

• What's it about? The book opens about eighteen months after Lou Clark's first client and true love, Will Traynor, has died. She may have gained some financial security, but she's still floundering, still grieving. One night while crying on the roof garden of her building, Lou is startled and falls from the ledge. Her recovery from that accident brings new people into her life and sets her on an unexpected path.

• Characters: Moyes seamlessly reintroduces us to familiar characters, primarily Lou's and Will's families. Although most of them have grown and changed, they remain true to their general personalities. As I mentioned, Lou also meets new people: from her grief support group, her job, her accident, and even someone from Will's past. As Lou begins to see herself through the eyes of her new friends, she gains self-knowledge and maybe even some strength to take charge of her future.

• Themes: Moyes didn't lose her sense of humor when she wrote After You, but the major theme is grief and the various ways we cope with the loss of a loved one. For Lou, who barely got a glimpse of happy and love, it's been a particularly rocky road. Additional themes are family (the ones we're born into and the ones we make), growing and changing (easy for some, not for others), being true to oneself, finding forgiveness, having hope, and risking love.

• Some things I liked: Lou remains a believable character. Even as she eventually finds some self-confidence, she continues to make mistakes, misinterpret situations, and trust both too much and too little. I love that she tries to do the right thing and is honorable and loyal. Her mother is a hoot! And the new characters--a young girl and a cute paramedic guy--are people we want to know more about, even when we want to strangle them (Lily, I'm talking to you).

• One thing I questioned: The very, very end decision Lou makes. But that's only because I'm not sure if she's moving on or is continuing to run.

• Recommendation: Jojo Moyes's After You is a solid follow-up to her earlier novel. It takes us to a realistic place, not to fairyland, but examines tough issues with a little lightness too. Have your tissues ready; this is an emotional read, although for different reasons from Me before You. If you read the first Lou Clark book, then you have to read After You. If you like realistic characters, novels with depth, contemporary stories that look at everyday issues, and some humor to keep things fun, then add After You to your reading list.

Published by Viking / Pamela Dorman Books, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780525426592
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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17 October 2015

Weekend Cooking: Fusion Sausage and Noodles

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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A while back, I signed up at site called Influenster, which is place for bloggers and social media users to rate products, offer advice, and even try products out at home.

This month I was lucky enough to get a coupon for a free Premio product, which just happens to be a sausage brand that we buy regularly anyway. So great deal for us!

In honor of being given a chance to use a Premio product, I decided to make up recipe. I didn't know what to name this delicious dish of many inspirations. I started out thinking of making a goulash, but suddenly I was using jalapenos and smoked paprika instead of bell peppers and sweet paprika. Oops! The good news is that the dinner turned out to be really, really good.

As I said, we are familiar with Premio sausages and have bought their hot Italian sausages many times. The sausages are great in dishes like this and on the grill. Even if I hadn't gotten the coupon for the free product, I'd still be recommending Premio.

Fusion Sausages and Noodles
Original recipe
Serves 6
  • 12 ounces wide egg noodles
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausages (from Premio), sliced*
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, chopped fine
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery ribs, sliced
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 small head of cabbage, sliced
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
Bring a large pot of water to boiling and cook the egg noodles according to the package instructions, reserving the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the onion, jalapenos, carrots, and celery, and cook, stirring occasionally until softened. Add the mushrooms and garlic, and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes, just to soften a bit. Add the tomatoes and their juice, paprika, salt, pepper, caraway, marjoram, and cabbage. Bring to boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the cabbage is tender.

Add water from cooking the noodles if the sausage mixture looks too dry. When the cabbage is tender (which depends on the type of cabbage you use and how thick you sliced it), add the sour cream and mix well. Then stir in the noodles. Do not let the sauce come to a boil. Add more noodle-cooking water, if you think the sauce is too thick. Remove from the heat and serve.

*Note: when you slice the raw sausages, the meat may come out of the casing. That's okay, just keep the meat in chunks.

