21 September 2018

Thoughts on 10 Years of Blogging

Thoughts on book blogging at Beth Fish ReadsLast week I hit my 10th anniversary here at Beth Fish Reads. I didn't want to let the day slip by without notice. To celebrate, I'm sharing some random thoughts about my decade of blogging life.

My original idea for Beth Fish Reads was to write about audiobooks and the activities I engaged in while listening, such as cooking, gardening, walking, and doing various forms of needlework.

I didn't realize that blogging could take on a life of its own take me along new paths.

The very best part about blogging: I've made some amazing friends in the last 10 years, and I've been fortunate enough to meet many of them in real life. Some no longer blog, but I still keep up with their lives through mutual friends or social media. I had no idea that the community of book bloggers would be filled with so many wonderful people. Thank you all for friendship and support--and a special shout-out to the class of 2008 (a book blogging boom year).

Here are some short takes on the past 10 years:

  • My first post on September 13, 2008, was about wine! My second post was a short book review, in which I never actually name the book I'm reviewing: I guess I thought readers would get that information from the cover photo and the post title! By September 30, I had written two posts about audiobooks, though I have almost never written about gardening or my other hobbies.
  • Thoughts on book blogging at Beth Fish ReadsOf the 3222 posts I've published here, 573 have the label "audiobook." Some of my earliest book reviews were written as if I read the book in print, even though I actually listened to it. There wasn't much support of audiobooks in the book blogging community in 2008.
  • I've written 458 Weekend Cooking posts and have enjoyed getting to know an international community through that meme. As much as I like to write about food and cooking, I've never once been sorry I became book blogger instead of food blogger. Truly.
  • Other stats: You'll find 511 Wordless Wednesday photos and way more book reviews than I can count. I'm sad to report that my review index stops in early 2017. My blog has had 3,380,510 page views since its birth (I suspect that's a pretty small number for 10 years), and current traffic is a little less than 1600 hits a day (if Blogger can be believed).
  • When I look back on some of earlier reviews, I can't believe I had the time and energy to write such detailed analyses. This review of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, written in 2009, is an example.
  • My most controversial post was my review of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Rereading my thoughts just now, I still stand by everything I said in the review and the comments.
  • Among my most popular posts were the two I devoted to culling my library. My first post was general; my second post included a flow sheet! I really need to go through a major culling again. Sigh.
  • The major highlight: I was the APA's Book Blogger of the Year! Wooo hoo! Such an incredible honor and thrill--I still can't believe the magic of it all. I loved every second of being at the Audies and having an evening of red-carpet excitement
Thoughts on book blogging at Beth Fish ReadsAnd, of course, thoughts on the future:
  • Blogging is really hard work, but I love having a record of the books I've read (even if I'm bad on indexing). I'm happy with my current system of publishing all my short reviews on a single day (Monday). I'm pretty sure I'll never go back to the long form.
  • I like doing a roundup of some sort every week. It's a great way to share titles I'm looking forward to reading, to recommend books, and to feature a genre or imprint I hope will catch your interest.
  • Wednesday photos will continue to appear when I have something to post.
  • I plan to host Weekend Cooking into the next year.  I still love hosting and reading all the linked-up posts.
As long as people continue visit Beth Fish Reads, I'll be writing about books (especially audiobooks) and food. The only real change is this: I no longer pressure myself to produce daily content; I'm glad to put that behind me.

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19 September 2018

Wordless Wednesday 511

Numbers 6 & 8, 2018


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

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18 September 2018

Today's Read & Giveaway: The Cats Came Back by Sofie Kelly

Review of Sofie Kelly's The Cats Came BackWhat would you do if you stumbled across the body of someone you knew? I'd probably scream and call 911 and be traumatized for life. For Kathleen, however, murder is no surprise. Not only has she done civilian sleuthing but her boyfriend is a police detective.

Here's how the story begins:

The body was on the front seat of my truck, about halfway between the passenger door and the cloth grocery bag I'd left in the middle of the seat.

