30 June 2016

Got Litsy? Interview with Co-Founder Todd Lawton

Interview with Todd Lawton from LitsyYou've all heard me rave about the book-lovers app Litsy, where I and many members of the online book community share our thoughts about the books we read and the books we want to read.

Many of you also know that the app was developed by Todd Lawton and Jeff LeBlanc (pictured below) from Out of Print, which is where you can find very fun book-related clothing, mugs, pouches, and more. (I really need to buy myself a few pairs of their super-cool book-themed socks!)

If you haven't yet had a chance to look into Litsy, it's an app that lets you rate books, share your thoughts, and talk to other readers. I like using the app because it combines some of my favorite things: books, the book community, social media, and photography. My Litsy user name is @BethFishReads, what's yours?

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Litsy co-founder Todd Lawton. I tried to think of all the questions you might have in regard to the book community and how the app is currently being used. In addition, I took the opportunity to find out what's in store for the future (pay attention Android users!), and I'm very happy about the projected new features.

Interview with Todd Lawton from Litsy
Help me welcome Todd to Beth Fish Reads. Pour your self a cup of your favorite drink, sit down, and listen in (read in?) to our conversation.

ME: One of the things I really like about Litsy is how easy it is to connect with people through our shared love of books. Although the app has been called a combination of Twitter, Goodreads, and Instagram, Litsy is really an entity all of its own. What are some of the ways readers have used the app's features to combine their love of reading with photography and the online community?
TODD: We think the best way to share and talk about books is through many moments we have with them—not just our final thoughts or reviews. Litsy is a platform where readers can be as spontaneous and fun as they want to be. We're thrilled to see the community create new ways within Litsy to express their "Lit-Lives"—by creating book clubs, powering read-a-thons, creating photo communitywide campaigns, sharing book hauls and lists, and hearing from authors that they want to use Litsy while on book tours. We're learning so much about what readers want from Litsy just by the new ways they are "hacking" the experience to create new uses and functionality. We love it!
ME: I love it too, especially some of the memes, such as @Liberty's Fun Friday Photo, which has a weekly theme, and TBR Tuesday, in which users celebrate the books they're excited about.

Social media is, of course, all about communicating with others, and I've been enjoying how the commenting feature of Litsy is used to start conversations, ask questions, and share thoughts about books. What are some of the unique things you've seen in the comments?
Interview with Todd Lawton from LitsyTODD: It seems counterintuitive, but limiting the number of characters allowed in posts and comments translates to more conversations being created and reacted to. We're seeing many people ask questions in their posts or make open-ended statements. These posts get a lot of comments. Personally, I have been surprised by how much reaction is generated when a reader marks a book as "bail" in their review. As far as we know, we're the first to include the action of not completing a book in a rating system. Every book moment, the good and the bad, is an opportunity to start a conversation on Litsy.
ME: I think the bail rating is brilliant. People have been using it silently or have used it as a way to talk about why a book wasn't for them. I also like "spoiler alert" feature. This is so great because it allows readers to talk about specific scenes or the ending of a book without ruining anything for others. Both posts and comments can be hidden until you, the user, decide to tap and read.

I love taking photographs, so I was instantly attracted that feature of Litsy. When you decided to include photographs with the app, how did you anticipate readers would use that feature? What has surprised you about how readers incorporate photographs?
TODD: We started Litsy on the shoulders of a literary merchandise company that largely specialized in uncovering and celebrating iconic book art, called Out of Print. With Litsy, we wanted to continue to celebrate the visual nature and joy of reading as much as the verbal. Sharing a personally stylized picture of a book cover is much more appealing than something we can suggest from a digital database. I love seeing Litsy posts with stacks of books after a book haul or to share a reading list. There's a lot of cool ways people are highlighting quotes off a printed or digital page as well.
Interview with Todd Lawton from LitsyME: Over the last few months I've also noticed a change in the types of photographs people share. At first many photos were simply conventional book covers. Now, however, we're seeing scenery, the ocean, the kids' baseball practice, and other non-book photos. So much fun.

Although I love thinking about and setting up photographs to accompany my Litsy posts, I think it's great that users don't have to include a photo if they don't want to. I've noticed that there is no obligation or pressure to have to use your camera app (or the built-in Litsy feature). I was curious if you know about how many posts go up without an accompanying photo.
TODD: Between 25 and 30 percent of posts go up with a photo.
ME: I think that's awesome. I love it that people can join in the fun of Litsy without the need to snap a pic. So if someone isn't the photographing type, he won't be alone. No need to hold back on downloading the app.

Now let's take a look into the future. So far the Litsy app is available only for iOs, where it has seen rapid growth. As the app becomes more popular, I know two of the biggest questions my readers have are, When is Litsy coming to Android? and Will there be a web version?
TODD: You can look for the Android app sometime in July or August. Our website will launch this fall.
ME: Great news! I can't wait until everyone has access to Litsy. I'm looking forward to even more great book-related conversation.

I like the simplicity of Litsy and how easy and intuitive it is to use, right from the start. But, of course, everyone has her own little wish list of future features. Here are two items on mine: an audiobook icon (and audiobooks showing up in the search) and a way to make lists or collections. Are either of these in Litsy's future? What other features can users expect to see in the coming year?
TODD: There are a lot of audiobook lovers out there. We definitely have it marked as an area to focus on. In the near term, we will be adding more discovery and explore options—better ways to connect with like-minded readers and trending books, genres, etc. Push notifications are high on our list. Our view is that Litsy exists to be a reader's companion and to create joy. We're most excited by the functions and experiences we can add to make book talk more fun. If you're on Litsy and like what's happening today, you’re going to love what’s to come.
Interview with Todd Lawton from LitsyME: I can't wait to see what the future will bring.

