30 June 2017

8 Speculative Fiction Books for July

Yes, I'm a day early, but I'm already looking forward to my July reading list. Although I don't read every one of the many genres embraced by the speculative fiction label, I especially like books that focus on time travel, fantasy, and dystopian and postapocalyptic worlds. If you're a fan of speculative fiction, like I am, here are eight books you'll want to put on your July wish list.

The Dystopian Future

4 dystopian novel for your July wish list
  • Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn (Mariner; July 11): After major environmental and economic disaters destroy the world, a community in what was once California forms a family-based society with strict population control. The illusion of peace is broken when an outcast is found murdered.
  • When the English Fall by David Williams (Algonquin; July11): In the aftermath of a solar storm that devastates communication, transportation, and the comforts of modern life, the Pennsylvania Amish continue to flourish, living off their provisions . . . until the English (outsiders) remember their peaceful neighbors and pillage their homes, carting off whatever they find useful.
  • Out in the Open by Jesus Carrasco (Riverhead; July 4; young adult): In a world brought down by drought, a boy must find a way to survive in the wilderness, figuring out friend from foe while evading the violent men who are determined to capture him.
  • Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown (Harper Voyager; July 11): A brother and sister--political fugitives--risk crossing the arid wasteland that was once America's breadbasket in the hopes of finding refuge in the new New Orleans; revolution is in the air.
Fantasy and Beyond

4 speculative fiction books for your July wish list
  • Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (Del Rey; July 25): Epic fantasy. In this second book in a series exploring the deep history of Sullivan's universe, the world is on the brink of war between humans and elves.
  • Talon of God by by Wesley Snipes and Ray Norman (Harper Voyager; July 25): Urban fantasy. This debut novel from a well-known actor is set in Chicago and pits a reluctant doctor against Satan's minions and one of their weapons: a new street drug.
  • The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein (Geek & Sundry; July 25): Hard science fiction. A teleporting trip gone horribly wrong leaves a man running from enemies in both the tech industry and a religious cult as he tries to find a way back to his wife and family.
  • The Alexander Inheritance by Eric Flint, Gorg Huff, and Paula Goodlett (Simon & Schuster; July 4): Alternate history / time travel. During a supernatural storm, a modern-day Caribbean cruise ship is transported to the Mediterranean Sea in the wake of Alexander the Great's reign. Can the passengers and crew survive ancient Egypt's political chaos and return to their own time?

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28 June 2017

Wordless Wednesday 452

Daisy, 2017


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26 June 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: My Reading, Listening, & Viewing Life

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts from Beth Fish ReadsWhere does the time go? I was busy with work this week, but still took advantage of the mild days to do some yard work in between the rain. The weekend was gorgeous, and I loved spending time on the deck reading and relaxing.

In other news, I went on a book organizing binge. Boy is it hard to make decisions about what to keep and what to donate. By the end of the weekend, I had culled print books that I know I'm never going to read, books I'm never going to read again, and books I also own as eBooks or eGalleys. Although painful, it's satisfying to see the pile of books I plan to share with friends and family.

What I Read Last Week

Review: Kiss Carlo by Adriana TrigianiKiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani (Harper, 2017): First, a minor disclaimer: I've met Adriana several times, and although I'm not sure she'd remember who I am, I like her and enjoy her company. Her newest book revisits many of her beloved themes--the Italian-American experience, family, food, and romance. I love Trigiani's sense of humor and her easy-to-connect-with characters. There are a several plot lines in Kiss Carlo, including a family feud, a struggling theater, and a slow-burning match made in heaven. I also liked the post-WWII time period and love the Philadelphia setting, both of which informed the atmosphere of the novel. Start your red sauce, prepare your pasta, and get ready to be embraced by all things Italian! This is a fun read, perfect for a summer afternoon. The audiobook (Harper Audio; 16 hr, 2 min) was read by Edoardo Ballerini, who toed the edge of being overly enthusiastic but still put in a listenable performance (more on the audiobook at AudioFile magazine).

Review: The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan FallonThe Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon (Putnam, 2017): I have nothing but good to say about Fallon's debut novel. I shouldn't have been surprised because I loved her short stories (You Know When the Men Are Gone). Cassie and Margaret have little in common except their husbands are in the military and both are stationed in Jordan. Cassie, who understands how it is for American women in a Muslim country, takes newcomer Margaret under her wing, and the two become friends of a sort. The novel explores Americans overseas, religious and cultural differences, women's roles, marriage, parenthood, friendship, and secrets. You might not like the women--they're certainly not perfect--but I found it difficult to put the book down. It's emotionally strong and I liked the details of what it's like to be a soldier's wife in the Mideast. I was quickly invested the friends' fates, opting for a combination read / listen of the novel because I couldn't put the book down. As for the audiobook, I enjoyed the performances by Jorjeana Marie and Lauren Fortgang (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 21 min), who worked well together, increasing my connection to the characters and their individual perspectives on life in Jordan. Highly recommended in either medium.

