29 April 2017

Weekend Cooking: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Review of Cork Dork by Bianca BoskerWhen tech journalist Bianca Bosker set out to learn more about wine, sommeliers, and the art (or talent or genetic predisposition) of tasting, she didn't expect to be totally won over by the people and their world. Her book Cork Dork (Penguin Books) -- part memoir, part investigative journalism -- tells the story of her year of discovery and transformation.

Bosker started with the question of whether master sommeliers have an in-born ability to discern flavors and scents or whether they have skill that can be learned by pretty much anyone. To answer this question, she talked to wine experts, trailed professionals in the high-end restaurant business, joined tasting groups, traveled around the world to interview scientists, and studied for the sommelier certification test.

Cork Dork is not only informative but also a delight to read. Bosker describes her adventure from journalist to budding wine expert in a light tone, telling her story as if she were talking to a friend. We learn of her successes and failures in gaining entree into wine's inner circles and her investigation into the science of taste and smell. We meet professional sommeliers, wine snobs, and wine anti-snobs.

Bosker was fascinated by the experts who can blind taste a wine and tell you the grape, vintage, and origin. She met the woman who was instrumental in setting up the wheel of wine flavors (slate, mineral, tobacco, leather, herbs, fruits and so on; see scan at right, click to enlarge) and underwent MRIs to see what happened in her brain when she sipped wine.

I find it a little crazy that there are people out there who regularly spend hundreds of dollars per bottle of wine and buy several expensive wines over the course of single night. These are the restaurant diners sommeliers live for. On the other hand, I was relieved to learn that most sommeliers are happy to help us little people too and will do their best to suggest a decent wine within our much more limited budgets.

Recommendation: Bianca Bosker's Cork Dork will appeal to anyone interested in food-related memoir, wine, or the restaurant / sommelier business. Whether you're a "civilian" who enjoys commercial wine (like me) or are an expert or collector who is always searching for that elusive best wine ever, you'll relate to Bosker's journey from wine drinker to wine connoisseur. As much as I like wine, I can't imagine devoting my life to it, but I liked getting to know the people who do.

Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 12 hr, 17 min) read by Bosker. I usually shy away from author-read books, so I was pleasantly surprised by Bosker's performance. She was enthusiastic, expressive, and seemed to have a natural sense of pacing. Recommended listen. (Thanks to Penguin Audio for the review copy.)

Note: I'm in a lacemaking workshop all weekend, but will pop on over to read your posts as soon as I can. The wine aroma wheel shown here is in the public domain.

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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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27 April 2017

8 Magical Books for Children's Book Week

8 books to read for Children's Book WeekNext week is the 98th annual Children's Book Week, and I'm celebrating by featuring books geared to young adult and middle grade readers that were (or will be) published in March, April, and May 2017.

I have so many great books to talk about, I'm starting early with today's post, which concentrates on fantasy and on novels that include a bit of magic or other worldliness. Next week, I'll look at contemporary stories, graphic novels, and thrillers.

Note: Books featured for Children's Book Week represent only those titles that came to my attention through a variety of avenues. They are also books I've had a chance to look through or read (print, audio, or ebook). I'm grateful to the publishers and other agencies that provided copies of these books for my honest opinion in a review or feature.

  • 8 books to read for Children's Book WeekDream Magic by Joshua Khan (Disney Hyperion; April): This standalone novel is set in the Shadow Magic universe. Lilith Shadow, the young queen of Gehenna, faces a host of problems: trolls are on the march, the dead are awakening, and her citizens are mysteriously disappearing. The story combines several familiar fantasy and mystery elements in new ways and introduces us to unique creatures, including a giant bat. The book has won praise from the likes of Rick Riordan and Jonathan Stroud.
  • Carmer and Grit by Sasrah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin Young Readers; April): Young readers will be won over by this fresh mix of fantasy and steampunk. A disabled faerie princess teams up with a magician's apprentice to save their world from destruction by evil mechanical creatures. Great themes of friendship, good versus evil, being true to one's own dreams, and solving mysteries. Don't miss this action-packed first installment of a new series.
  • The Lost Staff of Wonders by Raymond Arroyo (Crown Books for Young Readers; March): Set in the late-1800s, this second book in the Will Wilder series takes place in a familiar world, except for the little problem of ancient demons. When, 12-year-old Will is wrongfully accused of stealing Moses's staff from the local museum, he must use his magical powers to find the real thief and protect his town from being destroyed by the seven plagues. Action, adventure, and biblical tales come true make this a gripping read.
  • Xander and the Dream Thief by Margaret Dilloway (Disney Hyperion; April): This fairy tale retelling takes young readers out of Western traditions by focusing on Japanese myths and legends. In this second book in the Momotaro series, Xander, our biracial warrior hero, is still getting used to his new fighter status and how to use his powers. When his bumbling takes hope away from his family, Xander must find the strength and courage to face the evils that have stolen their dreams. The novel includes themes of self-confidence, learning from mistakes, love of family, and personal fortitude.
  • 8 books to read for Children's Book WeekThe Shadows We Know by Heart Jennifer Park (Simon Pulse; March): This debut combo of romance and fantasy is set in contemporary Texas. Every night Leah escapes her dysfunctional family by secretly leaving food for three creatures who live in the woods behind her house. One evening she sees a human boy with the Bigfoot trio and she begins to fall in love. Besides the love story, this novel explores grief, family issues, and alcoholism. A coming-of-age story for teens and adults.
  • The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress (Delacorte Books for Young Readers; April): Middle grade readers will love this new action / adventure series, which begins with a tiny pig in a tiny hat that leads to a mystery, a curious boy, a girl in need of help, and a secret society. The whole family will find it hard to resist the witty dialogue, groan-inducing puns, charming black and white drawings, funny footnotes, and fantastic characters.
  • Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (Dutton Books for Young Readers; May): Early in the last century, on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts, a baby was rescued from the ocean. Now 12-years-old, Crow begins to question her origins, which sets her on a dangerous journey of self-discovery on several levels. Strong female role models and lessons about the meaning of family round out this compelling and haunting novel.
  • Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder (Waldon Pond Press; May): Nine children live on a utopian island, where all their needs are met, the weather is perfect, and there is always plenty to eat. Their world is unbroken except when a mysterious boat arrives once a year to take away the oldest child, leaving another to take his or her place as the youngest in the group. When Jinny's best friend is taken away, she becomes the eldest orphan. As she begins to teach new child the rules of the island, Jinny starts to question her universe. A beautifully conceived look at the transition from childhood to adolescence.