Okay, I just have to ask: Who is the Litsy poet who writes your update notes? I love reading them. [If you haven't read the update notes, you're missing out!]
TODD: That tradition was started by our co-founder, Jeff (his many talents never cease to amaze us), but we’re lucky to have another brilliant writer who has penned an update text or two.
ME: Thanks so much, Todd. It was fun to talk with you about one of my favorite places to chat about my love of books and reading. You can find me there off and on throughout the day as (oh shock) @BethFishReads.

If you want to know more about Todd and Jeff, read the stories at Tech Crunch and Publishers Weekly. For more on the app itself, visit the Litsy site. For questions or just to say hi to the Litsy people, follow them on Twitter where they're @getlitsy.

Be sure to set up your account and join the community. I'd love to see you there.

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29 June 2016

Wordless Wednesday 400

Lily, 2016


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28 June 2016

Today's Read: The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver

The Mandibles by Lionel ShriverHow would you cope if you never had to work a day in your life but suddenly you lost everything? What would you do? For the Mandible family, that situation occurred in 2029, when the world economy shifted, sending the United States into a tailspin.

"Don't use clean water to wash your hands!"

Intended as a gentle reminder, the admonishment came out shrill. Florence didn't want to seem like what her son would call a boomerpoop, but still—the rules of the household were simple. Esteban consistently flouted them. There were ways of establishing that you weren't under any (somewhat) older woman's thumb without wasting water. He was such a crippling handsome man that she'd let him get away with almost anything else.
The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver (Harper, 2016, p. 3; uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: the future: 2029 to 2047, New York City and upstate New York
  • Circumstances: Thanks to a cyber-attack and foreign politics, the world economy fundamentally changes, and the United States fails to follow along. As a result the dollar is worth little, people are no longer allowed to own gold, and the government has reneged on its treasury bonds. Thus the Mandible family, which had still been living off the money an ancestor had accumulated in the nineteenth century, are now essentially broke. How do they react to their changing circumstances? Can they adapt or are they doomed? 
  • Genre, style: literary fiction, family saga, dystopian elements, satire
  • Themes: the economy, class differences, generational divides, family, social commentary
  • Characters: Basically four generations of Mandibles from the 90-year-old patriarch to adolescent children, plus their spouses and partners and other people who affect their lives
  • Why I want to read this: Although Shriver doesn't focus on happy themes, she is an astute observer of our society. The book's premise sounds all too possible and is set only a handful of years in the future. Could the events in The Mandibles happen? Probably. Yikes!
  • What reviewers have said: Most reviewers agree that Shriver is spot on when it comes to her characters and world building. They also agree that the novel has a bit of a slow start because there is so much to set up before the meat of the story can be reached. In addition, reviewers commented on Shriver's imaginative creation of future slang and swear words. Finally, pretty much all agreed that The Mandibles is worth the read, even if a bit slow in spots.

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27 June 2016

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Help Needed & 4 Quick Reviews

A Plea for Help!

How organized are you? I'm okay when it comes to my ebooks (thank you, Calibre!), and I have a sort of system for my print books (at least I more or less know where things are and what I own). I keep all my audiobooks in a single folder, so I can always find them.

But here's where I'm a big fail: I haven't yet discovered a way to integrate the data for all my books--print, audio, ebook--in one easy-to-use place. Although the very thought of combining my three catalogs is daunting, to say the least, I'd love to try.

So my big question for the week is this: Do you have one single database for all your books in all media? And if so, what do you use? Are you a LibraryThing fan or do you use GoodReads? Do you have your own database in Excel (or similar)? Do you use your bullet journal? Maybe just a Word file? I really want to know, cause I need some help.

What I've Been Reading

review: Roses and Rot by Kat HowardKat Howard's Roses and Rot: Wow. This one pulled me in right from the start. It's about two sisters involved in the arts, one is a dancer and the other a writer. The plot focuses on love, family, competition, and a reminder that sometimes fairy tales are dark. I loved the writing (though a stronger copyeditor would have been nice), and I liked the way Howard tells the story -- poetic at times. The book is set in contemporary days, though there is definitely a magical  layer. I recommend it. (Saga Press, May 2016)

Review: The Dig by John PrestonJohn Preston's The Dig: This is a pretty quick read and very interestingly set up. There is a mysterious feel to the way the story is told, making you ask, Who are these people? It is set in 1939 Britain and based on true events. On the eve of war, a rich and important archaeological site, later named Sutton Hoo (after the estate), was found on a widow's farm in Suffolk. The discovery stirred up trouble, creating tensions within the family and building competition among scholars and museums. I read it in two short sittings and then looked up more information about the site and the artifacts. (Other Press, April 2016)

Review: Dating Tips for the Underemployed by Iris SmylesIris Smyles's Dating Tips for the Unemployed: This is next up on my list. I don't know if I'll get through it, but I'm intrigued. Set in contemporary New York, the book has been billed as part memoir, part novel and is supposed to focus on those between years when you're a full-fledged adult but not yet feeling settled. Apparently Smyles writes a lot about the difficulties of making true connections with others. The book is a collection of two dozen essays/short pieces; I'll let you know what I think. (Mariner, June 2016)

Review: I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain ReidIain Reid's I'm Thinking of Ending Things: Mr. BFR just finished this psychological thriller, which is getting a lot of buzz and starred reviews. He, however, was not quite taken with it. The good news is that he liked the writing style and thought a few parts were creepy. The bad news was that he wasn't as scared as the hype made him think he would be, and he thought the plot had pacing issues. In short, he was disappointed and felt let down by the ending. A glance at the reviews reveals this is one of those love it or hate books. Mr. BFR was more on the hate side. (Gallery/Scout, June 2016)

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25 June 2016

Weekend Cooking: Eat What You Love: Quick & Easy by Marlene Koch

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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Review: Eat What You Love: Quick & Easy by Marlene KochAlthough (knock on wood) we don't have any particular dietary concerns, we are committed to eating healthfully as much as possible. So when I discovered Marlene Koch's Eat What You Love: Quick & Easy at BEA this year, I decided to give it a try.

