28 February 2017

Today's Read & Giveaway: Sci-Fi Junior High by John Martin and Scott Seegert

NOTE: For some reason, Google forms is suddenly creating a popup for some people asking if you want to leave this page when you click away. Just say yes! I can't figure out how to stop it.

Review and Giveaway: Sci-Fi Junior High by John Martin and Scott SeegertHave you ever been the new kid in school? Even if you have, I bet you had it easy compared to Kelvin, whose new home is very, very far away from his last one. Oh and did I forget to mention the dodgy principal, a food fight, and the mad scientist?

Seriously? Mom and Dad expect me to get up and go to school the morning after a 329,000,000,000,000,000-mile road trip across the galaxy? And I'm not even a morning person to begin with. I can't fake being sick, either. Not with the sterile environment of the space station. No germs = no sickness. Ever. Not even the sniffles. At least I got a good night's sleep. The zero-gravity pods in our LIV spaces are waaaay mroe comfortable than regular beds. And you sleep standing up, so they take up less space.
Sci-Fi Junior High by John Martin and Scott Seegert (Jimmy Patterson, 2017, p. 7)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: the Galactic Science Hub, somewhere in our galaxy
  • Circumstances: Kelvin Klosmo's parents are two of the smartest scientists around and are often called on to work on special projects, which means Kelvin and his little sister, Bula, move often. Everyone assumes Kelvin's the smartest kid in the universe because he inherited double intelligence from his parents. Kelvin, however, is trying to hide the fact that his brilliance hasn't quite kicked in yet. Just days after he settles into his new school—Sciriustrati Fibronoculareus (aka Sci-Fi) Junior High—and starts to make new friends, the space station is threatened by an evil scientist. Can Kelvin and his friends save the galaxy?
  • Genre and medium: science fiction combined with humor; a mix of chapter book and graphic novel
  • Themes: family friendship, learning how to be yourself instead of trying to impress others
  • Characters: the Klosmo family; a strict principal; male and female students at school; a villian
  • The good: I really like the premise behind this story and the new Jimmy Patterson imprint, which is geared to making reading fun for kids just getting into longer books. Sci-Fi Junior High is written in short chapters, many of which are drawn out in comic book form, and the dialogue is introduced with icons of the characters, which makes the story easy to follow. There is a very diverse cast of individuals (creatures from around the universe), but they are familiar in personality, so young readers will easily relate.
  • The less good: The story itself isn't told chronologically, and the transitions weren't always smooth. I think the dialogue would appeal to youngsters, but it didn't always work for an adult reader, but—of course—adults are not the intended audience. Finally, the plot was somewhat formulaic, but that's again from an adult perspective.
  • Recommendations: Young middle grade readers (8- to 10-year-olds), the target audience for Sci-Fi Junior High, will love the humor and adventure of Kelvin's story. Kids just getting addicted to reading and moving into chapter books will love the drawings and sections told through comic book panels. This book is a terrific way to help children discover the adventure of reading.
  • Other things to know: You can follow the new Jimmy Patterson imprint (a division of Hachette Book Group) on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and can learn more by visiting the official website. Look for hashtag #SciFiJuniorHigh across all your social media.
The Giveaway

Review and Giveaway: Sci-Fi Junior High by John Martin and Scott SeegertThanks to the great people at Jimmy Patterson Books, I have a super giveaway today: one reader with a U.S. mailing address will not only receive a copy of John Martin and Scott Seegert's Sci-Fi Junior High but will also get a cool iron-on patch, a pencil case, and rocket ship pens! This is seriously awesome book swag. 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 March 7. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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27 February 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Mini-Reviews and Books on My Radar

 Book reviews and previewsNot much of interest happening around here, and I consider that to be a good thing. We managed to turn off the news a few times this week so we could watch a few television shows, listen to some music, and catch up on our reading. Ahhh, feels good.

Getting organized (again): I have officially declared myself to be a total failure when it comes to organizing my books. Actually it's worse than that: I'm not trying to organize my books, I just want to keep track of them, all of them -- print, audio, and e.

The problem boils down to one thing. When I have free time, I really would rather be doing almost anything else besides entering books into an app. I haven't completely given up on my dream of creating a unified database, but I recognize this is going to be a lifelong struggle.

Mini-Reviews of Last Week's Books

 Book reviews and previews
  • Setting Free the Kites by Alex George (Putnam; 9780399162107): I used to say that books don't make me cry, but that was before I started reading Alex George. His characters are so real to me, I'm completely and utterly emotionally attached to them. This strong, authentic story of loss and growth, of being boys, of finding hope and embracing life against all odds simmers slowly in my heart, and Liam, Robert, and Nathan (and even Hollis) will remain with me as I continue to strive to set my own kites free. One of the best books I'll read all year from one of my favorite authors. Buy this book, read this book (and keep those tissues handy).
  • Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin (Katherine Tegen Books; 9780062458544): I had mixed success with this novel in verse, which is a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in contemporary times in the Mideast (Israel and Palestine). Laskin did a good job emphasizing the similarities between the lives of the Jewish girl and Muslim boy (such as sitting down for family dinners) and highlighting the idea that each generation is a little more tolerant than the one before it. In addition, I enjoyed finding the places where the novel subtly echoed the original play ("I hate the parting / the sorrow of it / the fear / tomorrow will never come"). On the other hand, there was so much teen angst I found my attention wandering, and I'm not sure I bought the ending. Read this with reduced expectations.
  • Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli (Clarion Books; 9780547483931): This  beautifully illustrated middle grade graphic novel is the story of a mermaid who discovers there is more to life and the world than the aquarium, in which she lives. It's a coming-of-age story, with a strong theme of friendship, that will capture young readers' imaginations. The plot advances mostly through the drawings, which are rich in ocean colors and convincingly convey emotion and movement. The story line of the mermaid's keeper could have been a little better developed, but I'm still recommending the book.
What I'm Listening to Now / Reading Plans