Miscellaneous

Bloodline on NetflixON TELEVISION, we've finally finished Bloodline. The series is set in the Florida keys and focuses on the Rayburn family in all their messed-up glory! I'm not at all sure what I thought about the final episode. No spoilers, but I was confused most of the time, and I have only a vague idea of what happened to the Rayburns at the end. I'll have to watch that episode again. Still, it was a series worth your time, especially if you like dark themes and a very dysfunctional family. We started Shetland, which is a mystery series set in, well, the Shetlands (duh!). So far we like the characters and love the scenery. We have several streaming shows to catch up on, including Bosch, Orange Is the New Black, Frankie and Grace, and House of Cards. We'll chip away at them slowly ...

Audio stream of US founding documentsAMERICAN INDEPENDENCE: Penguin Random House Audio thinks everyone should be familiar with the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence and so is offering a free audio stream of both founding documents, which you can listen to anytime between June 27 and July 31. According to their press release, the project is in partnership "with numerous bestselling authors and organizations, including PEN America and the National Coalition Against Censorship," and they plan to use the hashtag #WeThePeopleListen across all their social media. Narrators Frank Langella and Boyd Gaines bring these documents to life. Click on the link to learn more about this project and to listen in.

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24 June 2017

Weekend Cooking: Wine All the Time by Marissa A. Ross

Review: Wine. All the Time by Marissa A. RossI know what you're thinking: Ms. BFR, do you really need another wine book? Well, yes, I do, and I'll tell you why. I'm interested in wine, I like wine, and I want to know more about wine. But the truth is this: I have only so many hours a day to devote to my nonwork interests. Reading about and studying wine--despite my curiosity--tends to slip to the back burner. Hell, I'm not sure it's even on the stovetop.

Thus my search for approachable wine books. If I read enough and take just a tip or two from each source, I hope someday to be able to sound like I know what I'm doing. Marissa A. Ross's book Wine. All the Time. (Plume, June 27) speaks to me. (Thanks to Plume for the review copy.)

Ross, a contributing editor for Bon Appetit magazine, blogger at Wine, All the Time, and all-round fun person, is a wine lover just like me. Well, not just like me, because she gets paid to write about wine. On the other hand, just like me, she isn't a certified expert; she's someone who has worked her way up from 2-Buck Chuck to the good stuff (wines that cost more than $20).

When I started reading Wine. All the Time, two things immediately jumped out at me: First, I love Ross's style--funny, personal, and very earthy (if you have "language issues," you might want to look elsewhere). Second, I love her general approach to learning about wine. I would call it drinking mindfully, as in take a moment to think about the aromas, the flavors, and the colors of the wine in your glass. Then make the effort to read about the grape and the growing region and take some notes. When I've made the effort to actually do these things, I've been surprised at what I've discover about my own tastes.

The book has all the sections you would expect: a glossary, a chapter on how wine is made, lists of wines by grape and region (including tasting notes), and all kinds of advice (how to read a label, what wines to serve at a party, what wines to drink with your dad, and so on).

Although you might think there is nothing new here, I would disagree. I love how approachable Ross is and especially enjoyed reading the story of how she went from chugging the low-end bottles to knowing enough to write about respectable wines. Throughout Wine. All the Time, you'll find tips and charts for all kinds of useful information: not just food pairings but also the differences between commercial wines and low-intervention wines, how to buy wine, how to order wine, and how to serve wine.

For me, the more avenues I have to approach the mysteries of the wine world, the better; and Marissa A. Ross is someone I want to have at my side while I make my own journey from the under $15 bottles to the next level. Take a chance on Ross--if nothing else, you'll have many good laughs while you drink your $5 Pinot Noir and may even get the courage to try wines in a higher price bracket.

My only issue with the book has nothing at all to do with Ross. It has to do with the state of Pennsylvania (where I live) and how difficult it is for me to buy some of the suggested wines. If you live in any other state in the union, you will have a much better chance than I do to try the wines, find a good wine store, and follow the advice in Wine. All the Time.

To learn more about Ross, check out her article "5 Questions to Ask When You're Buying Wine (and Know Nothing about Wine)" at Bon Appetit and this great interview at VinePair. Oh, and don't forget to explore her blog, Wine, all the time. Finally, here is the book trailer:

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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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22 June 2017

5 Books to Read Right Now

No matter how many hours I devote to reading each week, I just can't seem to keep up with my book list. I really must get working on that idea of reading in my sleep. In the meantime, here are five novels, all published in June, that I'm determined to finish by month's end (or maybe in July).

  • 5 Novels to Read in JuneThe Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon (Putnam): I loved Fallon's short stories and thus have high expectations for her debut novel, set in Jordon. The lives of two American military families crisscross and intertwine through love, fear, secrets, and politics.
  • The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Custom House): Okay, I admit it: I'd read this book for the cover alone, but I'm happy to report that the novel has earned much buzz and glowing reviews. A widow and a vicar are determined to discover the truth behind the fabled creature that locals believe has killed one of their own.
  • The Lake and the Lost Girl by Jacquelyn Vincenta (Sourcebooks Landmark): It's the Michigan setting that initially called me to this debut contemporary novel. In an ill-advised effort to strengthen her marriage, a woman joins her English professor husband in the search for a late-poet's lost work.
  • The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor (Riverhead): Cantor is one of my must-read authors for historical fiction with strong Jewish elements. Her latest novel is set in German-occupied Austria and 1980s California. The themes of Nazi resistance, survival, love, and heartbreak center around the life of an Austrian stamp engraver.
  • Necessary Monsters by Richard A. Kirk (Arche): Who can resist a book about a book lover? A stolen rare book, honor among thieves, sociopolitical issues, revenge, and at least one monster round out this techno-fantasy debut from a well-known visual artist and illustrator.