The cookbook is particularly geared to people who need to watch what they eat because they've been diagnosed with diabetes, but the recipes are so good and easy to make that they should have wide appeal. If you or a loved one has diabetes, then you'll be reassured to learn that Koch is a registered dietician. Her recipes will fit easily into a diabetic meal plan.

The first several chapters contain good information for people just starting out with more nutritious eating,for whatever reason: diabetes, weight loss, or healthful lifestyle. Koch goes into the details of nutrients, ingredients, and equipment. What I love about her ingredient section is that it names brands, which not only helps you in the store but boosts your success rate with her recipes.

Oh and I have to mention the abundance of advice Koch has included in Eat What You Love, such as how to use your freezer, baking tips, and how to adapt recipes for cooking for two. Seriously good information.

Okay so what about the recipes? I haven't yet made any the beautiful desserts (see that book cover!), but I made a pork chili verde that we really liked, a simple cucumber salad, and a savory zucchini pie. The recipes were easy to put together and the instructions were clear. The pork needed to cook for about an hour, so I'm not quite sure how "quick" it was, but the flavor was there. I have a bunch more recipes marked to try.

Some other things to know:
  • Most of the recipes use fresh or frozen ingredients, but some call for store-bought ingredients, like broth, sauces, and pudding mixes.
  • All recipes come with good nutrition information, including food exchanges and Weight Watchers points.
  • People on gluten-free diets should look before buying.
  • Vegetarians should also look before buying.
  • There are beautiful photos for some but not all recipes.
  • Fast applies to your hands-on time and doesn't always mean you'll be eating in under an hour.
I'm impressed with the variety of foods and how they all look like (pardon the expression) real food--that is, food that doesn't signal it's part of a special diet. Whether you're watching what you eat because you need to lose weight, because you're diabetic, or because you just want to eat right, you won't feel even a tiny bit deprived. I mean, Swedish Meatballs with Sour Cream Gravy, Grilled Peach Sundaes with Caramel Sauce, and Shortcut Veggie Lasagna don't sound like sacrifice dishes to me.

Recommendation: If you are looking for some good, reliable recipes to feed the whole family while accommodating dietary restrictions, here's the book for you. If you want to add recipes to your busy weeknight repertoire, here's the book for you.  If you want some delicious lower-in-calorie recipes to help you feel better and lose weight, you'll want to check out Marlene Koch's Eat What You Love: Quick & Easy. To learn more about Koch, visit her website.

Click to enlarge the image to see one of her recipes. I haven't made this chicken and shrimp gumbo, but it looks good to me.


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23 June 2016

Mysteries and Thrillers and Suspense: Oh My!

Help! Teach me how to read in my sleep. I clearly need more time. Here are 6 mystery/thrillers that were published this month that I still haven't gotten to. Have you read any of them? Which one should be at the top of my list? Any I should cross off?

6 mystery-thrillers to read in June

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry is a mystery set in England involving two sisters: one is found dead in the first chapter and the other must learn to cope with loss while trying to find out what happened. Many reviews mention the great tension. (Penguin Books) Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is suspense set in contemporary Cambridge (UK) and is centered around a missing student and the female detective in charge of finding her. (Random House) One of the characters in 738 Days by Stacey Kade suffers PTSD after having been held captive by a kidnapper for two years. The story is about her meeting the TV star whose poster kept her company until she escaped. But is she really free? This novel has won starred reviews. (Forge)


With Malice by Eileen Cook is about two privileged friends who take a trip to Italy. Only one returns: what happened to the other girl? Was it accident, murder, or something else? This one has gotten mixed reviews (HMH Books for Young Readers) The House of Secrets by Brad Meltzer and Tod Goldberg is a spy thriller involving amnesia, a daughter and father, and a possible history of violence. This is the first in a new series. (Grand Central) Lost and Gone Forever by Alex Grecian is the latest in the really good Scotland Yard's Murder Squad mystery series set in the 1890s. Jack the Ripper may play a part in this one. I highly recommend the other novels in the series. (Putnam)

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22 June 2016

Wordless Wednesday 399

Summer!


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20 June 2016

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: What I'm Reading Now

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: What I'm ReadingI'm on my summer schedule of trying to work like a crazy person from dawn until early afternoon and then taking the rest of the day off to walk, garden, read, and laze on the deck. Okay, so I'm doing more reading than I am gardening, but I like to pretend.

It's been the best of times and the worst of times. I've listened to some amazing books lately, yet I've also bailed on more audios (and print books) than usual. I'm not sure why I'm in such a picky reading mood.

Here's what I've been up to in terms of reading.