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26 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday 443

Wildflowers, 2017


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24 April 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Spring Reading

Spring has definitely sprung in central Pennsylvania! Thanks to a changing climate, everything is blooming at the same moment: forsythia, tulips, forget-me-nots, lilacs, maple trees, serviceberry, fruit trees -- you name it, it's in flower. While it makes for a lovely yard, my eyes are itching, and I've been sneezing. Ugh.

In better news, We've been getting the deck set up, where we spend the bulk of our time in the summer, although I'm waiting a couple more weeks before buying plants for sprucing up the outdoor space. Nothing better than catching a few minutes of sunshine right out my kitchen door.

Audiobooks

3 audiobooks to listen to in April
  • The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit Books): As you know by now, I'm a huge Michael J. Sullivan fan and I've been working my way through his novels, which all take place in the same universe. The Crown Tower is the first book in the second series, The Riyria Chronicles, which takes us back in time and fills us in on how our heroes first meet. The books can be read in order of publication (my choice) or in chronological order -- either way, you'll fall in love with Hadrian and Royce, the fighter and the thief who experienced hate at first sight but later became the best of friends. As you can expect in these epic fantasies, the book is full of intrigue, action, fantastic characters, good humor, and multiple plot lines. Stay tuned for more. Audiobook: Thank the gods that Tim Gerard Reynolds returned to narrate this book. He is perfect for Sullivan's novels. (Recorded Books: 12 hr, 49 min)
  • Edgar & Lucy by Victor Lodato (St. Martin's Press): An 8-year-old boy, his young widowed mother, and his protective grandmother each fight their own inner demons. I can tell this novel is likely deserving of all the buzz it's been getting, even though I'm not really connecting to any of the characters, who -- by the way -- barely connect with each other. Unfortunately, I started the book on audio, which is read by the author. I'm only a couple of hours in and am at that point where I have to decide to continue to listen to the author's choppy, clipped, annoying narration or ditch the audiobook and pick this up in print. (Macmillan Audio, 19 hr, 52 min)
  • On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): This novel was just what I needed. I loved getting to know Faith Frankel and her family and friends. The dialogue is snappy, the characters are the good kind of quirky, and the plot moves along at a nice pace. So what if Faith's new house may have once been the scene of multiple murders, so what if her fiance turns out to be a jerk, so what if her new boss wrongly accuses her of embezzling, Faith's family and handsome co-worker are there to see her through. I've never read Lipman before, but I'm adding her to my list. Side note: good portrayal of modern Jewish families. Audiobook: Mia Barron picks up on the soul of this novel and does an excellent job bringing the book to life. Solid characterizations and great timing for delivering the humor. (Dreamscape Media; 9 hr, 10 min).
Print Books
  • 2 books to read in AprilLooking for a fun college graduation gift? Just want to do some light soul searching? Give Cristina Vanko's ADULT-ish a try (TarcherPerigee). The book is a guided journal for, as the subtitle says, recording "your highs and lows on the road to the real world." some pages ask for lists (music to help you focus on work), some pages are for drawing (sketch of your dream house), and some pages are for self-reflection (describing a success or failure). Although everyone can benefit from journaling, this book would be perfect for twenty-somethings in their early years of independence.
  • Shannon Hale's Real Friends (First Second) is an autobiographical comic illustrated by LeUyen Pham. This book totally nails elementary school friendships. Girls can be so hard on each other. Hale's experiences are common to most girls in America, at least in the last century: always a struggle to be popular, kind, true to yourself, and independent all at the same time. Who are your real friends? Is it worth being in the cool group if you're constantly worried about kicking out of it? Lots to think about in this book, and I bet it'd make a great book club pick for young readers. Pham's illustrations are expressive and move the book along both in action and in emotion. Recommended for women and girls of all ages.
Children's Book Week

Next week is the 98th annual Children's Book Week, and in celebration, I have several middle grade round-ups, features, and reviews planned for later this week and most of next week. Children's book week celebrates all kinds of children's books, from picture and board books to books geared to young adult readers. For more information on the event and how to get involved, visit the Every Child a Reader website. I love this year's poster, designed by Christian Robinson:

Children's Book Week 2017

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22 April 2017

Weekend Cooking: Review of Food Choices (a Documentary)

Review: Food Chocies (film)We all know how difficult it is to sort out the nutritional information we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Eat meat, don't eat meat? Eat carbs or shun them like the devil? How is the regular person supposed to determine what is best for her health and well-being?

When filmaker Michal Siewierski became a father, he set out to discover the best human diet by talking with food experts. His 2016 documentary, Food Choices, sums up what he learned at the end of a three-year journey of talking to experts in the nutritional and wellness fields.