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21 June 2017

Wordless Wednesday 451

Fountain (Longwood Gardens)


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19 June 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Quick Reviews

3 quick book reviewsA combination of major thunderstorms, a quick trip out of town to celebrate friends' wedding anniversary and visit with family, and general busyness have cut into my reading and blogging time. I'd complain, but socializing with people we love is well worth the sacrifice.

The thunderstorm part, I could live without. I hate missing out on my warm-weather deck time. Grrr.

Although I didn't read anything this weekend, I was able to visit a very cool bookstore, Baldwin's Book Barn in West Chester, PA (photos on Litsy and Instagram). The store is located in an old five-level barn and is stuffed full of used books, from contemporary fiction to rare books and first editions. We didn't have a lot of time to do the store justice, but I still managed to find an out-of-print cookbook I've been looking for.

Reading Time

Marsh King's Daughter by Karen DionneThe Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne (Penguin Audio; 9 hr, 54 min, 2017): I really liked this psychological thriller / character study set in Michigan's upper peninsula. Helena grows up on an isolated homestead with just her young mother and older father and knows almost nothing about the outside world, until the day a stranger visits and she learns her sometimes ill-tempered, strict father is a bad, bad man. The story is told by an older Helena, who is determined to keep her husband and daughters safe after her father escapes from prison. It didn't matter that I was pretty sure how the story would ultimately play out--a few surprises, tense moments, and good character building held my attention. Narrator Emily Rankin set the pace and tapped into the characters' personalities, making this a recommended audiobook. (Review copy form Penguin Audio.)

The Evolution of Beauty by Richard O. PrumThe Evolution of Beauty by Richard O. Prum (Random House Audio; 13 hr, 39 min, 2017): Bird scientist and author Prum examines bird behavior and evolution in light of Darwin's dual theories of natural selection and sexual selection to explain the development of an aesthetic sense in birds, humans, and other animals. For more than a century, the evolutionary sciences have concentrated on natural selection (and three other forces of evolution) plus male competition as the principal means for adaptation and biological change, pushing the idea of beauty, sexual attraction, and especially the notion of female choice into the background. Prum makes a strong argument for reexamining some of Darwin's original theories in light of modern scientific knowledge. Narrator Dan Woren was expressive and easy to understand. If you have an interest in birds, evolution, science, and/or feminism, you'll find something to like here. (Full audiobook review in AudioFile magazine.)

The Three Faces of Nellie by Robynne Elizabeth MillerThe Three Faces of Nellie by Robynne Elizabeth Miller (Practical Pioneer Press, 2016). After learning about the new Little House-related books coming out this year, I decided to see what previously published books I may have missed. Miller's book popped up on Amazon, claiming to explore the idea that Laura Ingalls Wilder based her character Nellie Oleson on three real people. This book was poorly edited and poorly designed and only vaguely interesting. Yes, I learned the names of three women/girls who had run-ins with Laura; yes, I learned about their families and their fates; and, yes, I learned (in a handful of paragraphs) their possible links to specific episodes in the Little House books, but I cannot recommend this book and kind of wish I could have my money back. There wasn't enough material here to be a book. Miller would have been better off to have written a magazine article (and to have found a decent editor). Borrow this from the library or look for a eBook deal if you're a fan, but don't pay full price.

Currently listening to Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani (read by Edoardo Ballerini). I think this is going to be fun.

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17 June 2017

Weekend Cooking: Noma: My Perfect Storm (Documentary)

Review of Noma: My Perfect Storm (film)Although I've eaten in some great places in Copenhagen, Chef Rene Redzepi's Noma hasn't been one of them. If you haven't heard of Noma, maybe all you need to know is that it was given the title World's Best Restaurant four times (2010-2012, 2014).

Redzepi is credited with giving Nordic cuisine global attention. He built his menu around the concept of seasonality: diners should know both the time and the place in which they are eating. So each ingredient had to be available in Scandinavia on the day it was served in the restaurant. What's more, the food had to be regionally produced or harvested.

To say that Redzepi is an innovator is an understatement. He found ways to allow local foods to shine like they never had before.

The documentary Noma: My Perfect Storm introduces us to the chef, his staff and restaurant, and even his suppliers. We learn that Redzepi is both moody and realistic, both a taskmaster and a father figure to his staff. The filming is nicely done (except for one jittery scene at the end), and the scenery is gorgeous.

Review of Noma: My Perfect Storm (film)Director Pierre Deschamps highlights Redzepi's great successes and creativity but also shows us the setbacks the chef had to overcome  (for example, an outbreak of norovirus affected about sixty of Noma's patrons in 2013).

The documentary itself didn't make me want to make a reservation at Noma (good thing too because the Noma shown in the film no longer exists), nor did it make me want to cook like Redzepi. On the other hand, I liked learning about the chef's rocky journey, and I'm curious about his still-being-built new venture, only hinted at in the documentary. Keeping with the chef's locavore philosophy, the resurrected Noma will feature on-premises greenhouse growing and lakeside dining.