Audiobooks

  • Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel: I went into this audiobook completely, and I mean completely, blind. I was looking for a good audiobook and my friend Heather (@capriciousreader) suggested this. I downloaded it and turned it on. OMG. How to describe? I'm stealing in part from my Litsy entry: Character study, mystery, & sci-fi all rolled into one. It was crazy, improbable, and utterly engrossing. The audiobook, which was full-cast, made me feel as if I were eavesdropping on actual conversations. In print or audio, this book is way too much fun to miss. Can.not.wait for the next installment. (Del Rey, April 2016; Random House Audio)
  • We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge: I have such mixed feelings about this novel about a black family that is asked to participate in an experiment to teach a chimpanzee sign language. The author explores some important issues, such as race, research ethics, and family, and the characters were well developed. On the other hand, the premise is set up in a vacuum and ignores the facts of anthropological research involving language and the great apes. The audiobook was read by Cherise Boothe, Karole Foreman, and Myra Lucretia Taylor, each of whom put in a solid performance. See my review for AuidoFile magazine for more. (Agonquin, March 2016; Recorded Books)
  • The Tibes of Palos Verdes by Joy Nicholson: An emotionally deep coming-of-age story about a teenager, Medina, who struggles to find her place after her family moves from Michigan to a wealthy gated community in southern California. As her home life disintegrates and she becomes familiar with her community's social rules and cliques, Medina carves out a place for herself in the surfing culture. Originally published in 1998, the book is soon to be made into a movie (I didn't see a release date). The audio was nicely read by Jorjeana Marie, who sounded believable as the troubled teen. (St. Martin's Griffin, 1998; Listening Library)

Print Books

  • The Big Picture by Sean Carroll: I'm almost done with this very accessible account of, well, pretty much the entire universe--from time and energy to life and thought. Carroll has a knack of explaining complex issues in down-to-earth (ha!) terms, relying on everyday examples (like spilled wine) and pop culture references (like Star Trek). Plus he humanizes some of the great thinkers of history (Aristotle, Newton) and introduces us to a number of less famous, yet equally brilliant scientists. Highly recommended. (Dutton, May 2016)
  • As Good As Gone by Larry Watson: I think I discovered Watson back in the early 1990s, when I read his Montana 1948. I love books set in the west and that explore family, fathers and sons, and a way of life that is very much connected with the natural world. I'm in the middle of this novel, and it is everything I could have wished for. If haven't read Watson, you should. (Algonquin, June 2016)
  • The North Water by Ian McGuire: I've seen this novel described as mystery and/or suspense. It involves a whaler and a surgeon, each of whom has a dark past. The summary says they will be stuck together on board a ship during an Arctic winter. I'm only on chapter 3, so I can't say much except I like the writing, I have a feel for the characters, and this book is not for the faint of heart (some evil doings right from the get-go). I don't yet know exactly when the book is set, but I'd guess the 1860s. (Henry Holt, March 2016)

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18 June 2016

Weekend Cooking: Cooking with Summer Vegetables

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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2 Winning Recipes: Weekend Cooking @ BethFishReads.comSummer is here and cooking now involves grilling, salads, and my two favorite small appliances: the slow cooker and pressure cooker.

Here are a couple of recipes I made this week that were winners. Not only were they really yummy but both were pretty and relied on the fresh vegetables that are so plentiful at the farmers market right now.

Italian Vegetable Stew

I found the recipe for the vegetarian stew on the Epicurious app, and although it wasn't written for the pressure cooker, I was able to make adjustments. You might wonder about having soup in June, but we had a couple cool(ish) and rainy evenings this week, and the vegetable soup was perfect.

copyright Bon AppetitThe Recipe: Click through to the Epicurious site to find the original recipe on the Web. It's worth looking through the readers' comments for tips, some of which I took into consideration.

My changes: Because the recipe was developed for 6 to 8 servings, I had to cut it down for just the two of us. So instead of using two different greens for the soup, I used just 1 bunch of collards, which I did not precook. I more or less cut the remaining ingredients in half, and threw everything but the bread, beans, and cheese into the electric pressure cooker. I set the cooker for 5 minutes. When the time was up, I let the pressure release naturally. Then I stirred in the beans and let them heat up in the soup for a couple of minutes. This was excellent and reheated in the microwave perfectly the next day.

Snow Pea, Scallion, & Radish Salad

copyright Fine CookingI love Ellie Krieger's recipes and have reviewed several of her cookbooks over the years. The following recipe comes from her The Food You Crave book, and is a refreshing salad that looks so pretty in the bowl and on the plate. I served this with simple grilled chicken breasts.

The Recipe: Click through to the Fine Cooking site to find the original recipe. Again, read over the reviews for some tips, which are really helpful.

My changes: I doubled the number of radishes and scallions called for in the recipe. I didn't have the right salad dressing ingredients so I used unseasoned rice wine vinegar and good olive oil instead. I also omitted the sugar in the dressing, and we didn't miss it at all. This was still good the next day for lunch.

I pinned both recipes to my Pinterest "Recipes: Tried and Liked" board.

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17 June 2016

5 Books for June: A Look at My eReader

June is more than halfway done, and the official first day of summer is fast approaching. Here are five books that are waiting patiently on my eReader, all good choices for a warm evening reading on the deck or a sunny day at the pool.

Sleeping with the Lights On

5 books to read in June: Security by Gina WohlsdorfSecurity by Gina Wohlsdorf: The manager of a California luxury hotel is working hard to get everything in place for the grand opening, when her long-lost childhood foster brother comes for a visit. As they begin to explore the vast, empty resort, something sinister begins to make itself known: employees are being killed off in the plain sight of the numerous security cameras. Someone is watching . . . and setting up the murders in very particular ways. What's the message and who is behind the night of bloodshed? A clever design allows readers to feel as if they were in several places at once in this heart-thumping thriller. This debut has already earned several starred reviews. Out June 7 from Algonquin.

5 Books for June: Since She Went Away by David BellSince She Went Away by David Bell: Jenna shows up late for an appointment only to find that her best friend has disappeared with almost no trace--a single diamond earring is found in the park where the women were supposed to meet. No amount of searching digs up any clue to what has happened. As the media sensationalizes the case, Jenna is having trouble coping with her guilt. When her son's new girlfriend also disappears, the mystery begins to unravel, pointing to deep secrets and long-ago lies and proving that the past never truly stays in the past. Reviews promise a complex, fast-paced plot with well-wrought characters. This thriller is set in small-town Kentucky. Out June 21 from New American Library.