 Book reviews and previews
  • The Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan (Recorded Books), read by Tim Gerard Reynolds: My current listen is making it very difficult for me to work. I am so invested in this fantasy world and the characters, I just have to know what happens next. This is not magic wand fantasy but a medieval-like world with elves, dwarfs, and wizards; kings, a clergy, and commoners; politics, war, and love. If you like epic fantasy, you'll like Sullivan, and narrator Reynolds has nailed the characters' personalities and the pace of the story.
  • The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina A. Henriquez (Knopf; 9780385350846): This novel about a Mexican family looking for hope and miracles in America is next up in my print reading. Although published in 2014, this story of immigration promises to be especially relevant in the context of today's political atmosphere.
  • All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 9780544824249): Next up on my eReader is this contemporary story about family, adulthood, and discovering what's really important. I gave high marks to a couple of Attenberg's earlier novels (for example, The Middlesteins) and am expecting a sharp, smart, and sometimes humorous look at modern-day life.
What's Up This Week

I have a review and giveaway of a fun middle grade book tomorrow, a photo on Wednesday, and a themed reading list later in the week. Saturday, of course, will be something foodie.

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25 February 2017

Weekend Cooking: Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked by Raghavan Iyer

Review of Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked by Raghavan IyerWhenever I think of Raghavan Iyer, I immediately start craving Indian food, like the dishes in his Indian Cooking Unfolded, which I reviewed a few years ago. Yet this James Beard Award-winning author and cook is, of course, much more versatile than that.

In Smashed, Mashed, Boiled, and Baked and Fried, Too!, he explores all the wonders of the potato--white, sweet, red, and gold. Featuring Iyer's usual style, this cookbook goes beyond simply providing recipes.

Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked starts with a mini-encyclopedia of potatoes, including nutrition, whether to buy organic, and which cultivar to use in which situation. In addition, throughout the book, you'll find dozens of "Tater Tips," which not only focus on making you a potato expert but also introduce you to a world of ingredients and handy cooking techniques.

Review of Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked by Raghavan IyerThe cookbook is published by Workman, so you know the color scheme and graphics are eye-catching and the recipes are clearly written and well edited. The chapters take you from munchies to salads, sides, and mains and end with luscious desserts: sweet potato sweet rolls with Cointreau glaze? Yes, please; I'll take two.

The wide range of recipes cover the expected, like Russian potato salad, as well as more surprising fusion dishes, such as Asian-inspired steamed buns with potatoes and chives. So many of the recipes appeal to me, I could pretty much start at the beginning of the book and make everything: Canadian lamb pie, Mexican empanadas, Eastern European knishes, Indian curry, Chinese tea-infused new potatoes, and French sweet potato tart.

Despite the global foundation of the dishes, Iyer is always careful to make sure his recipes are accessible to everyone. I think the most exotic ingredient I found in this book was lemon grass, and even I can buy that at the supermarket. I don't know about you, but I appreciate it when a cookbook author remembers we don't all live in New York City or Seattle.

Review of Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked by Raghavan IyerAn especially welcome feature of Smashed, Mashed, Boiled, and Baked is the dual index. Besides the conventional index of recipes and ingredients, the cookbook also contains an index of recipes appropriate for different dietary restrictions: gluten free, vegan, and two kinds of vegetarian. How helpful is that?

If you like foodie eye-candy you won't be disappointed. Although there isn't a photograph of every single recipe, there many beautiful full-page photos of the finished dishes and some that demonstrate cooking techniques. I think you'll be happy.

I had a hard time picking a recipe to share, mostly because I didn't want to leave out any of the helpful tips and information. I decided that instead of typing, I'd scan a recipe (you'll have to click the image to enlarge it and to see it in sharp focus.) I picked this potato salad because its North African flavors sound so warming and good. Be sure to read the Tater Tips and the introduction so you can tweak this dish to your personal taste.

Raghavan Iyer's Harissa Potato Salad

Note on photos: All photos were scanned by me or downloaded from Workman's website and are used in the context of this review. All rights remain with the original copyright holder, Raghavan Iyer or photographer Matthew Benson.

Published by Workman, 2016
ISBN-13: 9780761185475
Source: review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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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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24 February 2017

Imprint Friday: 8 cozy mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime

Is it winter or is it summer? You can't tell by the temperatures here in central Pennsylvania. When life gets crazy, I get cozy -- here are the latest offerings from Berkley Prime Crime Paperbacks, all released either February 7 or March 7 of this year. I love the titles and the covers (click images for clear view)!