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15 October 2015

Reading on Topic: 8 Books That Transport You to Paris

Writers and readers around the world have always had a fascination with Paris--city of lights, love, food, fashion, and history. This year has been no exception, and there are dozens of ways for you to visit Paris from the comfort of your own favorite reading spot. This list of recommended titles published this year includes something for everyone: From fiction to history and thrillers to memoirs, the following books will let you see Paris through a variety of lenses.

A Fiction Trio

8 Books about ParisNina George's The Little Paris Bookshop (Crown, June) is part adventure, part self-discovery and a whole lot of charm. Follow Jean Perdu's adventures as he unanchors his Paris barge bookstore and opens himself up to life's possibilities. The Paris Key, by Juliet Blackwell (NAL, September), is the story of how Genevieve Martin uncovers family secrets and finds her true home when she moves to Paris to take over her late uncle's locksmith shop. You never know what you'll find on the other side of a locked door. M. J. Rose's latest paranormal thriller, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (Atria, March) transports readers to the Paris underworld of the 1890s. Sandrine Salome escapes her cruel husband, seeking refuge in the City of Lights, but what she finds is the darkness of the city's occult and a fight for survival.

True Stories

8 Books about ParisBased on extensive research and firsthand accounts, Alex Kershaw's Avenue of Spies (Crown, August) introduces the world to one of the real-life heroes of the Nazi resistance in occupied Paris. American Dr. Sumner Jackson risked his life and that of his family to help Allied soldiers and French Jewish citizens escape the city, barely surviving his own forced exodus. Kate Betts lived the life that many of us can only imagine: hobnobbing with the greats of Paris fashion. In her memoir My Paris Dream (Spiegel & Grau, May), Betts talks about how she became at home in the city during her rocky transformation from a recent Ivy League graduate with no prospects to the associate bureau chief for Women's Wear Daily.

20th-Century Paris in Historical Fiction

8 Books about ParisThe story of Coco Chanel's rise from a poor country girl to one of the world's most recognized Paris fashion icons is documented by C. W. Gortner in Mademoiselle Chanel (William Morrow, March). Told from Chanel's point of view, as she recalls her sacrifices, lovers, and achievements, this novel provides insight into the origins of the little black dress with pearls and the famous No. 5 perfume. Meg Waite Clayton's The Race for Paris (Harper, August) is inspired by the harrowing true experiences of women journalists who covered World War II and the liberation of France. Set in 1944, the story focuses on two American women determined to document the events unfolding in Paris as Allied troops made their way inland after the invasion of Normandy. Dana Gynther's The Woman in the Photograph (Gallery, August) takes place in Paris in the years between the wars. When New York model Lee Miller moves to the city in 1929, she struggles to keep her sense of self as she navigates the avant-garde world of artists, writers, and photographers.

Just can't get enough of Paris? Here a just a few more recently published novels that feature the City of Lights within their pages:
  • 750 Years in Paris by Vincent Mahé (Nobrow, October): an illustrated history as witnessed by one building
  • Wherever There Is Light by Peter Golden (Atria, November): a family saga featuring star-crossed lovers
  • Murder on the Champs de Mars by Cara Black (Soho Crime, March): an exciting mystery/thriller
  • It Started with Paris by Cathy Kelly (Grand Central, August): a Paris marriage proposal and its wide-ranging effects
  • The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie (Atria, September): a luscious tale of the women in Louis XV's court
  • The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Schuster, August): the life of the mother of Impressionist artist Pissarro
  • A Paris Affair by Tatiana de Rosney (St. Martin's, July): short stories about love, marriage, and infidelity
Originally written for a September issue of Readerly magazine.

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14 October 2015

Wordless Wednesday 363

Signs of Fall, 2015


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13 October 2015

Today's Read: Stones in the Road by E. B. Moore

Stones in the Road by E. B. MooreWhat if your father treated you so horribly that you'd rather your mother and sisters think you were dead than take even more one minute of the abuse? Although only eleven years old and raised in an Amish community, Joshua sees an opportunity and runs away from his Pennsylvania home, with dreams of California filling his head.