If you follow the nutritional literature, you won't find many surprises in Food Choices. But the film is interesting nonetheless. Siewierski talked mostly to scientists, though we also hear from athletes and people in the general wellness lifestyle community.

The film takes a vegan stance, and blames meat eating for most of our health issues and for many aspects of climate change. On the other hand, Siewierski also made the point that just becoming a vegetarian or vegan alone will not guarantee good health. If you consume sweetened soft drinks and fatty and processed plant-based foods, you'll still risk obesity and will fail to achieve optimal health.

The end of the film moves away from talking about the human diet to focus on climate change, animal activist issues, and the ethics of eating other creatures.

Food Choices presents several perspectives of the vegan argument: nutritional, environmental, medical, and ethical. As I mentioned, Michal Siewierski doesn't reveal much new information for those of us who are fairly well informed, but the documentary makes a strong argument.

Unfortunately, we don't see much about the other side of things, and we end up with a single message: all animal products and fats = bad. All fruits and veggies = good. The documentary takes single-minded stance and rejects the idea of moderation, although I think at least one expert reluctantly admitted that a person could incorporate some animal products into her diet and still be healthy.

For more on the documentary Food Choices visit the official website, and take a look at the trailer (which is essentially the opening of the film).


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19 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday 442

Apple Blossom, 2017


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18 April 2017

2 Fun Books for Middle Grade Readers & Giveaway

Thanks to the nice folks at HarperCollins Children's Books for giving me the chance to introduce you to two fun illustrated middle grade books that are appropriate for both boys and girls and will delight adults as well. In addition, they are providing the prize pack for the giveaway I'm hosting today.

Stick Cat by Tom WatsonStick Cat by Tom Watson is designed to look like a lined journal, and the text is presented in an easy-to-read, large, sans serif font. The illustrations are simple -- after all, it is a story about a cat named Stick Cat -- but you and your young readers will fall for this kind tom cat and Edith, his best cat friend.

Stick Cat is the first book of a new series about two cats who visit each other once their humans have left their apartments in the morning. In this story, the cats notice that a man who plays the piano in an apartment across the alley has gotten into a bit of jam. Stick Cat and Edith decide they have to help him, but how do they get over to the other building, and once there, how will they help Mr. Music?

I love the personalities of Stick Cat and Edith and how they care about each other and about their neighbor. Stick Cat is very kind to Edith, who sometimes has impractical ideas. Despite their differences, they are true friends and understand each other's quirks. The scan to the right (provided by me) shows Edith, after she's discovered cats shouldn't lick those holes in the wall where the lamp gets plugged in.

For more about Stick Cat and Tom Watson's earlier series about Stick Dog, check out his website, where you can learn about all his books, including a new Stick Cat book coming out later this month. The author is also on GoodReads and has a Facebook page. The short video shows how Watson draws Stick Cat:


Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere by Elise GravelOlga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere by Elise Gravel is a super graphic novel with eye-catching red and black illustrations. The book is set up as Olga's journal, in which she records her thoughts, observations, and drawings of the world around her, especially animals.

Olga loves animals of all kinds and is fascinated by everything they do, even the gross things. Her best friend is a cute spider, but unfortunately, spiders aren't very cuddly. Olga thinks the two girls who live nearby are annoying, and she'd much rather observe bugs and birds and dogs than play with them.

One day Olga finds a strange, smelly creature that turns out to be friendly and, well, actually kind of adorable. Because Meh (as she named it) is quite unusual, Olga sets out to observe its behavior and learn everything she can about her new pet. Along the way, she amkes a couple of new friends, and discovers that the girls next door aren't so bad after all.

I really enjoyed getting to know Olga and admired her curiosity and how hard she worked to be a good caretaker of Meh. The message about giving humans a second chance at friendship was subtle and nicely done. Both boys and girls will fall for Olga and Meh and all the humans and animals they befriend. The scan was provided by HarperCollins and gives you an idea of the interior of the book.

To learn more about Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere and author-illustrator Elise Gravel, visit the book page at the HarperCollins website, where you'll find a excerpt from the book and a reader/teaching guide. For more about Gravel, visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or like her Facebook page. To watch Gravel draw Olga's friends, watch this short video:


The Giveaway

Thanks to HarperCollins for allowing me to offer one of my readers a copy of Stick Cat and a copy of Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere plus art prints from each of the author-illustrators. This is a fab prize and all you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to have a USA mailing address and to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on April 25. Once the winner has been confirmed and the address has been passed to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck.

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17 April 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Reading Hits and Misses

3 short book reviewsWelcome to my new world. By that I mean, I'm officially past my busiest editing season and on my way to having plenty of reading time. In fact I spent most of Saturday afternoon on my deck reading. What heaven!

I finished three books last week and am starting this week completely fresh. Tonight (meaning last night -- Sunday) I get to start a new audiobook, a new print book, and a new ebook. I don't know about you, but I always love the thrill of deciding what to read next.