8 cozy mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime
  • Cold Pressed Murder by Kelly Lane: The Olive Grove series is set in Abundance, Georgia, where Eva Knox and her sisters run an upscale olive plantation, entertain the tourists, and solve murders. This second installment involves a food festival, complete with celebrity chefs and a host of quirky characters, some of whom may be guilty of murder. Recipes are included.
  • A Wee Homicide in the Hotel by Fran Stewart: The ScotShop series has a paranormal element: protagonist Peggy Winn's ghostly companion, Dirk, a medieval Highlander who comes in handy when there's a murder to solve. Peggy's base is her Scots-themed store, nestled in a small Vermont town. In this third outing, a tourist is found dead in his hotel room, the victim of a bagpipe crime.
  • Blown Away by Clover Tate: This brand-new series is set on the Oregon coast and stars Emmy Adler, who is getting ready to open her one-of-a-kind, artisan kite shop. It looked like a wonderful day to let her dreams soar high . . . until she finds a body on the beach, and her best friend becomes the prime suspect.
  • Gone with the Twins by Kylie Logan: The League of Literary Ladies Mysteries are set on an island in Lake Erie, where the local book club is earning a reputation for their sleuthing abilities. In the fifth entry, the women get caught up in a murder that may have roots in the island real estate business. It gets personal when the police start to suspect that one of the club members might be guilty.
8 cozy mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime
  • No Cats Allowed by Miranda James: A Cat in the Stacks series combines a book-loving cat, Diesel, and a murder-solving librarian, Charlie Harris, who live in a small town in Mississippi. In the seventh installment, local bigwigs decide to make changes to the beloved library, and things heat up, resulting in a murder. Can Charlie and Diesel find the killer before an innocent staffer gets convicted?
  • Roux the Day by Linda Wiken: The Dinner Club Mysteries are set in Burlington, Vermont, and revolve around themed dinner parties, with a little murder on the side. In this second installment, dinner plans go awry when one of the guests is found dead before the meal has ended. Police point the finger at our hero, master event planner J. J. Tanner. Recipes are included.
  • The Silence of the Flans by Laura Bradford: In the Emergency Dessert Squad series, Cincinnati baker Winnie Johnson has a talent for sweets and for digging up clues. When a student is found poisoned after eating one of Winnie's desserts, she must scramble to clear her name and her shop's reputation. This is the second entry in the series, and it includes recipes.
  • War and Peach by Susan Furlong: In this third Georgia Peach Mystery, Nola May Harper, peach farmer and shopkeeper, stays current both with the local gossip and with any murders. When the race for mayor becomes deadly, the town turns against Margie, an area businesswoman with political ambitions. Nola, however, is sure her friend is innocent, if only she can prove it. Recipes are included.

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22 February 2017

Wordless Wednesday 434

Winter hike, 2017


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20 February 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: All Things Audiobooks

Audiobook News from Beth Fish ReadsI'm so looking forward to this week, when life in the BFR household should (theoretically) return to normal. Yay us! Mr. BFR got the green light to drive again, and he's starting to get out for some short walks.

What's more, the weather has temporarily turned mild, and I love the idea that I can get out with my camera again. I've missed my outdoor walks; the treadmill just isn't the same.

In other news, I plan to return to book talk on Twitter. I think politics are important (no matter which side of the aisle you're on). I'm sure I'll veer off in that direction every once in a while, but I want to take back my social media by focusing once again on books, movies, TV, and some fun things. I don't think a few calm moments will detract from the big changes we are facing. If others think I'm shallow to talk about cooking, well, I can live with that.

Three Cheers for Audiobooks! 

Review: The Gilded Cage by Vic JamesI finished listening to Vic James's The Gilded Cage (Del Rey), which explores an alternate history world in which some people are born with magic. In England, the people with magic are the people in political power and the ones with all the resources. The ordinary people (those without magic) are required to serve ten years as slaves in return for full citizenship. Slavery is not required, but it does grant certain rights and privileges . . . if you survive unbroken or survive at all. We follow two families, one magically gifted and the other not. I really love the world building (alternate history mixed with contemporary culture) and the plotting (politics, family, friendships, betrayals), and found some characters to root for and some to hate.

The unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 11 hr, 32 min) was read by Avita Jay. While I didn't hate her performance, there was something off-putting: perhaps a little bit of a repetitive cadence? In addition, the characterizations were not as distinct as I would have liked. I'm recommending this one in print and am looking forward to the next book.

Here's a video in which author Vic James talks about her surprising first writing prize and early her influences.


Recommended audiobooksI started listening to Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey read by Gemma Dawson and Alex Wyndam. The book itself is a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, though you don't have to be familiar with the play to enjoy the story. It's an interesting take on the original, although neither narrator is totally grabbing me. I'm listening for a freelance assignment, so I'll persevere.

So what was fabulous? I recently re-read Lyndsay Faye's Jane Steele in audiobook form (Penguin Audio; 12 hr, 14 min). The book was just as much fun the second time around, thanks to Susie Riddell's fantastic performance. She had great timing, the perfect level of expressive drama, and let the humor speak for itself. I found it very hard to stop listening. If you're unfamiliar with the novel, this is a story inspired by Jane Eyre (not a retelling) and includes a touch of murder and a resourceful protagonist. Oh, and there's a bit of romance too. Don't miss it in print or audio.