"Not again," I muttered, setting the box of glasses I was holding in the bed of the truck. I glanced at my watch. I couldn't exactly leave the body where it was, but I didn't want to be late, either.
The Cats Came Back by Sofie Kelly (Berkley Prime Crime, Sept. 4)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times in the fictitious Maryville Heights, Minnesota
  • Circumstances: Kathleen, the local librarian, is helping the town prepare for its annual summer music festival by, among other things, helping a photographer friend with a fund-raiser calendar. While on a photo shoot, the two discover the body of a woman who's in town as the assistant for a famous singer. With the blessings of her detective boyfriend (Marcus), the encouragement of her friends, and the help of her magical cats (Owen and Hercules), Kathleen helps solve the murder.
  • Genre: cozy mystery, with a little magical element
  • Things I liked about this book: This is the second Magical Cats Mystery I've read (though it's 10th in the series), and I was happy to revisit Kathleen, Marcus, and their friends. As with all cozy series, the books are as much about the town and people as they are about the murder, and this book didn't disappoint. Kelly is always great on character development, so it's easy to get invested in the character's lives. Besides the murder, there's the library, Kathleen's family, a friend's wedding, and other town doings. The plot moves quickly, making the book a fun afternoon read; and there are enough twists and red herrings to keep you guessing.
  • The magical element: Kathleen's cats are important to the solution of the mystery, but in the end people find the murderer. Owen's talent is the ability to vanish and reappear; Hercules's talent is the ability to walk through walls. Kathleen hasn't yet told Marcus that her cats are special, though I think they might have that conversation in the next book. If this part of the story is too much for you, rest assured that The Cats Came Back has more than just magical cats.
  • Note on the opening paragraph: If you haven't guessed yet, the body in the car is a rodent victim of one of Kathleen's cats!
  • Can you start reading here? I read and reviewed the first book in this series, Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, back in 2011, so I didn't feel totally lost, though I didn't remember the details of the other book. I think you could jump right in without too much problem, though after you finish reading book 10, you might be curious enough to want to start at the beginning of the series.
  • Acknowledgments: thanks to Berkley Prime Crime for a finished copy of Sofie Kelly's The Cats Came Back and for taking care of the giveaway.
The Giveaway

Thanks to the nice people at Berkley Prime Crime, I'm able to offer one of my readers (USA mailing address only) a finished copy of Sofie Kelly's The Cats Came Back. 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 will pick a winner via a random number generator on September 25. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll forward his or her mailing address to the publisher and then erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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15 September 2018

Weekend Cooking: Catching Up on 3 Food Televsion Shows

Catching up on food televisionI love a good food-related television show, documentary, or movie, and I love hunting down something new to watch. Sometimes, however, it's nice to visit old friends or check in on new developments.

Thanks to all the rain we've had lately (nothing like the poor Carolinas, though, and I'm so sorry for all they're going through), I've had time to catch up on the latest seasons of shows I've already reviewed for Weekend Cooking.

Here are my thoughts on three shows currently streaming on Netflix.

The Great British Bake Off: Season 8

Catching up on food showsHave you seen the show since Mary, Mel, and Sue were replaced? It took me a while to warm up to Prue, and I really miss the chemistry between Paul and Mary. Mary was fun and accessible, whereas Prue seems somewhat standoffish. I know it may take a season or two for Paul and Prue to come off as friends, but I miss the easy banter of the earlier seasons. As for Noel and Sandi, I bet they'll get the hang of it once they work out their own style. They started out trying too hard to be like Mel and Sue instead of being themselves, but they're beginning to find their own rhythm.

Is it just my impression, or were the bakes this season harder and sometimes a bit out there? That doesn't bother me at all, it just seems that Paul and Prue were stretching to find something unique for the contestants to make. All in all, though, I enjoyed the season and had fun rooting for my favorite bakers. I'm looking forward to next year under the big tent.

Nailed It: Season 2

Catching up on food televisionI wrote a positive review of the first season of Nailed It! earlier this year. It's definitely one of those shows you're either going to love or hate. Nicole Byer makes me laugh, and I like chemistry between her and Jacques Torres. Who knew Torres had such a good sense of humor? The show works because the contestants are having fun and generally find it easy to laugh at themselves. I'm sure they would all like winning $10,000, but they seem to be having fun regardless of what their finished dessert looks like.