Take a look at the trailer and put Noma: My Perfect Storm on your list. It may not be the best restaurant documentary you'll ever see, but Chef Rene Redzepi is unique and worth meeting.

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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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15 June 2017

10 Best Audiobooks and an Audiobook Giveaway

Did you know that June is audiobook month and that audio listeners are celebrating at home, on the road, and on social media? I'm such a huge fan, I think every month is audiobook month.

Note too that thanks to the Audio Publishers Association and Audiobook.com, I have a great giveaway to celebrate audiobook month, which I'll tell you about in just a minute.

A couple of years ago, several of my fellow audiobook lovers asked each other to name our top 10 audiobooks of all time. Our individual lists were supposed to consist of the audiobooks that created a magical moment or epitomized the listening experience or hit that golden place of perfect narrator–author union.

This was not an easy task for me because I've been listening to audiobooks since the 1980s—when books on tape really were on tape! By the time I narrowed my choices to just 10, I discovered two things: First, I was dismayed to find that some of my favorite narrators didn't make my list. Second, despite my almost 30 years of listening, my all-time favorite audiobooks are all relatively recent releases. Go figure. Here, then, are my (current) picks (in alphabetical order):

  • Beauty Queens by Libba Bray / read by Libba Bray. A plane carrying teen beauty contestants crashes on a deserted island—think Lost with a twist. Bray is so versatile and talented that it's hard to remember there's only one narrator.
  • The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey / read by Finty Williams. A different kind of dystopian or zombie story. Williams avoids sterotypes and excessive drama to put in a pitch-perfect performance.
  • Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy / read by Dan Lee Miller. This novel is based on Conroy's own experiences as a student at the Citadel. Miller captures the emotional heart of the story.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman / read by Neil Gaiman. A magical book about childhood, the nature of memory, and friendship. I really have no words to describe the experience of hearing Gaiman read this story.
  • Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon / read by Davina Porter. Is there anyone who doesn't the premise of this time travel series? A 1940s British nurse is transported to 1700s Scotland. Porter's consistent characterizations, expressive reading, and lovely accent bring this long series to life.
  • Pillars of the Earth series by Ken Follett / read by John Lee. This series is about the building of a cathedral and its effect on a town, the local families, and the wider politics of 12th-century England. Lee is the king of historical fiction and long sagas, and he shines in these books.
  • Themis Files series by Sylvain Neuvel / read by full cast. I describe these books as science fiction, alternate history, character study, mystery, and fantasy rolled into one. They are written in the form of logs, transcripts, and diaries, and the full-cast performance is utterly amazing. I swear I felt as if I were eavesdropping on actual conversations.
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield / read by Bianca Amato and Jill Tanner. Twins, ghosts, and a mystery are at the core of the Gothic tale. Amato and Tanner are equally great—emotional, dynamic performances that capture the characters' personalities and the deep essence of the story.
  • Tomorrow series by John Marden / read by Suzi Doughtery. An alternate history series in which Australia is invaded and conquered by an enemy nation. Doughtery channels the main character, beautifully evoking a full range of emotions and keying into the pacing of the action.
  • Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr / read by Alyssa Bresnahan. Urban fantasy mixed with modern fairy tale. Bresnahan narrates this novel in the finest tradition of classic storytellers. I was spellbound.
Giveaway. As I said at the top of the post, Audio Publishers Association and Audiobooks.com are helping us all celebrate June is audiobook month in style. They've rounded up 30 audiobook fans to write about their love of audiobooks and to participate in a great giveaway. Visit the Audio Publishers Association's JIAM web page to see the list of all the participating bloggers (and to find 29 more chances to win).

So what's this giveaway? I'm able to offer one of my readers a set of earbuds and three free audiobook downloads. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to have a USA mailing address and fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner using a random number generator on July 1. After the winner has been confirmed, I'll delete all personal information from my computer. Good luck and keep listening!

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14 June 2017

Wordless Wednesday 450

View over the Fence


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12 June 2017

12 Books from the Big Publishers (BookExpo 2017: Part 3)

My final roundup of BookExpo highlights books from the big publishing houses. As I did for my previous posts (5 books for your wish list; 8 books from smaller presses), I'm leaving out the really big authors, whose books you're unlikely to miss (for example, both Alice Hoffman and Philip Pullman have novels coming out this year). My intent is to share just some of the books I discovered in New York. You'll be hearing about more over the coming months.

The following 12 books are a mix of fiction and nonfiction, and all but one is geared to an adult audience. Pay attention to the publishing date; some will be in bookstores this summer, but most won't be available until fall.