Other Audiobook News
  • Do you check audiobooks out from the library? If so you're probably relying on physical CDs or Overdrive. Did you know there was another audiobook service that many libraries offer for digital downloads? It's Hoopla, which offers a wide range of audiobooks, some of which you may be able to download without having to sit on a waiting list. Hoopla also offers movies, music, books, and comics, so check it out. It's free with your library card in the United States and Canada (not sure about elsewhere).
  • Do you have a streaming speaker system in your house for listening to music, podcasts, and the radio? Have you ever thought of using it to listen to a book? Here are two pairings I know about: If you have a Sonos speaker you can listen to your Audiobooks.com books through it. If you have an Amazon Echo, you can listen to your Audible.com books. Both audiobook services require a membership, but listening through your house system should be easy to set up.
  • Do you blog about audiobooks? Are you an advocate for audiobooks on YouTube, Twitter, or other social media? If so, please seriously consider entering the Audio Publishers Association's Blogger of the Year contest. I am the current reigning Blogger of the Year, and I can tell you that it's been a blast! I loved attending the Audies gala event, meeting Paula Poundstone, and continuing to be a big advocate for audiobooks. The application and rules are available on the APA's website, and I urge you to apply--don't be shy. The judges recognize all kinds of bloggers and audiobook fans. It doesn't cost you anything to apply, so JUST DO IT.
  • Talking about the Audies, in case you missed it, this year's Audies nominees were announced a couple of weeks ago. The full list of audiobooks and narrators can be found on the Audies page of AudioFile Magazine (you'll see a link there for the pdf / press release). Check out the honored audiobooks and then get listening.
  • Talking even more about the Audies, if you want to have a say about the unofficial winners this year, then be sure to look for Jennifer of Literate Housewife on Twitter, Litsy, her blog, and Facebook and check out Armchair Audies for information on getting involved. (BTW: Jennifer won the first Audiobook Blogger of the Year Award, and I know she too would encourage you to apply!)
Phew! I think I've flooded you with enough audiobook news for one week! If you listen to audiobooks, let me know what you're listening to right now; I'm always looking for my next favorite audiobook.

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18 February 2017

Weekend Cooking: 6 Links for Food Lovers (#3)

6 links for food loversFood over the last week has been all about comfort, because Mr. BFR was recovering from hernia surgery. For example, I made split pea soup, roast chicken, and a simple pasta dish.

On Valentine's Day, he wasn't ready to have a glass of champagne or to go out dinner, but I hated to let the day slip by completely unnoticed. Fortunately, I get the Smitten Kitchen email newsletter, and I found the perfect solution right there: Deb's incredible chocolate red wine cake: it's moist, rich, and insanely delicious, plus it comes together quickly. I left off the topping, but that marscapone cream looks awesome.

The photo is mine -- I always forget to pull out my camera when I'm enjoying my food.

Because this wasn't the week to try new recipes or check out a new cookbook or foodie show, I thought I'd share a half dozen links I've saved and thought you might have fun exploring.

  • 6 links for food loversMake the Cheesy Bread That the French Nibble Nightly: I'm a big fan of Dorie Greenspan and her Washington Post column. Recently I spotted this recipe for a hearty quick bread, which seems to me to be an easy way to pretend I'm in Paris. Note too how many times the French sit down to eat and visit with friends and family. Sounds like heaven.
  • Sugar, Explained: We're past the winter holidays and we're done celebrating Valentine's Day, but before we get too used to being without sweets, Easter will be upon us. Jelly beans, anyone? This article from Vox, complete with some easy to digest (ha!) graphics, may make you think twice before eating that chocolate bunny (or not).
  • 7 of the Best Food Blogs for Eating on a Budget: Okay, so I'm not sure Huffington Post has truly unearthed the best of budget food blogs, but this list would be a great place to start if you're looking for recipes that won't empty your wallet. Although I was already familiar with three of the featured blogs, I was happy to add a couple more to my list.
  • Why Isn't This Working? 5 Variables That Affect Recipe Timing: I almost always learn something new when I visit Serious Eats, and this article caught my attention. No huge surprises in this list, but I want to remember these points, especially when cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen.
  • Jacques Pépin Says Following a Recipe Can Lead to Disaster: Master chef Jacques Pépin is no stranger to public television and the PBS Newshour. I love what he has to say about following recipes exactly and what happens when friends serve him a dish from one his cookbooks. The short piece ran last spring, and by clicking the link you can either watch a video or read the transcript.
  • 11 Slow-Cooker Meals You Can Prep and Freeze Ahead of Time: The title of this article is slightly misleading, but the tips from Self Magazine for pre-prepping ingredients for slow-cooker meals could be a life-saver for busy cooks. I like the idea of cooking and freezing on the weekend so weekday meals can be put together quickly, when time is at a premium.
Hope you find at least one link that catches your eye. (Photo credit: Deb Lindsey / for The Washington Post.)

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16 February 2017

6 Mystery Series to Die For

Please tell me I'm not the only one who gets started on a series and then, well, gets started on another series and then another. . . until I can barely remember which series I'm supposed to be reading. I've read at least one book in each of the following mystery series. I keep telling myself to get back to these authors, especially because all the books featured here are published this month.

6 Mystery Series to Die For
  • Bookman Dead Stye by Paige Shelton (#2 in the Dangerous Type series; Berkley Prime Crime): This cozy mystery series is set in a Utah tourist town and stars Clare Henry who, along with her grandfather, restores old typewriters and repairs old books. Clare also has a tendency to get caught up in solving murders with her pal on the police force. Great characters, a little romance, and good plotting make me want to read more.
  • The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel (#8 in the Louise Rick series; Grand Central Publishing): This police procedural series features Copenhagen detective Louise Rick,who is particularly skilled at solving missing person cases. The crimes are sometimes brutal, but the darkness is offset by Louise's personal life, which has its ups and downs in the love department but is balanced by steady friendships.
  • Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong (#2 in the Casey Duncan novels; Minotaur Books): This unique, gritty series is set in the northern Canadian wilderness, in a town that is virtually off the grid and barely has electricity. Rockton residents have their secrets, including relative newcomer detective Casey Duncan. Casey may be running from her past, but there's no escaping murder, which is found even on the fringes of civilization.
6 Mystery Series to Die For
  • Death of a Ghost by M. C. Beaton (#32 in the Hamish Macbeth series; Grand Central Publishing): Unambitious Hamish Macbeth is happy being the constable in the north Scotland town of Lochdubh, even if he generally runs circles around the city detectives when it come to solving murders. This is a fun, light series that's perfect for the beach or travel; you'll get lost in the characters' lives and enjoy a guilty pleasure.
  • Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman (#32 in the Alex Delaware series; Ballantine): This thriller series stars LA child psychologist Alex Delaware, who has a knack for getting mixed up in murder, thanks to his friend Milo, an LAPD detective. If you pick up this series, expect forensic psychology, a complex protagonist, LGBTQ characters, and detailed plotting.
  • Bone Box by Faye Kellerman (#24 in the Decker/Lazarus series; William Morrow): Detective Peter Decker and his wife, Rina Lazarus, originally solved murders in Los Angeles, but they later moved to upstate New York, where murder and other crimes are, apparently, just as common. The series deals with dark murders that often have a foundation in a current socioeconomic issue. In addition, the novels feature strong threads of contemporary Orthodox Jewish life.