Take a Step Back in Time

5 Books for June: The Gilded Years by Karin TanabeThe Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe: In 1897, a senior at Vassar college is on the brink of seeing all her dreams come come to light; if only she can keep her secrets to herself. She is no ordinary student; she's a descendant of slaves and the daughter of a janitor, passing for white among the rich and privileged. When she befriends her high-society roommate, she's pulled into a world she could have scarcely imagined. This sets off a series of events that threatens to expose her true background and force her to choose between living a lie or embracing her heritage. This novel is based on the true story of Anita Hemmings, the first black woman to graduate from Vassar. Out on June 7 from Washington Square Press.

5 Books for June: A Certain Age by Beatriz WilliamsA Certain Age by Beatriz Williams: This story transports us to the 1920s where we go from a Connecticut court room and "the trial of the century" to the streets of Manhattan, the playground of the rich and famous, with their scandals, romances, and Jazz Age partying. In the years after the Great War, everyone seems to be letting down their guard, shedding established conventions and ignoring Prohibition. Inappropriate affairs, new money vs. old, secrets, and betrayals are at the core of this retelling of Strauss's De Rosenkavalier, as lovers bungle their romances and set ill-fated schemes into action. This book looks like it's classic Williams, with excellent period details and easy to envision characters. Out June 28 from William Morrow.

5 Books for June: Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane StratfordRadio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford: In 1926 London a secretary at the newly formed British Broadcasting Company radio station gets caught up in office politics and government secrets as she climbs the corporate ladder. Conflicts of artistic vision and gender issues underlay the excitement of cutting-edge technology and new opportunities. Several aspects of this novel attract me, including the BBC's debates on where the future (and the money) of the new medium was headed: educational (talk shows), news, drama, music, or sports? In addition, I'm interested in the idea that radio offered a place for women to rise in the business world. Finally, this novel presents a view of the 1920s that we don't often see. Out June 14 by New American Library.

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15 June 2016

Wordless Wednesday 398

Hay Field, 2016


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14 June 2016

Today's Read: Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger

Review: Ink and Bone by Lisa UngerImagine that you had psychic abilities. What would your responsibilities be—to the dead, to the living, and to yourself? Finley Montgomery is aware that her grandmother has helped solved crimes, can she do the same?

Daddy was on the phone talking soft and low, dropping behind them on the path. Nothing new. He was always on the phone—or on the computer. Penny knew that her daddy loved her, but she also knew that he was almost never paying attention. He was "busy, sweetie," or "with a client," or "just a minute honey, Daddy's talking to someone." He was a good storyteller, a bear-hugger, always opened his arms to her, lifted her high, or took her into his lap while he worked at his desk. Mommy couldn't lift her anymore, but Daddy still could. She loved the feel of him, the smell of him. He was never angry, always funny, but sometimes she had to say his name like one hundred times before he heard her, even when she was right next to him.
Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger (Touchstone, 2016, p. 1; Prologue)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times, the Hollows (a town in the Catskills, New York)
  • Circumstances: A young girl is kidnapped while on vacation with her family. Although it's been a little more than a year, the girl's mother, Merri, is back in the Hollows after hiring a local PI, Jones Cooper, to try one more time to find her Abbey. Cooper turns to Eloise, a psychic whom he's worked with on other cases, but discovers that her granddaughter Finley is the one who seems to have made a connection with spirits who can help them locate the missing child. Can Cooper and Finely figure out what happened to Abbey?
  • Genre, style: thriller / mystery with paranormal elements told from alternating points of view 
  • Themes: family; marriage; responsibility to oneself and one's community; how to live with psychic abilities
  • Characters: Finley Montgomery, a college student with psychic abilities; Eloisa, her grandmother, with whom Finley lives; Rainer, Finley's tattoo artist boyfriend; Abbey Gleason, the missing girl; Merri, Wolf, and Jackson Gleason, Abbey's family; Jones Cooper, ex-policeman, now PI; various people from the Hollows; people whom Abbey meets; the Gleasons' friends and family in Manhattan; other missing people and children
  • Things I liked: The slow build up of the tension and the underlying creep factor. Finley's struggle with her psychic abilities: how to control her visions and how to interpret them, when to trust herself and when to listen to her grandmother and Cooper. The chapters told from the missing girl's point of view had a youthful feel and made me shudder.
  • Things I didn't like: Some parts of the Gleasons' personal and family life were distracting. I liked getting to know Abbey's family, but I was more interested in Finley, the Hollows, and the case.
  • Something to know: Although Unger has set other novels in the Hollows (what a creepy place!), Ink and Bone can be read as a stand-alone with no problem.
  • Recommendations: I generally liked the book a lot, even though parts of the story veered off from the main plot. It's a quick read with decent tension, a few surprises, and a creepy feel. Some of the chapters told from Abbey's point of view were initially confusing, but all made sense in the end. This psychological thriller with a paranormal bent and good characters is a great choice for an afternoon at the pool.
  • Notes on the audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 11 hr, 49 min), read by Molly Pope. I think this was my first time with Pope, and I enjoyed her performance. The narration was expressive, and Pope did a particularly good job capturing Abbey's voice and distinguishing among the characters. There were times when she came close to too dramatic for my tastes, but she never crossed the line. I can recommend the audio, and I liked Pope enough to see what else she's narrated. I bet she'd be great reading middle grade or YA.

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13 June 2016

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Confessions and Goals

Confession: I used to write my reviews and thoughts almost immediately after I finished each book. In that way my blog was always up to date with my reading life. Today I was looking through my book list and realized my blog is now very much behind.

In fact, I've finished quite a number of books I haven't written about here, and I'm not sure my review/feature list is accurate any more. Yikes! What's the deal with that? Two things: AudioFile magazine and Litsy.