What I Read Last Week

Review: My Husband's Wife by Jane CorryMy Husband's Wife by Jane Corry (Pamela Dorman Books, 2017): This thriller, set in London, revolves around Lily, a lawyer, and Ed, her artist husband. The foundation of the story is built around Lily's first major criminal case, the early months of the couple's marriage, and their brief involvement with the mother and child in the apartment down the hall. The action takes place 16 years later, when Lily has established a solid reputation but Ed is struggling to find lasting success. It is at this point, that Carla, the neighbor girl from all those years ago, reappears in their life, disrupting the fragile bonds that tie Lily and Ed together. I had mixed feelings about the book. The good is that it held my attention enough that I wanted to keep listening. Unfortunately, the plot was fairly predictable, if not in the details, then certainly in general. In addition, there seemed to be an abnormally large percentage of characters on the autism spectrum, all of whom seemed to display fairly stereotypical behavior. The epilogue promised the revelation of a couple of dark secrets, but didn't deliver in terms of surprise or shock. The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 13 hr, 54 min) was read by Rosalyn Landor, who held my attention throughout. Her Italian accent was believable, her characterizations were consistent, and her pacing was well done. Although the audiobook production was a winner, the book itself was not. (Review copies were courtesy of Pamela Dorman books for the hardcover and Penguin Audio for the audiobook.)

Review: Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth BaharLucky Broken Girl by Ruth Bahar (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017): I accepted a review copy of this book because I was attracted to the immigration story. This novel, however, was not the book I was expecting. Based on the author's own life, the book is not so much an immigration tale, as the story of how a young girl heals after a terrible accident that leaves her in a body cast for most a year, just months after her family leaves Castro's Cuba for New York (Queens) in the 1960s. Many of Ruthie's new neighbors are also recent immigrants, from places as far-flung as India, Belgium, and Mexico. While Ruthie is confined to bed, suffering the indignities of being an invalid, life continues in the outside world, and she is left to contemplate her fate and her future, finding comfort in visitors, reading, and her newfound love of painting. I especially loved the way spiritual beliefs and cultural differences are explored from young Ruthie's perspective. Other important themes are forgiveness, grief, and friendship, all of which are presented in unique ways. Finally, this is one of the few books to show Jewish families in a more normal light than I'm used to seeing. Even if you don't normally read middle grade books, you really need to read  this one. It would make a good book club pick for adults or kids and is important in light of today's immigration tensions. (Thanks to Penguin Young Readers for the review copy.)

Mercies in Disguise by Gina KolataMercies in Disguise by Gina Kolata (St. Martin's Press, 2017): This well-researched book was written by an investigative journalist who introduces us to a South Carolina family who carries a rare but deadly genetic mutation. The fatal prion disease that affects this family in middle age is related to several other neurological diseases (including kuru, Alzheimer's, and mad-cow)--none of which has a known cure. The book reads like a medical thriller and focuses on the complex emotional and ethical issues that the Baxley family and others like them must struggle with as a group and individually. If your family carried a deadly genetic mutation, would you want to be tested for it? Should you have children? How would you live your life? Besides the Baxleys, we also meet the researchers who were instrumental in discovering prions and identifying the diseases that are caused by these proteins. The unabridged audiobook (Recorded Books, 8 hr, 20 min) was skillfully read by Andrea Gallo. Gallo highlighted both the emotional impact of this true story and the drama of the background of medical research. (My full audiobook review will be available through AudioFile magazine.) A recommended read for those interested in medical history and diseases.

Coming Up This Week
  • On the Beth Fish Reads: I have a fun  giveaway tomorrow -- two books for your middle grade readers or you!
  • Helping Kids in Need: Penguin Random House is hosting #ProjectReadathon this week (starting today). According to their promotional material, "For each minute of reading, Penguin Random House will make donations to put books into the hands of children in need." So all you have to do to participate is to check out the Project Readathon web page and read, read, read from today through April 24. It looks like a great program. For more, watch this video:

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15 April 2017

Weekend Cooking: 3 Quick and Delicious Weeknight Dinners

3 quick and delicious weeknight dinnersHappy Saturday! This is an especially happy day because it's the first weekend in almost 8 weeks that I don't have to work. To say I'm grinning is an understatement.

I was wondering what to post today because, as you might imagine, I have a big case of weary brain. In addition, this is a week of holidays (Passover and Easter), and most people will be cooking traditional dishes for family and friends.

Just to give myself a break and because I wonder how many of you will be online today, I'm going to share three successful dinners from the last few weeks. I guarantee these are all doable after a long day of work. They are BFR tested!

Mediterranean Chicken and Bulgur Skillet (Cooking Light)

Mediterranean Chicken and Bulgur Skillet from Cooking Light

We really liked this Mediterranean Chicken and Bulgur Skillet from this month's Cooking Light. For a change, I followed the recipe exactly, but I'd make it again with whatever quick-cooking grain or pasta I had on hand. We like bulgur, but I think quinoa or couscous would be good too. The red onion, chopped herbs, and red pepper add color and flavor, and the feta is the perfect salty finish.  (Photo is from the Cooking Light website.)

Herbed Ricotta, Asparagus, and Phyllo Tart (Cooking Light)

Herberd Ricotta, Asparagus, and Phyllo Tart from Cooking Light

I also made Cooking Light's Herberd Ricotta, Asparagus, and Phyllo Tart. I know a lot of people shy away from phyllo, but I'm not sure why. It's not all that difficult to work with, and nothing else will give you that delicate shattering crust. I didn't follow the recipe exactly. First, I used melted butter instead of olive oil. Second, I mixed an egg into the ricotta because I wanted the tart to set after baking. This was delicious and made a nice dinner with a tossed salad. It would also be a good side dish with grilled meat or fish. (Photo is my own.)

Spiced Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew (Rachel Ray Every Day)

Spiced Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew from Rachel Ray Every Day

The third recipe we liked was Spiced Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew from Rachel Ray's magazine. Lentils are so quick and easy to cook and sweet potatoes are full of vitamins and minerals. If you don't like cilantro, just leave it out or substitute parsley. I made this dish in the pressure cooker, but lentils are usually done in under a half hour, so stovetop cooking on a weeknight won't slow you down. I added a poblano chili (I had one on hand to use up), and we topped ours with some of my homemade plum chutney. (Photo is from the Rachel Ray Every Day website.)