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15 February 2017

Wordless Wednesday 433

Number 11B


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14 February 2017

Today's Read: Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis

Two Days Gone by Randall SilvisImagine how you'd feel if you learned that the family of a friend of yours had been brutally murdered. What if that friend, a man you admired, was nowhere to be found? Now go one more step: You're one of the state police investigators responsible for solving this crime. Sergeant Ryan DeMarco of northwest Pennsylvania, is in just that uncomfortable situation.

The waters of Lake Wilhelm are dark and chilled. In some places the lake is deep enough to swallow a house. In others, a body could lie just beneath the surface, tangled in the morass of weeds and water plants, and remain unseen, just another shadowy form, a captive feast for the catfish and crappie and the monster bass that will nibble away at it until the bones fall asunder and bury themselves in the silty floor.
Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2017, p. 3 [ARC])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Contemporary times; northwest Pennsylvania
  • Circumstances: The family of a respected professor and novelist has been brutally murdered, and the man, Tom Huston, has disappeared. Is he afraid for his own life, or is he the prime suspect? State Sergeant Ryan DeMarco, can't believe his friend is guilty, but the more he investigates, the more unsure he becomes, especially after he discovers the unfinished manuscript of Tom's latest novel. What is Tom hiding? And will the killer strike again?
  • Genre: thriller, suspense, mystery
  • Themes: family secrets, friendship, grief, loss
  • Characters: Tom Huston, author and professor, who has just lost his entire family; Ryan DeMarco, dealing with personal grief as well as troubles at work; Kyle Bowen, who works with Ryan; Bonnie Harris and Danni Reynolds, who met Tom at a strip club; various people on campus and in town
  • Why I want to read this: This book has several features that call to me: it takes place in Pennsylvania (although not near where I live), it involves a college professor, and it's the start of a new series. In addition, from reviews, I am gathering that Ryan DeMarco is a flawed and troubled man, though good at his job.
  • What I've learned from reviews: This is an intense read, and the crime itself is fairly graphic (not for the squeamish). The novel deals with some tough issues beyond the murder, the story is told from more than one viewpoint, and the characters are well developed. Although all the reviews I read were generally positive, a few people mentioned that the end was not as strong as they would have liked.
  • My thoughts: After reading the first couple chapters, I think I'm going to add this to my reading rotation. I'm curious and would like to come to my own conclusions about the strength of the ending.

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13 February 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Midwinter Edition

Book and Movie Recommendations for FebruaryAs I mentioned on Friday, last week was crazy town around here, but this week promises to be a gentle slide back to normal. Much welcomed and, I hope, bringing with it plenty of reading time.

Something New: I joined a blogger's postal book club run by Laura over at The Book Snob. The club started in January 2015, and some of the original members are still participating. Here's how it works: At the beginning of the year, each person picks a book to share with the group. Then the members mail their choice to another club member (in a specific order), along with a notebook.

We then have two months to read the book we received and to record our thoughts. At the end of the reading time, we send the book and notebook along to next person and watch our mailboxes for our new book club title. When all the books have gone through the entire book club cycle, everyone gets her own book back plus the notebook with the members' reactions or reviews.

Isn't this a great way to make some new blogging friends and to expand one's reading horizons? The club is low-key and relaxed, and I can't wait to see what people think of the book I sent. (Not saying what it is, because I don't want to spoil the surprise.) I'm also looking forward to reading six books I might not have picked for myself. It's going to be a fun year.

Reading and Listening

  • Book recommendations for FebruaryI finished listening to Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders (Random House Audio; 7 hr, 25 min). The book itself was moving and beautifully (and cleverly) written, but the audiobook performances by the cast of 166 narrators made this an amazing experience. Sometimes it was tough to listen to (sad, raw) but there was humor too, and it made me think. The audiobook is released tomorrow; don't miss it.
  • I also finished listening to Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen (Listening Library; 7 hr, 1 min), read by Ryan Gesell and Tara Sands. It's a dual-viewpoint story of learning to see beyond the surface, of being true to oneself, and of young love. Gesell and Sands both had youthful voices, and their performances were well matched in pacing, drama, and characterizations. I loved the section at the end read by the author: all about the history of the book, its fan base, and the movie.
  • I've started reading Setting Free the Kites by Alex George (Putnam) and Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Lasken (Katherine Tegen). Both are great, and I'll have more to say next week.
  • I've also started listening to Gilded Cage by Vic James (Random House Audio), read by Avita Jay. A very enjoyable story (though Jay's performance is not my favorite). More later.
What I Watched

Review of The Girl on the Train MovieI finally got around to watching the movie The Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, and Rebecca Ferguson and Directed by Tate Taylor. It was only okay for me. I didn't mind the relocation to New York, but the movie was very fast paced and lacked the buildup of tension of the book.