If you're looking for pure escape watching and you want to add a little humor to your evening, then you really do have to give this show a chance.

Lords and Ladles: Season 2

Catching up on Food televsionIf you're more interested in learning a little something of food history and about some of the beautiful estates and great families of Ireland, then this is the show for you. As I said in my review of season 1, I really loved getting an inside look at the beautiful homes and grounds, meeting interesting people, absorbing some history, and watching the chefs re-create grand meals from the past.

It's just as much fun this time around, and I get a kick out of seeing the reactions of the people who've been invited to partake in the feasts. Some love everything, and some are hesitant to try the odder foods. I have a feeling that Lords and Ladles lasted only two seasons, but I like it enough that I'm hoping for more. Or maybe a similar show set in a different country.

In other news: I'm finally feeling completely settled in and back to normal. The temperatures have moderated, my jet lag is gone, and I'm caught up on my work. Look for reviews and lots of good harvest cooking ahead!

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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.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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14 September 2018

8 Audiobooks to Listen to in September

As you know, September is a huge publishing month, and I have a ton of books on my radar, in all three media (print, e, and audio). I'm going to do my best to read and listen to as many as I can, but I know I'm going to miss some good ones.

Here are four fiction and four nonfiction audiobooks, all published in September, that have caught my eye (ear?) and are near the top of my queue. The summaries are from the publishers, but the audiobook and other notes are my own.

Fiction

Audiobook of Lake Success by Gary ShteyngartLake Success by Gary Shteyngart (Random House Audio; 13 hr, 32 min), read by Arthur Morey and Soneela Nankani

The best-selling author of Super Sad True Love Story returns with a biting, brilliant, emotionally resonant novel very much of our times.

Narcissistic, hilariously self-deluded, and divorced from the real world as most of us know it, hedge-fund manager Barry Cohen oversees $2.4 billion in assets. Deeply stressed by an SEC investigation and by his three-year-old son’s diagnosis of autism, he flees New York on a Greyhound bus in search of a simpler, more romantic life with his old college sweetheart. Meanwhile, his super-smart wife, Seema--a driven first-generation American who craved the picture-perfect life that comes with wealth--has her own demons to face. How these two flawed characters navigate the Shteyngartian chaos of their own making is at the heart of this piercing exploration of the 0.1 percent, a poignant tale of familial longing and an unsentimental ode to what really makes America great.
According to the reviews of this much-buzzed book, Shteyngart tempers his trademark humor with deeper themes, leaving us with much to think about. Audiobook notes: I'm confident Morey (who is the narrator for several recent audiobooks on my list) will bring a good mix of gruff and vulnerable to his performance, and Nankani has made it onto my reliable narrator list, especially for Southeast Asian voices. Bonus: I've seen several short videos about Lake Success, but can't help but give a shout out to Ron Charles's Totally Hip Book Review Video.

Audiobook of The Lost Queen by Signe PikeThe Lost Queen by Signe Pike (Simon & Schuster Audio; 17 hr, 44 min), read by Toni Frutin
The Mists of Avalon meets the world of Philippa Gregory in the thrilling first novel of a debut trilogy that reveals the untold story of Languoreth--a forgotten queen of sixth-century Scotland--twin sister of the man who inspired the legend of Merlin.

In a land of mountains and mist, tradition and superstition, Languoreth and her brother Lailoken are raised in the Old Way of their ancestors. But in Scotland, a new religion is rising, one that brings disruption, bloodshed, and riot. And even as her family faces the burgeoning forces of Christianity, the Anglo-Saxons, bent on colonization, are encroaching from the east. When conflict brings the hero Emrys Pendragon to her father’s door, Languoreth finds love with one of his warriors. Her deep connection to Maelgwn is forged by enchantment, but she is promised in marriage to Rhydderch, son of a Christian king. As Languoreth is catapulted into a world of violence and political intrigue, she must learn to adapt. Together with her brother - a warrior and druid known to history as Myrddin - Languoreth must assume her duty to fight for the preservation of the Old Way and the survival of her kingdom, or risk the loss of them both forever
I started this book on my iPad when on vacation last month, and even though I got through only a chapter or two, I'm already invested. I love the time period and the setup of Languoreth's story. Audiobook notes: Frutin is a totally new narrator for me, but after listening to a sample of her performance, I think she will add immensely to the atmosphere of the story.