  • 12 Books to read in 2017The Address by Fiona Davis (Dutton, August): When the New York City apartment building the Dakota was built in the late nineteenth century, it was considered to be in the hinterlands, a haven for the rich and famous. This novel takes place in two time periods--the 1880s and the 1980s--and explores life within the walls of the iconic building.
  • Calling My Name by Liara Tamani (Greenwillow, October): Set in Houston, Texas, this story is told from the view point of an African American girl, who reflects on her teen years, from middle school through senior year of high school. In the short chapters of this emotionally strong novel, we see Taja trying to balance the conservative values she learns at home with her experiences in the outside world.
  • The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey (Grand Central Publishing, October): This first in a new police procedural thriller / mystery series is set in rural Australia. As Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock investigates the murder of a former high school classmate, her own past secrets threaten to bubble to the surface. The novel has been billed as being dark and complex.
  • Island of the Blue Foxes by Stephen R. Brown (De Capo Press, November): Did you know that Czar Peter the Great funded a major expedition through Siberia and the polar waters into North America, ultimately "discovering" what is now Alaska. Led by Captain Vitus Bering, the adventure had mixed success: it opened up the northwest fur trade but cost dearly in terms of human suffering. This is the true-life account of that Russian journey of exploration.
  • 12 Books to read in 2017The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan (Touchstone, September): I couldn't resist picking up a copy of this true story about Edith Dresser who married George Vanderbilt and was one of the key forces behind keeping the beautiful Biltmore house and estate running smoothly, even during tough economic times. Although many of us have heard of the magnificent North Carolina chateau and the Vanderbilt family who occupied its rooms, few of us know Edith's role in preserving the grounds and her husband's legacy.
  • A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo (Hachette, October): Written by a journalist who was once based in Nigeria, this book follows four threads that expose real life in today's Africa. The people we meet are from different countries and have had different experiences, some unimaginable to those of us in the comfortable West. The publisher's summary to this nonfiction account says it's about "ordinary people doing the extraordinary" to make lives better for all Africans.
  • A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan (Redhook, September): This novel was pitched as a family saga, spanning several generations, and set in France and England. It focuses on mother-daughter relationships and, of course, has a bit of magic.The story spans the early 1800s through to World War II and is billed as being good for fans of Discovery of Witches.
  • Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak (Berkley, October): I couldn't resist the premise of this novel: A family is quarantined in their home over Christmas week because one member has just returned to the UK after being part of a team that treated victims of a viral epidemic in Liberia. No one can leave the house and no one can enter. Will they survive each other's quirks while keeping their own secrets to themselves?
  • 12 Books to read in 2017Sourdough by Robin Sloan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, September): What happens when a non-cooking Bay Area software engineer inherits a sourdough starter? In this fun foodie novel, Lois is transformed by her new charge, learning to bake and getting involved in San Fransisco's underground food culture.
  • South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby (Picador, July): This novel introduces us to a young painter who is accepted into a National Science Foundation retreat program for artists and writers. Sounds like heaven--that is, if your idea of heaven is Antarctica, with six months of no sun and subzero temperatures. Personal growth, the politics of climate change, and making unlikely friendships are at the heart of this book.
  • The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson (Ecco, September): Set on a family farm in 1930s Georgia, this novel explores family secrets, racial tensions, violence, and economic hardship. This multigenerational story shows us both the strength of individual spirit and the ugliness that arises from hate of those who are different from us.
  • Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown (Spiegel & Grau, July): This novel's tagline caught my attention: "Who you want people to be makes you blind to who they really are." Billie, a seemingly happy and successful woman, goes missing while on a solo hike in the American west, leaving behind a daughter and husband, who can only assume she has died. When father and daughter begin to search into Billie's past for clues of her fate, they realize they never actually knew her at all.

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10 June 2017

Weekend Cooking: 4 Recipes to Make This Week

4 recipes to make this weekI don't know about your part of the world, but the weather finally turned around in central Pennsylvania, and despite some rain, we've been able to eat outside again. I hope we're done with the chilly evenings.

Instead of a formal review today, I thought I'd share this week's dinner recipes. Two came out of the latest Bon Appetit and two came from the latest Cooking Light.

Now that we have Pinterest, Google, and reliable food blogs, I often forget to take a look at my old favorite recipe source: magazines. The irony, of course, is that I've saved these recipes to my Tried and Liked board, so I guess I haven't escaped the Internet at all.

What's for Dinner?

  • 4 recipes to make this weekBaked Chicken with Tomatoes and Olives: This is a one-dish meal that takes about 10 minutes to put together. You rub some some seasonings on the chicken. Then toss tomatoes, olives, garlic, and thyme in a baking dish, layer on the chicken and bake until it's done. Seriously easy and really delicious. This made enough for two dinners. The first night I served it with asparagus, and the second night I added kale to the baking dish before reheating the chicken in the oven. This was a winner.
  • Ramen with Steak and Sesame-Ginger Dressing: This dish is supposed to be served cold, but we ate it for dinner without allowing it to chill. It was still good. The dressing includes tahini, ginger, and lemon, and the salad consists of cabbage, kohrabi, scallions, and cashews. We ditched the ramen noodles for soba, which are a little more nutritious. I like stretching a single 12-ounce grilled steak to four servings. My husband was happy to have a hearty salad for his lunch the next day.
  • 4 recipes to make this weekTortellini Salad with Zucchini and Peas: Okay, so I admit that part of the attraction of this recipe was that I could use the ribbon cutter on my spiralizer. I was also hoping to find fresh peas at the farmers' market. The zucchini ribbons came out great, but I had to use frozen peas instead of fresh. This salad uses a small package of cheese tortellini, and the pasta and veggies are tossed with a lemon-basil dressing. It was good, but nothing special. If I make it again, I think I'll add scallions. Note that it serves only two for a main dish.
  • Rosy Beet-and-Quinoa Salad: I haven't actually tried this recipe yet, but it's on tap for tonight's dinner. With beets, radicchio, pine nuts, and feta (which I'm using for the crumbled goat cheese), I don't see how it could be bad. The recipe says this is a main-dish salad, and I'm not planning on serving anything with it. If we like it, I'll post it to my tried and liked Pinterest board over the weekend.
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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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09 June 2017

8 Books from Smaller Presses (BookExpo 2017: Part 2)

One of the things I look forward to when I plan my annual trip to Book Expo (formally BEA), is getting a chance to learn about books from some of the smaller presses. Although the publishers featured today are hardly obscure, they are independent from the giant houses that seem to get all the buzz.