I should mention that, although the book wasn't one of my all-time favorites, I liked it, especially the way author Paula Hawkins blurred the lines between reality and misperception, deception, and manipulation. The movie fell flat in this regard.  Oh well, I almost always like the book better than than movie, so I shouldn't be surprised.

Something to Look Forward To

Talking about books to movies, have you seen the trailer for The Zookeeper's Wife? The movie looks amazing, and I can't wait until it's released in theaters next month. If you haven't read the book yet, the author is Diane Ackerman, and I'm sure your bookstore or library will have a copy.


Something for J. D. Robb Fans

I'll end this week with a little bookish fun. I a big fan of the In Death series by J. D. Robb (though I'm woefully behind in reading). They are fantastic audiobooks, and I love the mystery, romance, action, and futuristic elements of the books. Eve Dallas, our hero is flawed, smart, and always worth reading about. The latest installment in the series, Echoes in Death, came out last week. Here's a fun poster with all things Eve Dallas and In Death. Enjoy! (click to get a better view)

Eve Dallas and In Death Infographic

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11 February 2017

Weekend Cooking: Food52's A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs

Food 52's A New Way to DinnerAs many of you know, I spent most of my adult life as a spontaneous cook. I would grocery shop one to three times a week (or pick up my weekly CSA box), buying seasonally or by impulse/craving and then make up dinners based on what was in the house. Our dinners never suffered because I enjoyed the creativity and I rarely felt stressed (no kids and working from home = very big bonuses here).

But, as many of you also know, 18 months ago (or more?) I made a 180-degree turn and decided to become a meal planner. I was motivated by a number of issues, but two had the strongest influence on my big switch:

  • I wanted more control over over my food budget.
  • I wanted to cook all those great recipes I discovered in books, in magazines and online.
It was a bit of rocky road at first, trying to work out a method that would work for us. But now I'm hooked. We eat well, I still love to cook, and our food budget is under control.

Food 52's A New Way to DinnerLast October, Food52 published cookbook called A New Way to Dinner, which promised to offer seasonal menus geared to meal planning, including tips for do-ahead prepping and bonus lunches. I bought a copy and promptly sat down to study it carefully. I can always use tested recipes and love to learn new techniques.

The first step to using A New Way to Dinner, is to take some time to read the introduction, which explains how to make the recipes and game plans work for you. In addition, authors Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs offer advice for storing foods and ingredients, reheating, freezing, and stocking the pantry.

The cookbook is organized seasonally, and each author provides 2 weeks of menus for each, so (doing the math) we have 16 weekly plans. Each plan comes with a "week ahead" page that lists the dinners plus a few ideas for packed lunches (click the scan above to see an example). We also get a game plan with a list of what to cook ahead (and how to store it) plus a grocery list for the entire week's menus.

Note that each plan covers only five dinners. This is what works in my house, but your mileage may vary.

Food 52's A New Way to DinnerThe meal plans offer a mix of vegetarian, fish, and meat/poultry meals and take advantage of leftovers. Thus, for example, a salad you make for dinner early in the week might appear again as part of another dinner. The menus are also laid out to avoid food waste and food spoilage, two problems many of my friends complain about.

Note that each plan pretty much counts on the dinners being made in order, so if you like flexibility, be warned.

Prepping ahead is one of the keys to getting dinner on the table for many busy families. A New Way to Dinner tells you what to make on Saturday and Sunday so that weeknight dinners come together with little stress and frustration. Hesser and Stubbs suggest having a lot of storage dishes to accommodate the week's prepped food.

The ingredients are generally available, but the authors live in Brooklyn and co-founded Food52, so they have access to ingredients that I, in a small town in central Pennsylvania, do not. Examples of what I'll call tricky ingredients are Meyer lemons, creme fraiche, and fresh fish. On the other hand, I'm experienced enough in the kitchen to substitute or find another way to make the recipe work.

The recipes are what you'd expect from Food52: tried and tested and clearly written. I love that ingredients are measured both in imperial and metric units, making the book nicely international. Most recipes come with a pretty photograph, and many include ideas for substitutions, information on how to get creative, and tips for kitchen success. Hesser and Stubbs also let you know if a dish is freezable.

So, how am I going to use this book? I doubt I'll follow one of the meal plans all the way through as written, but A New Way to Dinner has given me usable ideas for cooking ahead, for extending seasonal ingredients throughout the week, and for putting together my own meal plans. I consider this cookbook to be both a good resource and a great cookbook. If you're interested in meal planning and haven't tried it, Hesser and Stubbs will help you get started. If you're already meal planning, Food52's A New Way to Dinner will give you some new recipes and tips.

Vegetarian/Vegan alert: The menu plans are not going to work for you. However, you will find a number of vegetarian recipes in this cookbook, so consider borrowing A New Way to Dinner from your local library.

For a good chicken recipe, click the scan to enlarge.

Food 52's A New Way to Dinner

Note on the photos: all photos and scans come from Food52's A New Way to Dinner and are used in the context of this review. All rights remain with the original copyright holder, either James Ransom or Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs.

Published by 10-Speed Press, 2016
ISBN-13: 9780399578007
Source: bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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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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10 February 2017

7 Books to Look for in February

This has been an interesting week, to say the least: work deadlines, family issues, and a snow storm were at the top of my personal headlines. I didn't get much reading done, but I loaded seven books, all released this month, on my eReader. I've already started two of these novels, and I hope I make it through the entire list. (Presented in alphabetical order.)