You probably don't know this, but normally when I finish listening to a book for AudioFile, I write two separate reviews: one for the magazine and one for my blog. Lately, I haven't been motivated to write up the second review for this space.

Now enter Litsy, where I've been posting short reviews and/or in-progress thoughts for every book and audiobook I've read. Once I've recorded a few sentences on the app, I find I'm not all that interested in putting together a detailed post for Beth Fish Reads. Clearly I've lost my long-post mojo.

What does this mean? The good news is that even if I'm having trouble writing long reviews, I still want to write about and talk about books. So what's a blogger to do? For now, look for short reviews (like the Sound Recommendations I posted last week), imprint previews, peeks at my reading list, and round-ups of books on a variety of topics. I think this more casual approach is calling to me, at least for now.

Current status: My three weekly core posts are Today's Read (Tuesdays), Wordless Wednesday, and Weekend Cooking (Saturday), and you won't see any changes there. My goal is to write at least one additional book post a week (reviews, round-ups) plus--when I have a topic--a Stacked-Up Book Thoughts or maybe something fun (like my Totes of BEA post from a couple of weeks ago).

Long-term goals: Let's call my current mood a summer vacation, a regrouping, a time to chill. I'm not at all ready to say good-bye to Beth Fish Reads or to turn my back on book reviewing. I do, however, welcome the mini break. Stay tuned for shorter reviews and other bookish posts on Beth Fish Reads and be sure to read my reviews in AudioFile and catch my book thoughts on Litsy and on Twitter (@BethFishReads).

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11 June 2016

Weekend Cooking: Good Food, Good Life by Curtis Stone

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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Review: Good Food, Good Life by Curtis StoneIf you follow the Weekend Cooking links, then you've run across Curtis Stone's name many times. All the recipes that have been shared here have looked especially appealing, so I've bought three of his cookbooks

Have I ever cooked from any of said books? No! But I did finally sit down and read through his Good Food, Good Life book to learn more about Stone and his way of cooking.

Before I even looked at a recipe, I was taken in by the photographs in Good Food, Good Life. I want to get to know Stone! He looks like my kind of person: relaxed, casual, and family oriented.

Although I'm always a bit leery of books by restaurant and television chefs, I was confident I'd like Stone's dishes, based on the recipes I've seen in posts linked to Weekend Cooking. I was right. The food in this cookbook is incredibly accessible and easily reproduced in a typically equipped home kitchen. As Stone says in the introduction, there are the recipes he makes "at home from morning to night" for his family and friends.

The nature of the recipes bears this out: no odd ingredients or fussy techniques. Instead you'll find simple braising, roasting, and grilling. If you know how to chop and boil water, you'll probably have good success with the dishes in this cookbook.

Review: Good Food, Good Life by Curtis StoneSo what will you find inside the covers? Sandwiches, soups, salads, and snacks; dinners, drinks, and desserts; plus breakfasts and breads (ran out of alliterations!). Here are just some of the recipes I marked to try:
  • Pan bagnat: this looks amazing with its tuna, basil, and olives
  • Chicken chili verde: I have a weakness for green sauce and pumpkin seeds
  • Spice-rubbed pork tenderloin: grilled and served with grilled asparagus, perfect for spring.
  • Falafel: made with almonds, cayenne, and cilantro. Yum!
  • Roasted squash: napped in brown butter. Oh yeah.
  • Chicken wings: these have an Asian twist, with lime and green curry
What else? Strawberry turnovers (see scan), walnut-date muffins, roasted salmon, broccoli rabe pasta, and tomato gratin. You should see how many bookmarks I have in Good Food, Good Life; so many recipes are calling to me.

A couple more notes:
  • The flavor profile is global: American, Australian, Italian, Mexican, and South Asian
  • I love the features, such as prep time, cooking time, make-ahead hints, technique boxes, variations, and suggested go-with dishes
  • The design is clean and fresh, with lots of grays and whites. Very inviting.
  • I bought the eBook edition and mine doesn't have an index, which makes me a little unhappy. On the other hand, it's easy enough to do a search in an eBook.
Bottom line? What the heck am I waiting for? I should just listen to all my online friends and cook from a Curtis Stone book already. I highly recommend Good Food, Good Life and can't wait to explore the other two Stone cookbooks I bought.

Cheddar-and-Corn Cream Biscuits

Review: Good Food, Good Life by Curtis StoneMakes 6 biscuits
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup shredded white Cheddar Cheese (about 3 ounces
  • ⅓ cup fresh corn kernels
  • 1⅓ cups chilled heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour baking powder, sugar, and salt to blend. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, mix in the cheese and corn. Add the cream and gently mix with your hands or a wooden spoon just until a moist dough forms; do not overwork or knead the dough, or the biscuits will be tough.

Form the dough into 6 mounds on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown on the top and bottom and just baked through. Serve warm.

NOTE: Scans and recipes are used here in the context of a review. All rights remain with the original copyright holders: Curtis Stone, Ballantine Books, and/or Ray Kachatorian.

Published by Ballantine Books, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780345542557
Source: bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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09 June 2016

Sound Recommendations: Audiobook Hits & Misses

Review: I Was Really Very Hungry: A Portrait of MFK Fisher by Kelly NesporI Was Really Very Hungry: A Portrait of M. F. K. Fisher is a collection of Fisher's writings that was adapted for the theater by Kelly Nespor for L.A. Theatre Works. Fisher, if you don't know, was one of the original food writers, and if you are familiar with her work, you'll recognize many of the scenes compiled here. The audiobook is a recording of the theater production and is read by a full cast, headed by Anne Archer as Fisher. All the actors, and especially Archer, captured the personalities of characters, giving the production a believable emotional depth. The pieces making up this audiobook are linked by their focus on the many types of appetites, such as hunger, sex, love, and ambition. The audiobook production is well done and maintains the theater feel by retaining the audience's reaction to the stage play. Probably best suited for Fisher's fans.