Instead of featuring the big-name authors and titles you'll hear about everywhere (including here on Beth Fish Reads), today I want to introduce you to a handful of books that may have slipped by your radar. All but one is fiction, and most take us outside the United States and/or to different times, providing a broad perspective on life and humanity.

  • 8 great books from small pressesSolar Bones by Mike McCormack (Soho, September): Set in rural Ireland, this novel is told by a spirit who returns to his home and recalls his life in all his roles, from son to father and everything in between and beyond. This award-winning novel gives us a feel for a generation of changes and challenges.
  • The Widows of Malabar Hill (Soho Crime, January 2018): The protagonist of this first in a new series is loosely based on India's first woman lawyer. Set about 100 years ago in Bombay, this crime novel concerns a case of potential fraud against three traditional, sheltered widows of the same man. The case also involves lost inheritances and the threat of murder.
  • The Extra Woman by Joanna Scutts (Liveright, November): For most of history, Western culture has pitied or scorned the woman who chooses to remain single. Yet almost 90 years ago, Marjorie Hillis, who wrote for Vogue magazine, helped make the "Live-Aloners" fashionable. This book explores the rise and fall of the glory days of the independent woman over the course of the twentieth century and into our own times.
  • Across the China Sea by Gaute Heivoll (Graywolf Press, September): In the post-World War II years, a Norwegian family opens their home to the lost and broken, forging bonds that hold an unlikely group of adults and children together to face a changing world. The novel is told in retrospect as the son cleans out the house after his parents' deaths.
  • 8 great books from small pressesReign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen (Bloomsbury, January 2018): This first in a four-part young adult fantasy series features a young woman who agrees to a marriage in return for the promise of peace between two rival lands. Her sacrifice is made all the harder when she must hide her elemental powers from her husband while trying to stay loyal to her own heritage. The novel promises battles, betrayal, politics, and magic.
  • Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak (Bloomsbury, December): This novel takes place in the course of a single evening in modern-day Istanbul. A woman who survives a mugging on her way to an opulent dinner party tries to balance her present circumstances with her college years abroad. Meanwhile the city erupts in violence caused by a series of terrorist attacks. Literary fiction that examines feminism in the context of Islam.
  • Leona: The Die Is Cast by Jenny Rogneby (Other Press, August): this gritty Scandinavian crime novel features a flawed female detective who is barely able to hold herself together long enough to solve a bizarre bank robbery, allegedly pulled off by a seven-year-old girl. The author is both a former Stockholm cop and a former pop singer.
  • To the Back of Beyond by Peter Stamm (Other Press, October): One night after a women goes inside to check on her child, her husband leaves the back garden and starts walking through the Swiss countryside. This slip of a novel explores the couple's now separate lives--one seemingly aimless, the other tied to home--and how life can change in a single moment.
Next week I'll feature picks from the big publishing houses. In case you missed it, yesterday I featured 5 Book Expo picks, also from small publishers.

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08 June 2017

5 Books to Put on Your Wish List (BookExpo 2017: Part 1)

5 books to put on your wish listAs many of you know, I was in New York last week to attend this year's Book Expo (formally known as BEA) to learn about all the new and exciting books that will soon be in the stores and libraries and in your hands and on your wish lists.

I walked the convention floor many times over looking for both the hot titles everyone wants as well as the lesser-know books that you might well miss. Instead of my usual coverage of panels and events, this year I'm going to write a series of three or four roundup posts that highlight some of the books I'm most excited about.

Pay attention to the publishers and the publishing dates: one of the following is available right now, but the others won't come out until fall. It's never too early to preorder or to get on that library waiting list, right?

5 books to put on your wish list
  • The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker (Sourcebooks, September): Who doesn't love a good dystopian novel, especially one that involves family and the burning need to find each other across a great distance in a world turned upside down. This story takes place in the UK, after an asteroid makes a direct hit with earth. Our hero is about to be tested both physically and mentally.
  • The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken (Disney Hyperion, September): I kind of feel I need not say much more than urban fantasy, middle grade, and Alexandra Bracken! This start of a new series introduces us to demons and a troubled family. There are bad guys and good guys and few curses. The novel is set in Salem, MA, so can I expect witches too?
  • As Lie Is to Grin by Simeon Marsalis (Catapult, October): I'm not really sure what to expect from this novel, but I think it is going to offer a mix of perspectives on modern-day life as a young (adult) black America. Old and new collide as history is rewritten, or at least filtered, by what one finds on the Internet. I met the author, who was warm and friendly; I wish him all the best with his debut novel. 
  • The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Marta McDowell (Timber Press, September): There were several Laura Ingalls Wilder books and totes at BEA this year, and I was happy I was able to get a copy of this beautifully illustrated book that enriches the Little House world by focusing on the natural landscape that called to Pa and informed Laura's writing. I've already preordered a finished copy.
  • Grocery by Michael Ruhlman (Abrams, May): I can't wait to start reading this well-researched (and well edited) look at the rise of the American grocery store, with its standardized layout, and how it reflects the country's culture, economics, and eating patterns. Ruhlman did more than an armchair investigation; he traveled the country, meeting people and even gaining firsthand experience as a supermarket bagger. 
Up next will be a few of the books I discovered from some smaller presses, and I'll finish with one or two posts from the big four publishers.