  • 7 books to read in FebruaryGilded Cage by Vic James (Del Rey / alternate history, fantasy): The book is set in an alternate history contemporary Britain in which having magical abilities affords one socioeconomic status and power. Political scheming among the rich and underground rebellion among the poor hint of troubles ahead. This is the first entry in a much-buzzed series.
  • The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro (Katherine Tegen / mystery): The second book in a trilogy that reimagines the Sherlock Holmes universe through the adventures of two teens: Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, who possess their namesakes' personalities and talents. This mystery, set in Europe, involves a missing person and Holmes family secrets.
  • Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas (HarperTeen / fantasy, murder mystery): A girl who dreams of becoming a scientist must instead ascend her country's throne, after the royal family and more direct heirs are poisoned at a celebration. Our hero uses her intelligence to stay alive, find the killer(s), and rule the kingdom.
  • The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press / short stories): This collection of short stories examines the contemporary Vietnamese experience--as citizens of the United States, as hosts to U.S. travelers, as refugees still unsure of their place in the world. The themes tackled here are relevant to refugees and immigrants everywhere and are particularly important in today's political atmosphere.
  • Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Lasken (Katherine Tegen / contemporary YA): A retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in the Mideast. This novel in verse is told alternatively by two teens, who reveal their daily life, the hopes of their parents, and their own dreams. A moving and easy-to-access account of contemporary Israeli and Palestinian relationships.
  • Windy City Blues by Renee Rosen (Berkely / historical fiction): Set in the mid-twentieth century, this novel explores the intersection of the Chicago blues scene with the rise of the civil rights movement and rock 'n' roll. Told from multiple viewpoints, the story provides a period snapshot of the record industry, racial prejudices, and women's issues projected against a backdrop of American sociopolitical change.
  • The Young Wives Club by Julie Pennell (Emily Bestler / women's fiction, NA): Four Louisiana teens think marrying young will give them the happily-ever-after they dream of. As each girl matures into womanhood, she must weigh romance against truth, stability, and independence. An entertaining, layered novel.

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08 February 2017

Wordless Wednesday 432

Evening Sky


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07 February 2017

Today's Read: As Red As Blood by Salla Simukka

Review: As Red As Blood by Salla SimukkaSuppose you were a teenager who was accepted into a prestigious school for the arts, living on your own away from home. You like to keep to yourself (for reasons you keep to yourself) but accidentally get caught up in dangerous business that a trio of snotty rich kids stumbled into. Do you help your fellow students or do you find a way to continue living under the radar? This is Lumikki Anersson's situation.

Glittering white lay all around. Over the old snow, a new, clean layer of soft flakes had fallen fifteen minutes earlier. Fifteen minutes earlier, everything had still been possible. The world had looked beautiful, the future flickering somewhere in the distance: brighter, freer, more peaceful. A future worth risking everything, worth going all-in, worth trying to make a break for it.
As Red As Blood by Salla Simukka (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017, p. 5 [opening])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Contemporary times;Tampere, Finland
  • Circumstances: Lumikki (whose name means Snow White), discovers €30,000, newly washed, in the high-school dark room. She doesn't touch the money, but three other students are now worried she'll rat them out. Instead of turning Elisa (daughter of a cop), Tuukka (son of the principal), and Kasper over to authorities, she helps them figure out how a backpack full of blood-soaked bills ended up in Elisa's backyard.
  • Genre: Scandinavian thriller / mystery
  • Themes: friendship; being different; drugs; corruption; bullying; affairs of the heart
  • Characters: Lumikki, an all-A student who's hoping to be a painter; Elisa, daughter of a police detective who appears to be a spoiled rich kid; Tuukka and Kasper, Elisa's sidekicks, who like drugs and enjoy their popularity at school; various bad guys involved in a Russian-Scandinavian drug cartel; the kids' parents
  • Why I read this: I said yes to this novel because the book was pitched a "Nordic noir for young adults," and that caught my attention. One of my goals this year is to read more books in translation, and As Red As Blood is translated from the original Finnish. Finally, I've enjoyed several Scandinavian crime series, so I figured this would be a good match for me.
  • General thoughts: Let me jump to chase: I found the book to be only okay. One of the problems was that Simukka was trying to do too much in this first installment of a trilogy starring Lumikki: we have flashbacks to Lumikki's young childhood, we have high school/teen issues, we have things happening in a very adult drug cartel, and we see life in Elisa's house. Some of these plot lines were better developed than others, but I never fully connected with any of them.
  • Lumikki and the central plot: (I'm purposely vague here so I don't spoil the story for you.) I didn't quite buy all of Lumikki's talents and her ability to infiltrate certain social events or to extract herself from trouble. Simukka gave Lumikki a well-rounded background, but still, I'm not sure the teen could have escaped from all those situations relatively unscathed. Lady luck was always on Lumikki's side.
  • Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 7 hr, 26 min) read by Ann Marie Lee. I can only assume that Lee pronounced the Finnish words and names correctly because her accent (as far as I could tell) was consistent. Her narration was expressive and sounded appropriately young, but her delivery was excessively earnest and somewhat choppy. I stuck with the audiobook, but my recommendation is to read As Red As Blood in print or at least to listen to a sample of the production before committing.
  • Extras: Note that Salla Simukka's novel won starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus,and Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal liked it too. So perhaps it's not the novel but just me. The other books in the series are titled As White As Snow and As Black As Ebony. If I continue with Lumikki's story, I'll be turning to print.