Joshua urges his horse through the iron gate. Hoping to find his father's headstone, he dismounts at one slab not yet covered with lichen and reads the name. It's not Father's. He reads it again. Hand to his beard, he compresses his lips. The name is his own.

He never imagined this welcome, or the chiseled inscription: Beloved Boy, 1872. The year he ran from Father and the farm.
Stones in the Road by E. B. Moore (Penguin Random House / New American Library, 2015, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: late 1800s, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and the way west to California
  • Circumstances: The book opens as twenty-one-year-old Joshua returns home for the first time in ten years after he headed west in the midst of a fire set after a tussle with his alcohol-fueled father. The story of his youth and journey are told from his point of view, while life on the family farm is told from his mother's.
  • Characters: Joshua and his mother (Miriam), father, and siblings; members of the Amish community; many people Joshua meets on his travels.
  • Genre: historical fiction; coming of age
  • Themes: family, faith, culture clash, abuse, independence, survival
  • Some early thoughts on the story: Joshua's journey has an Odyssey-like feel to it: he is both helped and hindered as he flounders in the world of the "English." His mother remains at home, the only one who still believes her son could be alive. Although Joshua was young when he left home, his Amish upbringing stays with him and informs his life on the road.
  • Thoughts on the style: The story is told in alternating viewpoints: Joshua's and Miriam's. Each of them undergoes a transformation. For Miriam, it's assuming a position of power in her family, generally unheard of for an Amish woman. For Joshua, it's finding himself in the outside world. Moore doesn't romanticize either world--English or Amish--showing the good and the bad as well as the difficulties of surviving in the late nineteenth century, whether on a farm or on the Overland Trail west. The period details reveal the novel's well-researched foundation, and the plot is well balanced in terms of inner contemplation, action, faith, and sin.
  • Something else to know: The book is based loosely on the story of the author's own grandfather, a member of the Old Order Amish, who ran away from home, returning to his family about ten years later. Moore herself was raised Quaker.

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12 October 2015

Sound Recommendations: An Eclectic Trio

The Lost Landscape by Joyce Carol OatesIn The Lost Landscape, a series of interlinked essays, Joyce Carol Oates recalls her family, childhood, and youth and the pivotal events that influenced her worldview and development as an author. Many pieces are set in rural upstate New York, where Oates grew up, revealing not only the charm of such a life (Oates attended a one-room elementary school) but the ugly side as well (such as a neighbor's abusive father). The essays embrace a broad emotional range, including the wonderment at obtaining her first library card, the almost unbearable stress of graduate school, and the devastation of losing a parent. Narrator Cassandra Campbell puts in a near-flawless performance, creating an intimacy between the listener and Oates's carefully crafted prose. Although I'm sure The Lost Landscape is wonderful in print, I highly recommend reading it with your ears. (Ecco, 2015, ISBN: 9780062408679)

The Girl form the Garden by Parnaz ForoutanThe Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan is a multilayered novel about three generations of women in a well-to-do Jewish Iranian family living in Karmanshah in the early twentieth century. The story focuses on the interplay of family dynamics, cultural and religious expectations, and the women's personalities and dreams. The primary drama involves power struggles within the household and the women's conflicted feelings about fulfilling (or not) their duties to their husbands and to God. With its beautiful descriptions of a bygone era and its additional themes of jealousy, motherhood, fertility, self-identity, and independence (or lack thereof), Foroutan's thought-provoking novel would be a terrific book club selection. Narrator Lameece Issaq's animated performance and native-sounding accents enrich the novel; however, periodic unexpected pauses pull the listener out of the story. (Ecco, 2015, ISBN: 9780062388384)

A Paris Affair by Tatiana De RosnayThe stories collected in Tatiana de Rosnay's A Paris Affair are linked only by theme: Each is set in Paris and explores marriage, cheating, and getting caught. The affairs and their ramifications run the gamut of emotions, such as revenge, anger, humor, pragmatism, remorse, and surprise. The bulk of the stories are told from a woman's perspective, and the collection explores both sides; sometimes the protagonist is the cheater and sometimes he or she is the victim. Despite the focus on adultery, the collection is entertaining, although some of the pieces seemed slightly underdeveloped and even predictable. Polly Stone is the primary narrator for the audiobook. Her French accents are spot-on, and she nicely captures the characters' personalities. Simon Vance reads the few stories told from a male viewpoint, and his performance projects the mood and pace of de Rosnay's prose. (St. Martin's, 2015, ISBN: 9781250068804)

Note: The original versions of these reviews--which specifically address the narrators' performances--can be found on the AudioFile magazine website. Reworked and posted with permission.