I've pinned all of these to my Tried and Liked Pinterest board so you (and I) can find them later.

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14 April 2017

Product Review: Wholesale Custom Flash Drives

Product review: Wholesale Flash DrivesWhen the nice people at Wholesale Custom Flash Drives contacted me about giving their custom USB drives a test, I immediately said yes. I love the idea of having something a little bit different to hand out at conferences and BEA, especially if it's something everyone can use.

My contact at Wholesale Custom Flash Drives was Chelsea, who was a dream to work with from start to finish. I knew I wanted my custom thumb drives to display my Beth Fish Reads avatar (the woman with a glass), and once I provided a high-resolution copy, Chelsea got right to work.

Within a day or so I had a mock-up of my logo on a couple of samples. The next step was to pick a style of USB drive. Wholesale Custom Flash Drives come in all different shapes and materials. There's even a wooden flash drive that looks like a book! With Chelsea's help, I picked the more traditionally shaped thumb drive because I thought it showed off my avatar nicely. You can see the mock-up in the scan just below.

Product review: Wholesale Flash DrivesOnce I picked the style, my finished flash drives arrived within 10 days or so. Not only do the thumb drives look pretty but they work great too. I've been using one for about a month and have had no issues at all.

One very nice touch is that the flash drives came individually wrapped, so they'll stay clean in my tote bag until I hand them out. The wrapping also assures recipients that they're getting a fresh, new device. As you can see, I put my logo and blog name on one side and my blog URL on the other. I wanted a clean, simple look and that's exactly what I got.

Take a look at the Wholesale Custom Flash Drives website to see all the different styles of USB drives to choose from. Besides the wooden book, I liked the slap bracelets, the pen/drive combos, and the flip cards. Another one that caught my eye is the "butterfly," which is in a classy leather casing. Want your thumb drive in a one-of-kind shape or color? Just ask, they can make it happen.

Product review: Wholesale Flash DrivesI recommend Wholesale Custom Flash Drives without reservation. Their service is fantastic. They answer emails quickly and were right on top of the back and forth of the design process. I love that they didn't flinch when I had a couple last-minute tweaks to the final design, and I very much appreciated the help and advice I got from Chelsea. The finished product arrived at my door very quickly, and the drives were everything I had hoped them to be. I plan on keeping a stock of custom flash drives for slipping into book mail, sharing with my book club, and handing out at conferences.

I can't wait to give my Beth Fish Reads thumb drives to my colleagues at BEA this year. Custom flash drives are great way to make sure my contacts remember me. Thanks so much to Chelsea and everyone at Wholesale Flash Drives for a super product and top-notch customer service.

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12 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday 441

Hyacinth, 2017


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10 April 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 4 Mini Reviews & 3 Bookish Videos

4 short book reviewsThis is my last super-busy editing week for a while, and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to having time for my online friendships. I'm so behind on blogs, websites, Twitter, Instagram, and Litsy.

What fun it's going to be to read and chat, garden and take walks -- just as soon as my workweek returns to normal. Although I'll miss this week's 70F temperatures, I'm sure that spring will hold many more great days for reading on the deck. I can't wait to get out the furniture, buy some plants, and set up my little escape spot. I'm more relaxed just thinking about it.

What I Read Last Week

Review of The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina HenriquezCristina Henriquez's Book of Unknown Americans (Knopf, 2014): I read this novel for a book club, and didn't know much about it before I started reading. Books on immigration are important in light of today's political climate, and Henriquez's contribution offers a little different perspective. First, the setting is in Delaware, not an area we typically associate with Latino immigration, and second it introduces us to a community of new Americans who show us that not all Spanish-speaking immigrants share a common story. The details of everyday life, both for the newly arrived and for the well settled brought this book alive (learning a new language, trying to fit in at school, shopping for groceries). In addition, the characters' stories help us understand the mix of fear and hope that accompany those who leave home for a new life in a strange land. Highly recommended.

Review of Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelSylvain Neuvel's Waking Gods (Del Rey, 2017): This is the second book in the Themis Files series, which defies (for me, at least) classification. The novels take place in the near future and mix many themes and genres: science fiction, global politics, dystopia, technology, anthropology, romance, thriller, genetics, aliens from another world. The story is told through documents, interviews, individual reactions, and more. I'm sure the books are awesome when read in print, but I pretty much insist you listen to the audiobooks (Waking Gods, Random House Audio; 9 hr, 2 min). The books are read by a full cast, and the overall production is fabulous. The individual performances are so believable that I truly felt as if I were eavesdropping on people talking rather than listening to an audiobook. Don't miss this series. I'm already waiting impatiently for book 3.

Review of South and West by Joan DidionJoan Didion's South and West (Knopf, 2017): I listened to this short audibook for AudioFile magazine (which see for my full audiobook review). I'm not quite sure what to think about this collection of thoughts and essays, which are divided into two sections. First we learm of Didion's experiences in the South and then her observations after she returned to the West, mostly during the 1970s. Frankly, I don't know what Didion's point is, except to say she's comfortable in California and didn't always feel comfortable in Mississippi. Narrator Kimberly Farr (Random House Audio; 2 hr, 51 min) did a fine job on the audiobook, but even a good performance couldn't make me love this book. Recommendation: it's short enough that you could take a chance.