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07 June 2017

Wordless Wednesday 449

Marigolds, 2017


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

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06 June 2017

Today's Read: 'Round Midnight by Laura McBride

'Round Midnight by Laura McBrideDo you think of yourself as resilient? Is it possible for any of us to know the answer if we haven't been tested? June, Honorata, Coral, and Engracia discover the character of their inner strength after each faces a personal crisis.

To celebrate victory in Europe, June Stein dove headfirst off the Haverstraw Bridge.

A few months earlier, she had bought an eighteen-inch silver cigarette holder on a day trip to the city--snuck into the shop while her mother was choosing a hat next door--and spent the spring flicking ashes on the track as she smoked behind the stairs of the boy's gym. In April she ripped her hose in chemistry class and ate lunch in the cafeteria with one leg crossed over the other, bare calf exposed. Leon Kronenberg said he had touched her breast. When Mr. Sawyer came back from the summer holidays with a goatee, June Stein breathed in, licked her lips, and shuddered.

She was bad for the neighborhood.

Things happened to other girls because of June Stein.
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride (Touchstone, 2017, opening paragraphs [galley])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Las Vegas, 1960s to present
  • Circumstances: A Las Vegas casino is the hub connecting four women of different backgrounds and generations. Each experiences upheaval and must find the will to keep moving forward.
  • Genre: literary fiction
  • Themes: marriage, motherhood, loss, adapting to changing times and fortunes, friendship, self-reliance
  • Characters: June, a New Jersey native who runs the casino with her second husband; Honorata, who leaves the Philippines to marry a man she's never met; Coral, a biracial music teacher at a local school who is unsure of her parentage; Engracia, an illegal immigrant who is trying to give her son a better life; the city of Las Vegas itself as it changes through the decades
  • Reviews: Almost all reviewers agree that McBride has written an engaging story about women who will capture your emotions. Although some noted a few flaws (for example, the men seemed to be either good or bad), the overall consensus is that 'Round Midnight is a recommended read, especially for book clubs.
  • More information: In an interview with the Washington Independent Review of Books, author Laura McBride talks about her book, her research methods, and her personal life. Simon and Schuster's website includes book club discussion questions for 'Round Midnight and another interview with the author. In the following short video, McBride introduces us to her novel.

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05 June 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Reading with My Ears

Audiobook recommendations for JuneMonday morning after BookExpo is always a day of mixed feelings. I'm already missing my friends, but I'm also happy to wake up at home. I'm sorry that today is not going to be a day full of book events, authors, publicists, and publishing companies, but I'm also ready to get back to work and everyday life.

Coming up this week: As you can imagine, I'll have one or two posts about BookExpo coming up later this week and into next. I'm not quite sure about the specifics, but expect round-ups of books I'm excited about.

What I read last week. June is Audiobook Month, so it's appropriate that I turned to audiobooks last week during my travels and my down time in New York. I managed to finish two books.

Review: The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (audiobook)The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (Touchstone; 2017): If you like art, historical fiction, time travel, and/or medieval Italy, you'll find a lot to like about this novel. Beatrice, a neurosurgeon, gets involved in finishing her late-brother's research into why Siena, Italy, was so hard hit by the plague and why it lost its political power to Florence during the 1300s. While reading the journal of a lesser-known painter, she finds herself transported back in time, where she witnesses firsthand the arrival of the Black Death, meets the painter, and has run-ins with the Medici family. I liked the book for its historical details and as pure escape reading. On the other hand, I couldn't help but compare it to the Outlander series and thus found The Scribe of Siena a little lacking. The plot was somewhat predictable, and although I enjoyed meeting the characters, I didn't form a lasting connection to them. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 16 hr, 12 min) was read by one my favorite narrators, Cassandra Campbell. Campbell's voice is always a pleasure to listen to: she is expressive, creates consistent characterizations, pronounces the Italian and Latin believably and with ease, and is easy to understand. Unfortunately, I could hear obvious breath noises during the first hour or two of the audiobook and almost gave up listening; the good news is that they eventually disappear and the rest of the production was well done.

Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman (audiobook)Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Atria, 2017): I was hesitant to read Backman's newest novel because it was getting so much buzz; I was sure it could never live up to its reputation. Plus I heard it was about hockey, a sport I've watched but hardly follow. Thank god I ignored my doubts and gave this brilliant novel a try. Yes, it's about hockey, but it's really about families, loyalty, friendship, small towns, sexuality, gender equality, marriages, what sports heroes can get away with, and really so much more. I was so utterly taken up by this town and these people that I almost literally couldn't stop listening. I started the book on the train home from New York on Saturday morning and by Sunday late afternoon I had finished. Backman's writing is gorgeous: sparse, poetic, and powerful. The characters are fleshed out slowly, just the way they would be in real life: At first we know the superficial: she's a lawyer, he's a coach, she's a musician, he's a troublemaker. Then, as we get to known the town's citizens better, we begin to understand why they behave and react as they do, and we start to polish our opinions. The novel is emotional and tender, brutal and beautiful. (Kudos to translator Neil Smith, who did an amazing job.) Do not miss this book. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 13 hr, 11 min) was read by Marin Ireland, who totally nailed the novel. There is a specific verbal hook in this story, repeated throughout, that could have tripped up a lesser narrator, but Ireland gives it the perfect tone and emphasis. Not only are her characterizations pitch perfect but she hits that sweet spot of creating an emotionally charged atmosphere while still leaving the listener ample room to form her own reactions. I see awards in this audiobook's future.

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03 June 2017

Weekend Cooking: 100% Real by Sam Talbot

Review: 100% Real by Sam TalbotDare I admit that I don't watch Top Chef? I'm not even sure what channel it's on. Can I even be in the same room with true foodies?

If you're not like me, then Chef Sam Talbot probably needs no introduction. But just in case, he's a Top Chef star who was born and raised in the South and has a restaurant in Brooklyn. He has had type 1 diabetes since his childhood, and he has made it part of his mission to use wholesome, unprocessed foods to make delicious meals that will satisfy and nourish everyone, even those who must watch what they eat.

Along those lines, every recipe in his new cookbook 100% Real (thanks to Oxmoor House for the review copy) is labeled with an icon for vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and dairy free. Tabot's own personal diet is hard to pin down by label, but consists of, well, 100% real food -- mostly plant based, but he doesn't shun animal protiens and sweets. The key for Talbot is to eliminate, or at least cut way down on, the whites (white flour, white sugar, white rice, etc.) and focus on whole, fresh foods with a variety of flavors and textures.

100% Real by Sam TalbotTalbot's 100% Real starts with his personal story; his "5 steps to keeping it real"; and his guides for overhauling your pantry, fridge, and equipment. Then he gets to the good stuff: the recipes.

From breakfast to evening snacks and beyond, 100% Real has you covered with delicious recipes like savory breakfast porridge, fruit and vegetable combo salads (Don't you just love strawberries with your greens? I do.), avocado sandwiches (see the cover photo), shrimp and grains, flatbread open-faced delights, Asian-flavored pork, different ways to cook with zucchini noodles, grilled veggies, and fruit-forward desserts.

Tucked in between the recipes, each with a full-page photo of the finished dish, are informative and interesting features, such as a note on how to interpret the "sustainably raised" claim, tips on how to jump on the juicing bandwagon, and everything you need to know about sweeteners. Whether you're an old hand at healthful eating, just getting started, or somewhere in the middle, you're bound to learn something new.

100% Real by Sam TalbotHere are some of the recipes I tagged as must-tries:

  • Roasted Tomato-and-Red Pepper Romesco
  • White Beans and Smoked Paprika Chicken with Black Rice
  • White Fish Curry
  • Spiced Sweet Potatoes on Country Toast with Banans Peppers and Cilantro
  • Cappuccino Cashew Ice Cream (vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free!)
 Talbot's recipes are well written, with directions that don't leave you in the lurch. Some of the ingredients may be unfamiliar to you, but they are, in fact, not difficult to find in most areas of the country. You may need to hit up a health food store or Trader Joe's for a grain like farro or a few of the spices, but even mainstream grocery store chains have coconut oil, fresh lemongrass, and baby bok choy. If you're truly stumped, check out the resources page in 100% Real for online shopping and more information.

I can't tell you how much I love Talbot's 100% Real. The book contains recipes for every kind of cook and eater who is making an effort to dine well -- in every sense -- in this processed-food world. We can all benefit from eating real foods as often as possible, and Sam Talbot can help us meet our health and nutrition goals. Vegans and vegetarians, people with diabetes and celiac, and all of us who want to live long and in health will turn to 100% Real often. This is a cookbook to buy.

We've made the following recipe twice already. It's yummy and very easy to throw together.

Chile-Rubbed Skirt Steak with Rustic Chimichurri
Hands-on: 20 minutes Total: 20 minutes Serves 4  
Steak with chimichurri is a classic combo. The bright, fresh herb topping contrasts beautifully with the smoky, spicy steak.
  • 100% Real by Sam Talbot2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh juice (from 1 lime)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons torn fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 1 pound skirt steak
1. Preheat grill to medium-high (about 450°F). Whisk together the sherry vinegar, zest, juice, and 1/4 cup of the oil in a small bowl. Stir in the parsley, cilantro, mint, shallots, and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper.

2. Combine the ancho chile powder, red chile flakes, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Rub the steak with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil; sprinkle both sides of the steak with the spice mixture. Grill, uncovered, to desired degree of doneness, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Let stand 10 minutes; cut diagonally across the grain into thin slices. Serve with the chimichurri.
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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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