Review: Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma LakshmiLove, Loss, and What We Ate is a memoir written and narrated by Padma Lakshmi. I normally shy away from author-read audiobooks, but I had confidence that Lakshmi's television experience would make her a good narrator. I was right, and it was pleasure to hear her read her own story. I was interested in her journey from India to America and from model to food television fame. And, of course, I was curious about her marriage to Salman Rushdie. Lakshmi's performance is relaxed and conversational, making you feel as if you were listening to a friend talk about her life. Besides a little celebrity gossip, Lakshmi frankly shares her issues with infertility and endometriosis, giving this memoir broad appeal.

Review: Reign of Shadows by Sophie JordanReign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan is a sort of mashup of dystopian fiction and the fairy tale "Rapunzel." I know, sounds really weird, but the story kind of worked. The characters were good, the love story had some depth, and the action scenes were vivid, but the overall world-building was lacking. In addition, the characters sometimes acted in unbelievable ways (a blind girl found her way through an unfamiliar forest, for example). Still, the performances by Phoebe Strole and James Fouhey were well done and emphasized the differences between the two main characters. Listen to this if you are a fan of fairy tale retellings or zombie stories, otherwise I think you'll be safe to pass on it.

Review: Save Room for Pie by Roy Blount Jr.I like Roy Blount Jr. and I like food writing, so Save Room for Pie seemed like a good match for me. The audiobook is a compilation of essays in which Blount talks about dishes from his childhood, eating local, raising chickens, and going fishing, among other topics. The stories are mostly amusing and are read by Blount himself, who has years of experience behind the mic. I particularly liked the contrasts between his Southern upbringing and his current New England life, especially in terms of how he eats. Although the subtitle of the book is "Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations," there is no singing. Unfortunately I can't quite recommend this wholeheartedly. The performance was fine, but I began to tire of the stories by the end of the audiobook. If you're curious, I suggest listening to this a piece or two at time, perhaps on your commute.

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08 June 2016

Wordless Wednesday 397

Beach, 2016


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

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07 June 2016

Today's Read: I'm Your Biggest Fan by Kate Coyne

Review: I'm Your Biggest Fan by Kate CoyneHow do you go from teenage fan girl to adult professional fan woman? Just ask Kate Coyne, who got her first autograph at age 13 and turned her passion into a career, first as a reporter for Page Six and now as executive editor of People magazine. Here is her story: the funny, the embarrassing, and the maddening.

Let's cut to the chase: Tom Cruise is insanely charismatic, so much so that you do feel as though you could maybe, kind of, possibly, convert to Scientology for him. Charlize Theron is so stunningly beautiful it's hard not to reach out and touch her face just to make sure she's real and not carved out of some sort of highly rare and expensive marble that's lit from within. Kelly Ripa is hilarious and warm and bawdy and she makes you want to be her best friend or her babysitter or anything that would involve getting to call her whenever you wanted and hearing her latest outrageous story (the ones you're hearing on morning television are beyond sanitized). Cindy Crawford has no cellulite—believe me. I've stared long enough to make sure. And yes, there are stars who are so cold and aloof and rude that you want to slap them, and others who are so incredibly kind and gracious that you want to write their parents a thank-you note for raising them right.
I'm Your Biggest Fan by Kate Coyne (Hachette Books, 2016, pp. 1–2, uncorrected ARC)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times, lots of places
  • Circumstances: In this memoir Coyne tells us about her rise through the ranks of celebrity reporting and shares some stories about the many famous people she's met over the years. She lets us in on her most awkward moments, her mega fangirl meltdowns, and her favorite bonding interviews.
  • Genre, style: memoir written in a fun, light conversational style.
  • Thoughts: I don't follow celebrity gossip, but nonetheless I was curious about how Coyne turned her lifelong passion into a career. I found her to be funny and down to earth. The stories she tells give you a real sense of what it's like to be a celebrity reporter. I laughed at the "Oh No" goofs, like when she published Conan O'Brien's St. Patrick's Day Stew in Good Housekeeping only to learn while watching Conan on his live TV show that the recipe wasn't his and he doesn't know how to cook . . . anything! I laughed at her complete "full-blown nose-dive" at meeting Neil Patrick Harris, and then cheered at Tom Hanks's gentlemanly rescue of her. I also liked Coyne's lists: what not to eat while interviewing a star, the dumbest things she's said on TV, and what celebrity clothing is now in her closet. I'm glad Coyne didn't listen to Michael Douglas, who advised her to quit her job, because clearly she found her niche.
  • Recommendation: I read this while at the beach and thought it was perfect for a lazy afternoon. Plus I had fun sharing some of the stories with my family and friends. You won't find anything mean in I'm Your Biggest Fan, but you will gain new insight into some your favorite stars. They may seem larger than life, but Kate Coyne shows us that they are, in the end, just regular people who (usually) love to be loved. You may want to borrow this memoir instead of buying it, but in either case, don't forget to add it to your summer reading list.

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04 June 2016

Weekend Cooking: 3 Mobile Apps for Recipes and Wine

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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3 mobile apps for recipes and wineWelcome to another addition in the story of my never-ending efforts to maintain some sanity when it comes to finding recipes.

Most of us follow a few food blogs and keep a recipe board (or two or three) on Pinterest. Many of us still love cookbooks, and others read magazines and newspapers for new ideas. I do all of these. But I also rely on three apps: two for recipes and one for wine.

I've tried all kinds of foodie apps over the years, but I've stuck with only two of them because they provide generally reliable recipes and do exactly what I want them to, which is simply to help me find something to cook or bake.