Review of the Spill Zone by Scott WesterfeldScott Westerfeld's Spill Zone (First Second, May 2017): This is the first in a new graphic novel series. In the not too distant future there is some kind of event that leaves an entire city destroyed and contaminated with a variety of weird creatures and mostly dead humans (kind of immobile zombies). Our hero, Addie, is a motorcycle-riding photographer who risks entering the quarantined city to take pictures, which she then sells. The profits are used to support her and her younger sister, who was one of the few people to have survived the event. The plot captured my attention enough that I read the book straight through, and I especially liked the relationship between the sisters. Alex Puvilland's artwork is emotionally expressive and does a good job conveying action. Unfortunately, too much of the mystery is left unknown, so I didn't connect well with Addie's world. I'll likely read the next installment, but I can't fully recommend this graphic novel.

Books beyond the Pages

After reading The Book of Unknown Americans, I wanted to know more about author Cristina Henriquez. Among the materials I found, was the following video in which she shares how writing the novel led her to start the Unknown Americans Project to give voice to the many different immigrants to the United States, each of whom has a story to tell. Take a look:


Author Gene Luen Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, is challenging us all (young and old) to Read without Walls. I'm taking the challenge, and I encourage you to join in. All you have to do is read one book of your choice that is either about someone who doesn't look like you, is about a topic you don't know anything about, or is in a medium or format that you don't normally explore. For more information, visit the website (where you'll find activity sheets and a newsletter) and watch this video:


I'm a fan of author Philippa Gregory's historical novels and am looking forward to the Starz series The White Princess, based on a novel in her Cousins' War series, which focuses on the War of the Roses. This book tells the story of two Elizabeths, one the daughter of Edward IV and the other the wife of Henry VII. The books and the series will, of course, appeal to readers interested in British history and the royal families, but fans of The Game of Thrones should know that the politics of this time period also inform George R.R. Martin's work. The series starts on April 16. Here's the trailer:

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08 April 2017

Weekend Cooking: Wine Isn't Rocket Science by Ophelie Neiman

Review of Ophelie Neiman's Wine Isn't Rocket ScienceI love learning about wine, but finding just the right wine book can be daunting. Many books are too dense with much more scholarly information than I'm ready for. Others assume you have tons of money to buy wines, travel the world, and create a cellar.

Here's where Ophelie Neiman's Wine Isn't Rocket Science saves the day. This is a no-nonsense guide for all kinds of wine lovers, from the rank novice to the curious to know more. Want to throw a party? Not sure what kind of glass to use? Wondering about Italian wines? Neiman has you covered.

Best of all, the information is easily absorbed, thanks to Yannis Varoutsikos's colorful and useful graphics (see the scans; click to enlarge). I'm thankful there are few pages dense with prose; the paragraphs are surrounded with fun illustrations, making the guide a joy to read.

Review of Ophelie Neiman's Wine Isn't Rocket ScienceWine Isn't Rocket Science jumps right into the good stuff. No long introduction about the culture of wine drinking and wine lovers. Neiman treats you as if you were her good friend--no snobbery, no over explaining, just good advice right from the get-go. The first chapter, in fact, is all about how to host a party, from picking the glasses and corkscrew to figuring which wines will suit your gathering best.

Other chapters cover tasting, mastering wine vocabulary, learning how wine is grown, and figuring out what is meant by terroir. For the more experienced, Neiman also reveals the secrets of aging wines and building a wine collection. I particularly like the grape descriptions, the tips on how to taste wine, and clues for reading a wine list and wine label.

Review of Ophelie Neiman's Wine Isn't Rocket ScienceOne cool idea is found in the food pairing chapter. Neiman provides the expected "what wine to drink with this food" information, but then she turns the tables around to suggest "what food to serve with this wine." So if you have a bottle of Pinot Noir, you can see a list of good pairings (try vegetarian soup, cured meats, and fresh tuna); or if you're planning to serve crab, you'll discover that a bright or aromatic white is a safe choice.

Chances are you won't want to sit down and read Wine Isn't Rocket Science all in one afternoon, cover to cover. Instead, it's a book to dip into. Flip through to find the answer to a specific question, such as how to store your opened bottles. Read about a specific wine region, say Portugal, and then spend a few weeks tasting Tempranillos, Arintos, and Vinhaos. After making a reservation for a special celebration, check out the information for ordering wine in restaurants, so you won't be stumped at the table. You'll use Neiman's guide in different ways as your curiosity about and experience with wine increase.

Review of Ophelie Neiman's Wine Isn't Rocket ScienceIf you're looking for an accessible, easy-to-use book for learning more about wine, I suggest picking up Ophelie Neiman's Wine Isn't Rocket Science. The guide is approachable on so many levels, wine newbies, sophisticated sippers, and average wine lovers (that's me!) will find plenty to discover.

Note on the scans: The scans are used here in the context of a review, and all rights remain with the original copyright holders, including illustrator Yannis Varoutsikos. Note too that the quality of the finished book pages is much better than the quality of my scans.

Published by Black Dog & Leventhal (Hachette Book Group), 2017
ISBN-13: 9780316431309
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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06 April 2017

12 Books to Read in April

Happy spring everyone! The weather is changing and soon we in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to relax on our porches and decks, at the pool or at the beach with our books and eReaders. If you live below the Equator, then you're looking forward to snuggling up to a fire, book in hand. Here's what I have on my eReader for April -- all 12 books come out this month and I'm sure there are several that will catch your eye.