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10 October 2015

Weekend Cooking: The Comic Book Story of Beer by Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith

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 Comic Book Story of Beer by Jonathan Hennessey and Mike SmithAlmost two years ago I wrote about a Discovery Channel documentary on beer and the role the fermented beverage played in human history. The newest entry in the beer and history genre is Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith's The Comic Book Story of Beer (art by Aaron McConnell; lettering by  Tom Orzechowski).

If you're looking for a light, colorful, and accessible way to learn about the world's favorite drink--from it's earliest forms to the newest craft beer--then this nonfiction comic was written just for you.

The Comic Book Story of Beer follows a similar path as the documentary, starting with an examination of the inextricable link between beer and agriculture. After building that foundation, Hennessey and Smith introduce us to the process of making the brew and then give us a look at all things beer at a few key moments in history (for example, the Middle Ages, Age of Exploration, and Industrial Revolution).

copyright: The Comic Book Story of Beer by Jonathan Hennessey and Mike SmithAlthough The Comic Book Story of Beer doesn't offer any new or startling information, it's an entertaining way to get a better understanding of beer through the ages. If you click on the scan to the right, you'll discover one of the reasons beer developed its reputation of being associated with a rougher crowd compared to wine drinkers. Oh those crazy ancient Greeks!

The artwork is colorful, spanning a range of styles to fit the mood of the time period or topic being presented. The facial expressions and body language of the people clearly show emotions, and action is conveyed in conventional ways. I found it odd, however, that several panels were repeated; same drawing but with different text.

copyright: The Comic Book Story of Beer by Jonathan Hennessey and Mike SmithAmong my favorite sections are the features called "Meet the Beer." These one-page panels are scattered throughout the book, each one presenting a specific type of beer. If you click on the scan to the left, you'll see an example.

Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith's The Comic Book Story of Beer is an informative look at how beer evolved from what was essentially drinkable bread about nine thousand years ago to the vast variety of craft beers and home brews that are so popular today. Knowledgeable beer drinkers will want to check the book out from the library. But if you're new to the beer world, this comic is a great place to start learning about the history of your new favorite drink.

Published by Penguin Random House / Ten Speed Press, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781607746355
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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08 October 2015

Review & Giveaway: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

Percy Pack: 10 Years of Percy Jackson

As you know, I've been celebrating the tenth anniversary of the first of the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan. But this month I'm taking a sidetrack to introduce you to Riordan's brand new series starring a brand new demigod.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer by Rick RiordanAlthough Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer, was released just this week, I was lucky enough to have had a chance to listen to an advanced copy of the audiobook. I'm trilled to tell all you Percy Jackson fans that Rick Riordan has done it again.

Magnus and Percy share a few common traits: both are demigods, neither of them knew it until they were teens, and each was raised by a single mother. But there's where most of the similarities end. Magnus is a whole new character and the Gods of Asgard series is not simply a reworking of a familiar story.

Magnus is a sixteen-year-old who has been taking care of himself for a couple of years. He has a sarcastic sense of humor and is more than a little streetwise. The Norse gods have distinct personalities and their universe is vast, spanning nine worlds and embracing a number of species, such as dwarfs, elves, and giants.