I'm not that interested in shopping lists and ratings and maintaining yet another social media site. Just let me look up, say, "rhubarb desserts" and give me some options. Both of the following recipe apps do that for me. I'm sure there are all kinds of other features, but I don't use them.

Note that all three are available on Android and iOS and all are free (or at least the versions I use are free).

3 mobile apps for recipes and wineThe New York Times Cooking app gives you pretty good access to all of the newspaper's recipes. It's easy to search for recipes by various keywords, such as ingredient, meal, course, or diet (vegetarian, low carb, etc.). You can also combine filters to run a more complex search: cinnamon + gluten free + dessert, for example gave me 8 recipes, including doughnuts! I've never used the other features, but you can save recipes to a personal recipe box, rate recipes, and sign up to learn to cook.

3 mobile apps for recipes and wineSince I got my very first apartment when I was undergraduate, I've been a big fan of both Gourmet (RIP) and Bon Appetit. Thus it was pretty much a given that I'd download the Epicurious app, which gives me access to decades worth of recipes from both magazines. The app works almost exactly like the Times app but my search for cinnamon + gluten free + dessert came up with over 100 recipes. Again, there are a handful of useful features, which I haven't used.

3 mobile apps for recipes and wineI've only just discovered the Vivino app, but it might be the answer to my wine app dreams. All I want is to have a searchable record of the wines we buy plus our ratings. I know, I could use Evernote or a journal, but after just two weeks, I like Vivino better.

Here's how it works: you take a photograph of the label, and the app searches its database for the wine. Once it finds a match, you can (among other things) rate the wine, add tasting notes, and record the cost. You can also see how other people have rated the wine, find food pairings, read information from the producer, and get an idea of the average price. The app isn't perfect, however; sometimes it misreads the label, but so far I've been able to manually edit the important information.

Although this is a social media app (I'm BethFishReads), I'm not using it that way. I'm just scanning in our dinner wine and adding a rating. It's fun to see where our tastes fit with other app users, and I've also checked the Vivino wine ratings while at the store so I can avoid bringing home a loser. It's too early to tell if I'll stick with the app, but so far, so good.

Do you use any mobile apps to keep track of your recipes, wine, or beer?

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03 June 2016

8 Books to Look Forward To (BEA)

8 Books to Look Forward ToOne thing I love about BookExpo American (BEA) is the look into my reading future. Publicists are naturally extra-excited about the books coming out over the summer, but they are also already talking about fall and even 2017.

Although I won't likely get to these books until the weather starts to turn again, I thought I share a handful of those that came home with me from Chicago. So what's on my list? A mix of familiar authors and new ones, literary fiction and fantasy, books in translation, and even some art history. Can't wait to hear which ones call to you.

Favorite Authors / New Novels

8 Books to Look Forward To• Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Levitt: Set around 1970, this novel captures an era as a young girl heads off to rural Pennsylvania on a journey of independence. A coming-of-age story with themes of first love, sisters, and loss of innocence all with an undercurrent of danger. "Lucy runs away with her high school teacher, William, on a Friday, the last day of school, a June morning shiny with heat." (Algonquin, October) • The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue: In Donohue's classic style of mixing reality with fantasy, this is a tale of a woman who is trapped in a magical world and of her husband who must first find her and then figure out how to rescue her. Set in the Old City of Quebec "She fell in love with a puppet." (Picador, October)

Stories about Writers: Translated

8 Books to Look Forward To• Cabo de Gata by Eugen Ruge: A Berlin writer escapes his past to start over in small coastal Andalusian village, but settling in to a new home in his new country requires more than just trying to learn Spanish. Only after he befriends a ginger cat, does his life begin to truly change. Translated from the German. "I remember stopping short midmovement." (Graywolf Press, November) • Agnes by Peter Stamm: When Agnes asks her lover to write a story about her, he begins with their happy courtship, but he soon realizes he needs some tension or drama to bring life to his tale. Is he writing fiction or making plans? Translated from the German. "Agnes is dead. Killed by a story." (Other Press, October)

Mysterious Doings

8 Books to Look Forward To• The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz: This story within stories, set in France in 1242, is about a peasant girl, a young monk, and a mysterious boy healer. Travelers at an inn begin to relate what they know about the magical trio, allowing us to piece together a tale of danger, dragons, clashing religions, and kingly courts. Middle grade fantasy with a Chaucer foundation & beautiful illuminated illustrations. "The king is ready for war." (Dutton, September) • The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders: Laetitia Rodd, a middle-aged widow puts her inquiring mind to work as a private investigator, often helping her barrister brother. When she goes undercover as a governess at a country estate, she unearths much more than the details of the young master's love life. Set in Victorian England and the first of a new series. "It was a bright, windy October morning, and Mrs. Bentley and I were down in the basement kitchen making a rabbit pudding." (Bloomsbury, September)

Artists in History

8 Books to Look Forward To• A Revolution in Color by Jane Kamensky: John Singleton Copley counted many of the Boston patriots as his clients and patrons in the years before the Revolution. The artist, however, did not share their political views. This well-researched history/biography looks at Copley's life, ambitions, and paintings both in the colonies and in London and sets all in the context of contemporary politics and sociocultural ideas. "John Singleton Copley grew up facing the sea, heaving heart of Britain's growing blue-water empire." (Norton, October) • Mad Enchantment by Ross King: When you hear the name Claude Monet, you're likely to immediately think of his famous water lily paintings, but you might not know story behind how he came to create that series. This thoroughly researched biography looks at Monet's late-in-life work against the bigger picture of his personal losses, World War I, and the rising generation of new artists with their bold, experimental styles. "Where was Georges Clemenceau?" (Bloomsbury, September)

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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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