Escape into a Story

12 Books to Read in April
  • Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine (Atria): Historical fiction that takes us from rural Scotland to urban America to the wilds of Canada in the late 1800s. A father and daughter, a friendship rekindled, and maybe a little romance.
  • One Good Thing by Wendy Wax (Berkley): Four women friends facing a variety of life's problems (career, marriage, parenthood) count on each other for support and solutions. Set in Florida and part of the popular Ten Beach Road series.
  • The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova (Ballentine): While traveling in Bulgaria, an American woman finds herself on an increasingly dangerous mission to return a lost object to its rightful owners.
Thrills and Chills

12 Books to Read in April
  • Gone without a Trace by Mary Torjussen (Berkley): In Liverpool, England, A man disappears so completely it's as if he never even existed. The deeper his frantic girlfriend searches for him, the more she fears for her life and sanity.
  • A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain (Pegasus): The protagonist of this time-travel mystery series is FBI agent Kendra Donovan. In this outing she's stranded in 1815 England until she can clear a man from murder charges.
  • Where the Dead Lie by C. S. Harris (Berkley): The latest installment of this Regency Era mystery series pits our hero, Viscount Devlin (Sebastian St. Cyr) against a London killer who is targeting homeless children.
True Stories about Ourselves and Our World

12 Books to Read in April
  • Almost Human by Lee Berger with John Hawks (National Geographic): The thrilling true story of the discovery of a new early human species, Homo naledi, by two physical anthropologist who found the fossils, analyzed the evidence, and introduced startling new theories about our origins.
  • Saving Arcadia by Heather Shumaker and James Gibson (Painted Turtle): The inspiring story of the decades-long, grass-roots fight to save and restore a community and wild area on the shores of Lake Michigan from destruction by a large corporation.
  • Where the Water Goes by David Owen (Riverhead): Follow the Colorado River from source to terminus and learn how the taming of a great river has affected life in the U.S. Southwest.
Short Takes with a Global Perspective

12 Books to Read in April
  • Red Shoes for Rachel by Boris Sandler (trans. Burnett Zumoff; Syracuse University Press): This award-winning collection of three novellas explores the postwar Moldovan Jewish experience, as colored by travel and emigration.
  • Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies (Bilioasis): The stories in this award-winning collection take us around the world and show us both the uniqueness of individual lives and the universal concerns that unite us all as humans.
  • What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nineka Arimah (Riverhead): The overriding theme of this collection of stories is mothers and daughters and women's friendships; some incorporate magical realism and many are set in Nigeria.

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05 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday 440

April Sky, 2017


Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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04 April 2017

Today's Read & Giveaway: Silence of the Jams by Gayle Leeson

Imagine you try to be nice to everyone, even that guy who wants to buy you out so he snag your prime real estate. Then imagine that he drops dead while eating at your restaurant! The local doctor says heart attack, but the lab reports detect ingested poison. What would you do? Amy Flowers, with a little help from her friends, sets out to track down the killer.

Mom, my cousin Jackie, and I were practically elbow to elbow in the kitchen of my little house. We stood at the table capping strawberries and putting them in a huge bowl. One of the regulars at the Down South Cafe, the restaurant I'd recently opened in my small hometown, had brought me the bushel of berries this morning. Once they were capped, I planned to make the juicy berries into delicious homemade jam using an old family recipe.
Silence of the Jams by Gayle Leeson Love (Berkley Prime Crime, 2017, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times; small town Virgina
  • Circumstances: Cafe owner Amy Flowers is baking up a storm for the town's 4th of July celebrations when a local rival dies while eating in her restaurant. Now Amy must prove her innocence and find the true poisoner before either she's convicted or the killer strikes again.
  • Genre: cozy mystery
  • Thoughts: A fun small-town cozy with likeable characters and plenty of local color. Leeson adds enough twists and red herrings (and real food references!) to make this a good mystery. As with many light cozies, the attraction of Silence of the Jams is not so much the murder as getting to know Amy's family, friends, and pets.Throw in some family drama and bit of romance and you've got a good story to pass a lazy afternoon. Is this great literature? The best mystery you've ever read? No and no. Nonetheless, I enjoyed meeting Amy.
  • A few things to know: This is only the second novel in the Down South Cafe series, so you won't feel lost if you start with this book. As with almost all culinary mysteries, the author shares a few recipes (including one for chocolate fudge cake). From a quick look at GoodReads I noticed mostly 4- and 5-star reviews. I may be more on the 3 level, but Silence of the Jams is still a fine choice for a warm day by the pool.
The Giveaway

Thanks to the nice people at Berkley Prime Crime, I can offer one of my readers with a USA mailing address a copy of Gayle Leeson's Silence of the Jams. 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 April 12. Once the winner has been confirmed and the address sent along to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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03 April 2017

Sound Recommendations: 3 Great Audiobooks

Review: The One Inside by Sam ShepardSam Shepard's novel The One Inside (with a foreword by Patti Smith; Knopf) is definitely not for everyone. I am a big Shepard fan and have enjoyed his short stories and plays. His novel is mostly the musings of an aging actor, whose thoughts often take him to three women who were instrumental in his life (one from his childhood, his ex-wife, and a more recent questionable relationship) but also to his dogs, his father, and the desert southwest. There isn't much plot, but the language is sparse and vivid, often reminiscent of stage directions. I'm not quite sure what I think of the book as a whole, but it was interesting and different (mostly in a good way). The unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 4 hr, 31 min) was brilliantly read by Bill Pullman. His expression, emotional level, and pacing were a perfect match for the book, and I was especially impressed at his ability to emphasize the poetry of the prose. Patti Smith reads her own foreword. A highly recommended audiobook, but I'm not sure the book itself is for everyone. I'm also not crazy about the cover. For more on the audiobook, see my review at AudioFile magazine.