I don't want to say too much about the story, because it's so much fun to watch the action and puzzles unfold and to meet the characters on their own ground. Instead, here are ten things I love about Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard:
  1. The plot: All the action and humor and great characters that you'd expect from Rick Riordan.
  2. Magnus Chase: Smart and resourceful; a survivor; a good friend; and dead (which we learn on page 1)
  3. The Norns, Ribe, Denmark (copyright: cbl for www.BethFishReads)Valhalla: not what you've imagined; and you do want the key to the minibar
  4. The Norns: the three women who determine the fate of gods and humans -- oh how I like their cryptic prophesies (see photo at right; click to enlarge)
  5. Samirah: junior Valkyrie who loves to fly, who wears a magical hijab, and who attends private high school in Boston
  6. Blitzen: the dwarf who wants to design fashionable chain mail clothing because who doesn't want to look good when heading off to battle
  7. Hearthstone: the elf who is determined to bring back the almost lost art of rune magic; he was born deaf but can read lips and uses sign language
  8. The Norse gods: Odin, Loki, Frey, and more -- some of whom may be walking among us (well, at least on the streets of Boston)
  9. The wolves: don't ask, just run
  10. Jack: the talking sword, who can be deadly but is also a good friend
I've always had a thing for Vikings and the Norse myths, and the new Magnus Chase series lets me see the gods in a whole new light. When I was young (nerd alert!) I loved writing in runes, so I was excited to find a PBS website that will transcribe your name into Norse runes. Here's Beth Fish Reads:


If you want to see what your own name or that of your blog looks like in runes, check out the Nova site.

The Giveaway. Because I can't wait for you to meet Magnus (click the image to learn more about him) and all his friends, I'm sending my thanks to Disney-Hyperion, who is offering one of my readers with a US mailing address a copy of Rick Riordan's new book, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer.

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 October 15. Once the winner has been confirmed and his or her address has been passed along to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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07 October 2015

Wordless Wednesday 362

Early Fall Walk, 2015


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

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06 October 2015

Today's Read: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo OkparantaImagine that you're basically a good girl who loves her parents and you're sent away to work for another family because your home is in a war zone. Now imagine that despite your strict religious upbringing and the laws of your country, you cannot help but fall in love with the most inappropriate person. For young Ijeoma, that person is Amina, another displaced girl.

Midway between Old Oba-Nnewi Road and New Oba-Nnewi Road, in that general area bound by the village church and the primary school, and where Mmiri John Road drops off only to begin again, stood our house in Ojoto. It was a yellow-painted two-story cement construction built along the dusty brown trails just south of River John, where Papa's mother almost drowned when she was a girl, back when people still washed their clothes on the rocky edges of the river.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, opening paragraph; uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: starts in 1968 during the Biafran-Nigerian conflict
  • Circumstances: Eleven-year-old Ijeoma is sent away to be safe during wartime, so her mother can prepare a new home for them. While in service to a schoolteacher and his wife, Ijeoma meets and befriends another girl, Amina. When the schoolteacher discovers their friendship has blossomed into love (although he calls their relationship an abomination), the girls are separated. Ijeoma returns to her family, where she's subjected to her mother's intense Bible lessons and instructions on the wrongness of homosexuality. As she matures, Ijeoma becomes secretly involved in the lesbian community, although she succumbs to family and social pressures to be a wife and mother. But how can she thrive or even survive under the lies and stress?
  • Characters: Ijeoma (a Christian Igbo) and her parents; Amina (a Muslim Hausa); the schoolteacher and his wife; villagers, neighbors, students, and people in the gay community; Ijeoma's husband and his family
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Themes: family, same-sex love, culture clashes, war, family, social expectations, religion, struggling to stay true to oneself
  • What I like so far: The plot is beautifully balanced between Ijeoma's personal struggles with self-identity and the wider atmosphere of war and politics. On the one hand, this is a story about Ijeoma's coming of age; on the other, it's an examination of the results of civil war, as one culture clamors for independence from another. I love the descriptions of Nigeria and the bits of African folk tales that are woven into the plot.
  • Why you should consider reading: This is an important story, exposing the fear that so much of the LBGTQ community still endures across the globe. Currently in Nigeria, homosexuals can be jailed for up to fourteen years and/or stoned death.