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04 February 2017

Weekend Cooking: One-Pan Wonders by America's Test Kitchen

Review: One Pan Wonders by America's Test KitchenAs you well know, I'm an America's Test Kitchen (ATK) junkie, so it's no surprise that I bought their newest cookbook, One-Pan Wonders, which comes from their Cook's Country division.

I love the concept of this cookbook: 138 recipes that truly use just a single pan. I also love that the recipes use different kinds of pans, which are listed in the book's subtitle: sheet pan, Dutch oven, skillet, roasting pan, casserole, and slow cooker. I'm only sad that the book doesn't include pressure cooker recipes.

I'll start my review of One Pan Wonders with some comments on the design and organization. I'm happy to report that each recipe is accompanied by a full-color photograph of the finished dish and includes the approximate amount of time the recipe takes from start to finish. Dishes that can be cooked and served in an hour or less are flagged with a "Weeknight Friendly" icon, which is a big help for those of us who are in the kitchen pretty much every night.

Review: One Pan Wonders by America's Test KitchenThe ingredients are generally readily available, and the amounts and preperation instructions are clear. The step-by step recipe directions are straightforward and include donesness tests, tips, and helpful information (such as how to reheat and serving ideas). Thank you, ATK.

In addition, each recipe is introduced with an explanation of why it works, which both makes us smarter and better informed cooks and helps guarantee success. In fact, this is one of my favorite things about ATK--they do the research and gladly share their results.

The chapters are divided by pan type, which I think makes sense. If you're looking for a sheet pan recipe or you want to use your slow cooker, you can turn right to those chapters. But if you have some chicken breasts to cook, then you'll have to check the index. The good news is that the index seems to be well thought out.

So what about the recipes? There are so many flavorful choices in One-Pan Wonders--from curries to skillet lasagna (in one pan!) to amazing roasted meats and veggies--that you'll find a lot of new dinner recipes to try. Yes, you'll see the expected beef stew and pulled pork, but one-pan huevos rancheros, Korean short ribs, shrimp and orzo, and stuffed eggplant? These are recipes you'll not likely find in other books. And if you take the time to read the "why this recipe works" sections, you may figure out ways to make your own family favorites into one-pan wonders.

Review: One Pan Wonders by America's Test KitchenI admit that so far I've used the cookbook more for the information and for inspiration than I have for actually re-creating recipes. Last night, for example, I started with the Roasted Pork Chops and Vegetables with Parsley Vinaigrette recipe (shown in the first scan), but used boneless pork chops, my own array of vegetables, and skipped the vinaigrette because I used a barbecue spice rub on the pork (and sprinkled some on the veggies). But I learned that one avenue to success for a dish like this was to give the vegetables a head start so they and the meat would be finished at the same time. The dinner was delicious and the colorful vegetables were pretty (and, sadly, I forgot to take a photo).

Recommendations: America's Test Kitchen One-Pan Wonders is perfect for anyone looking to save a little time and cleanup in the kitchen. It's also great for those who want to learn about cooking techniques. You'll find a lot of tempting and flavorful recipes for weeknight and weekend cooking and will appreciate the beautiful photographs and clear instructions. Vegetarians, especially, will want to borrow before buying because there aren't a lot of choices for you. I, on the other hand, will be turning to this book again and again.

For more information about One-Pan Wonders and for eight recipes (including two vegetarian ones), visit the America's Test Kitchen website.

Note: The scans come from One-Pan Wonders and were used in the context of a review. All rights remain with the original copyright holders, The America's Test Kitchen.

Published by America's Test Kitchen, 2016
ISBN-13: 9781940352848
Source: bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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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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02 February 2017

Check Out a Book (& Giveaway): Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin LeeThe discovery: I think I first learned about Min Jin Lee's new novel, Pachinko, at BEA last year, so it didn't take much for me to say yes when offered a review copy from the publicist. I liked the setting and the premise and was impressed by the universally positive reviews. Here's the publisher's summary:

Profoundly moving and gracefully told, Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them. Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life.

So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history. In Japan, Sunja's family members endure harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty, yet they also encounter great joy as they pursue their passions and rise to meet the challenges this new home presents. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, they are bound together by deep roots as their family faces enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
Why I want to read Pachinko: I'm a sucker for a long family saga, and this novel, which spans the twentieth century, has all the promise of good story lines--an affair, a marriage of convenience, a struggle to find a place and identity. I also like the settings of Korea and Japan. I was unaware of the difficulties that Koreans have experienced after emigration to Japan, and especially in light of today's politics, I want to know more about this clash of cultures.

Reviews: Pachinko has won several starred reviews, and Kirkus calls it "An old-fashioned epic whose simple, captivating storytelling delivers both wisdom and truth." Publisher Weekly notes that although this is a character-driven novel Lee sets a strong historical foundation. Post magazine mentions the uneasy relationship between Korean immigrants in Japan, which (as I mentioned) informs this book.

Extra: The Chicago Review of Books interview with Min Jin Lee offers excellent contextual baground to both the author and the novel.

Data: Published by Grand Central Publishing, February 7, 2017; ISBN: 9781478967439. Lee's debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires was a London Times Top 10 Novel of the Year. Pachinko is an Indie Next Pick and has starred reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal.

The giveaway: Thanks to Grand Central Publishing, I am able to offer a copy of Min Jin Lee's Pachinko to one lucky reader with a U.S. or Canadian mailing address. 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 February 16. Once the winner has been confirmed and the mailing address has been passed along to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck.

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01 February 2017

Wordless Wednesday 431

Walnut tree in winter


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Copyright

All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2018. All rights reserved.

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