Review: Heir of Novron by Michael J. SullivanMichael J. Sullivan's Heir of Novron (Orbit) was a great ending to the Riyria Revelations trilogy. Sullivan got stronger as the series progressed, with more complex plotting and deeper history to his world. I really love the characters and could barely stop listening. The story has a lot of action plus betrayals, love, friendships, death, and a few twists. These books are (if I have my subgenres correct) high fantasy, and while there are elves, dwarves, and magic, the themes are universal: power struggles, prejudice, politics, organized religion vs. other beliefs, class differences, and war. I would be extra sad about finishing the trilogy, but Sullivan also wrote the Riyria Chronicles (three books and three novellas) and is publishing (at good clip) a new series, Legends of the First Empire. Many hours of great listening ahead! I was so taken with these books, I also bought them in print so I can reread sections and study the maps. The unabridged audiobook (Recorded Books; 31 hr, 49 min) was read by Tim Gerard Reynolds, who narrated the previous books. He is fabulous at characterizations, keeps the tension going, and brings just the right amount of drama -- and humor -- to his performance. I recommend this series.

Review: Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth StroutElizabeth Strout's Anything Is Possible (Random House) won't be published until later this month, but I've already listened to the audiobook. The book is billed as a novel, but is, as you might expect, really a series of linked stories that take us back to the same world as My Name Is Lucy Barton, which is small-town Illinois. The overriding themes are family -- marriage, parenthood, childhood, adulthood -- and the human experience, which includes love, insecurities, struggles, friendship, loss, and self-doubt. The smallest of encounters can change the course of a life, and no matter your circumstances, don't stop dreaming, because anything is, indeed, possible. You don't have to have read Lucy Barton to read Strout's newest. The two books don't make up a series or a continuation in a strict sense; and Anything Is Possible is a solid standalone. The unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 8 hr, 25 min) is sensitively read by Kimberly Farr. Farr's understated performance melts into the background, allowing the strength of Strout's writing take center stage. This is an audiobook you can get lost in. My full audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine, but here's the spoiler: put this on your wish list.

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01 April 2017

Weekend Cooking: Feeding a Family by Sarah Waldman

Review: Feeding a Family by Sarah WaldmanWhat's my favorite kind of cookbook? One that helps me get a healthful, fresh dinner on the table even after a busy or stressful day of work. That's exactly what Sarah Waldman's Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work (Roost Books; ISBN: 9781611803099; April 11) both promises and delivers.

Waldman, who has a degree in nutrition, is the mother of two young boys and is committed to serving home-cooked dinners pretty much every night. Her real life involves work, marriage, parenting, school, a tight food budget, and small-town resources. In other words, she's not much different from most of us.

Review: Feeding a Family by Sarah WaldmanThe recipes in Feeding a Family are kid tested and adult approved. No, her kids won't eat every single dish in the book, but Waldman looks at this as a growing process. Inside the covers you'll find 40 dinner menus, arranged seasonally. Most are perfect for everyday dinners, though there are a few menus for weekend cooking.

When Waldman says her recipes are family friendly, she means it. She mentions cooking and prep tasks that children can do and provides notes for how to adapt at least part of the menu for infants. In a budget-friendly way, Waldman sometimes adds information on how to either stretch the leftovers or change them into a second dinner.

Don't skip the introductory material, which includes lists about nutrition, shopping, and food prep. You'll also find ways to get the family involved and how to feed picky eaters. Best is the list of pantry meals, what I call "desperation dinners." You know, those times when you are just too zonked to fuss. I'll be using that list a lot.

I really like the design of Feeding a Family: it's clean and easy on the eyes. A bonus are the beautiful photographs by Elizabeth Cecil. I love the mix of lifestyle and food images.

Review: Feeding a Family by Sarah WaldmanThe recipes are solid and doable on a weeknight by families with modest skills. You'll find one-dish meals, pizza, veggie burgers, slow-cooker pork, grilled vegetables, brown rice pudding, and grain bowls. The flavors are varied and the meals range from meat and poultry through fish and vegetarian. The desserts are mostly fruit based and not over-the-top rich.

One thing to remember is this is a family cookbook. So, although the menus are delicious, the food is not highly spiced. I understand this. The idea behind Feeding a Family is to satisfy everyone, including babies. I've been adding extra herbs and spices, but we're not feeding kids.

Recipe: Skillet Spinach Pie from Feeding a Family by Sarah WaldmanRecommendation: If you're looking for new ideas for healthful, fast, family-friendly dinners, you can't go wrong with Sarah Waldman's Feeding a Family. I've discovered some great ideas and yummy dinners, and I bet you'll find some new favorites as well. Note: If you're vegetarian, you'll find a lot to love here, but you might want to borrow the cookbook before buying it.

Recipe: The scan (click to enlarge and read) shows a recipe for Skillet Spinach Pie, which I made and we loved. I've cooked spanakopita many times over the years, but I really liked the addition of ricotta here. I added some garlic and cumin and probably something like oregano. I know that many people shy away from phyllo because of the butter, but this recipe uses only 6 sheets of dough and 5 tablespoons of butter for 8 servings. That's not really too bad for a treat. The photo just above, shows the finished dish.

Note on photos and scans: The recipe and photos come from an advance reader edition and may differ from the final book. Also, these materials are used in the context of a review and all rights remain with the original copyright holders, Sarah Waldman or Elizabeth Cecil.

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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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Copyright

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

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