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05 October 2015

Review and Giveaway: Diva and Flea by Mo Willems with Tony DiTerlizzi

Diva and Flea by Mo Williams with Tony DiTerlizziAre you a homebody or a wanderer? No matter which lifestyle more closely resembles your own, you and your young readers will love visiting Paris through the charming story Diva and Flea by Mo Willems with its beautiful illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi.

Little Diva has always been queen of her front garden, watching the world go by outside her fence and always, always running away from The Feet, which seem to come in pairs. Big, scrappy Flea is a Paris flâneur, who wanders the city just to see what he can see, always, always avoiding The Broom, which seems to live inside buildings. This is the story of what happens when Flea meets Diva.

I loved this sweet story of two unlikely friends who have something to teach each other about ways to see the world and ways to be brave. No matter how different you may seem from others and no matter whether you're little or big, a traveler or settled you--like Diva and Flea--can find common ground and mutual respect.

Willems (or his wife; see the video) was very smart to have thought of DiTerlizzi to help bring the characters and the city of Paris alive on the page. One look at the artwork makes it clear that DiTerlizzi truly understands Diva and Flea; he has perfectly captured their personalities in his illustrations.

Share Mo Willems's Diva and Flea with a youngster or read it yourself. Then make space on your shelves for this beautifully illustrated book; it's destined to be a children's classic.

For more on the story and the collaboration between Willems and DiTerlizzi (and to see some of the illustrations) take a look at this short video.


The Giveaway: Thanks to Disney Publishing, I'm able to offer one of readers, young or old, his or her very own copy of Diva and Flea. And to encourage your youngster's wandering spirit (perhaps she too can be a Paris flâneur), the publishing company is including a child's rolling suitcase to start her on her way. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to have U.S. mailing address and to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on October 15. Once the winner has been confirmed and the mailing address sent along to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!



To learn more and to stay on top of the news

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03 October 2015

Weekend Cooking: The Four Seasons of Pasta by Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Sara Jenkins

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 Four Seasons of Pasta by Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Sara JenkinsThe Four Seasons of Pasta is written by the mother-daughter team of Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Sara Jenkins, each of whom has deep culinary credentials. In addition, the Jenkinses know their pasta, having lived in Italy off and on for the last forty years. This joint effort gathers together over a hundred recipes that use authentic Italian ingredients and are perfect to serve all year round.

Right off the bat, you'll notice the absolutely stunning photography by Michael Harlan Turkell. The Old World kitchen, rustic pottery, vibrant colors, and garden-ripe veggies will keep you turning the pages and planing your menus.

But, of course, as I always say, pretty is fine, but the recipes and information make a cookbook. As you can guess, the recipes in The Four Seasons of Pasta are indeed divided by season. Within each section you'll find many quick pasta dishes that are just right for weeknight dining. A few recipes, for example baked dishes and ravioli, will take more time, so you might want to save them for weekend meals.

copyright Michael Harlan TurkellApparently there is no running out of recipe ideas in Italy because, as Jenkins and Jenkins tell us, it's a country where most people eat a pasta dish once or twice every single day. The rest of us have some catching up to do, and this cookbook will start us on our way.

The Four Seasons of Pasta is full of great tips on how to stock your kitchen, buy key ingredients, and make basic stocks. I also love the introductions to the recipes, which provide culinary advice as well as food history. The recipe directions are written in an informal style and easy to follow. I was happy to see that the Jenkinses call for canned tomatoes in the winter and dried pasta for most of the dishes.

There are recipes for all kinds of tastes here: heavy and light sauces, quick stovetop dishes, hearty ragus, pestos, and even seafood options. Meat-lovers, vegetarians, and everyone in between will find plenty of new favorites in this cookbook. Here are just four of many that have my name on them:
  • Penne Rigate con Cavolfiore alla Sicilana, which has cauliflower, raisins, and white wine
  • Lamb meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce with Elicoldali, which is warmly spiced with cumin and coriander in a tomato sauce
  • Garganelli al Ortolano, which includes grilled eggplant, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes
  • Zuppa di Pasta e Ceci, which is a chicken soup with greens and chickpeas
copyright Michael Harlan TurkellI know one good friend who will be all over the mussels recipes and another who will be cooking up a ragu storm.

The recipes in The Four Seasons of Pasta by Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Sara Jenkins are comforting and traditional yet fit a modern lifestyle. The fresh, flavorful, and simple dishes in this cookbook are destined to become family favorites and will take the burden off the age-old question of What's for dinner?

Because I don't have a finished copy of the cookbook, I'm a little hesitant to share a recipe, in case there were changes. So instead, I'll direct you to Nancy Harmon Jenkins's website, where you can find more photos and some recipes.

NOTE: The photos in this post are from the cookbook and are included in the context of a review. All rights remain with the copyright holder, Michael Harlan Turkell.

Published by Penguin Random House / Avery, October 6, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780525427483
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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01 October 2015

Review: Rywka's Diary by Anita Friedman & Rywka Lipszyc

Rywka's Diary by Anita Friedman / Rywka LipszycMore than a half century after the destruction of the Lodz ghetto and the liberation of Auschwitz, fourteen-year-old Rywka Lipszyc's voice is still strong and clear. Although several diaries from the Holocaust have been published, Lipszyc's is important and unique, especially because of her unwavering faith in God.

Lipszyc kept her short diary from the fall of 1943 to the spring of 1944, when it ends abruptly midsentence, although we know she survived at least another year. By the time she started documenting her thoughts, Lipszyc had seen both parents die and had lost two younger siblings to deportation. Later her aunt, with whom she was living, also died, leaving behind a household of five girls, all under the age of twenty, to endure the privations of the ghetto.

When the cousins were deported to Auschwitz in the fall of 1944, Lipszyc was able to take her unfinished diary with her. In the remaining months of the war, the girls were transferred first to Christianstadt and finally to Bergen-Belsen. At the liberation, the two surviving cousins were told that Lipszyc would not live, even with medical care. Thus they reluctantly left her behind in the care of Allied doctors. Meanwhile, a doctor in the Red Army discovered Lipszyc's diary in a pile of prisoners' personal effects at Auschwitz; she picked up the little notebook took it back to Russia.

Children headed for deportation: WikimediaThe diary remained with the doctor's possessions until it was discovered by her granddaughter in 1995. The young woman, recognizing the historical significance of notebook, turned it over to American scholars and historians. After this remarkable journey, Lipszyc's private thoughts are now, finally, available to the world, offering an unexpected opportunity to learn more about the Lodz ghetto.

So often the words of young Holocaust victims focus on secular issues, on broken dreams, on the unfairness of their lot, on their growing hunger. And Lipszyc is, of course, no exception, as she grieves the loss of her family and the closing of her school. But she struggles especially with the dichotomies in her life: she is responsible for her little sister but is watched over by an older cousin; she wants to practice her faith but is forced to break God's commandments; she doesn't want to let go of hope but is compelled to face reality; she wants to be understood but also to be left alone.

Even if Lipszyc's diary were predictable, it would still be a significant historical discovery. But this remarkable girl was not like her peers. She astounds us with her keen observations of her neighbors and, particularly, with her deep reliance on God. Unlike many Holocaust diarists, she never turns her back on her religion; instead she embraces the hardships "because as long as it hurts, I'm a human being. I can feel--Otherwise it would be very bad. God! Thank you for your kindness toward us!"

The short diary is supplemented with fascinating supporting material. Readers will find annotations, discussions on the diary's authenticity and historical context, photographs, and even an essay from one of Lipszyc's surviving relatives.

Beautifully and sensitively translated, Rywka Lipszyc's diary provides an eloquent and surprising perspective on life, hope, and faith in one of the worst of the Jewish ghettos.

NOTE: photos are of the Lodz ghetto and are, as far as I can tell, in the public domain. Click images to see them full size.

Originally written for a September issue of Readerly magazine.
Published by HarperCollins / Harper, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780062389688
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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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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