Audiobook of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten WhiteThe Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White (Listening Library; 10 hr, 15 min), read by Katharine McEwan
"Exquisitely disturbing", raves internationally best-selling author Stephanie Garber of this stunning and dark reimagining of Frankenstein.

Elizabeth Lavenza hasn't had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her "caregiver", and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything--except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable--and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth's survival depends on managing Victor's dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.
Who isn't fascinated by the Frankenstein story? I love a good retelling or new perspective, and if reviewers can be believed, this one is well done. Audiobook notes: McEwan has narrated a number of audiobooks I ended up loving, from fantasy to historical and literary fiction, so she's a big factor in my wanting to try this on audio.

Audiobook of Time's Convert by Deborah HarknessTime's Convert by Deborah Harkness (Penguin Audio; 15 hr, 46 min), read by Saskia Maarleveld
Set in contemporary Paris and London, and the American colonies during the upheaval and unrest that exploded into the Revolutionary War, a sweeping story that braids together the past and present.

On the battlefields of the American Revolution, Matthew de Clermont meets Marcus MacNeil, a young surgeon from Massachusetts, during a moment of political awakening when it seems that the world is on the brink of a brighter future. When Matthew offers him a chance at immortality and a new life, free from the restraints of his puritanical upbringing, Marcus seizes the opportunity to become a vampire. But his transformation is not an easy one, and the ancient traditions and responsibilities of the de Clermont family clash with Marcus's deeply held beliefs in liberty, equality, and brotherhood.

Fast forward to contemporary London, where Marcus has fallen for Phoebe Taylor, a young employee at Sotheby's. She decides to become a vampire, too, and though the process at first seems uncomplicated, the couple discovers that the challenges facing a human who wishes to be a vampire are no less formidable in the modern world than they were in the 18th century. The shadows that Marcus believed he'd escaped centuries ago may return to haunt them both--forever.
I loved Harkness's All Souls trilogy, so it's a no-brainer that I've got this book near the top of my list. I know the historical details will be right and have faith that the plot will be strong. Audiobook notes: Maarleveld is a versatile narrator who usually does well with accents and with bringing out the characters' personalities. I'm betting she's a good match here.

Nonfiction

Audiobook of Fashion Climbing by Bill CunninghamFashion Climbing by Bill Cunningham (Penguin Audio; 6 hr, 28 min), read by Arthur Morey
For Bill Cunningham, New York City was the land of freedom, glamour, and above all, style. Growing up in a lace-curtain Irish suburb of Boston, secretly trying on his sister's dresses and spending his evenings after school in the city's chicest boutiques, Bill dreamed of a life dedicated to fashion. But his desires were a source of shame for his family, and after dropping out of Harvard, he had to fight them tooth and nail to pursue his love.

When he arrived in New York, he reveled in people-watching. He spent his nights at opera openings and gate-crashing extravagant balls, where he would take note of the styles, new and old, watching how the gowns moved, how the jewels hung, how the hair laid on each head. This was his education and the birth of the democratic and exuberant taste he came to be famous for as a photographer for The New York Times.

After two style mavens took Bill under their wing, his creativity thrived and he made a name for himself as a designer. Taking on the alias William J.--because designing under his family's name would have been a disgrace to his parents--Bill became one of the era's most outlandish and celebrated hat designers, catering to movie stars, heiresses, and artists alike. Bill's mission was to bring happiness to the world by making women an inspiration to themselves and everyone who saw them. These were halcyon days when fashion was all he ate and drank. When he was broke and hungry, he'd stroll past the store windows on Fifth Avenue and feed himself on beautiful things.

Fashion Climbing is the story of a young man striving to be the person he was born to be: a true original. But although he was one of the city's most recognized and treasured figures, Bill was also one of its most guarded. Written with his infectious joy and one-of-a-kind voice, this memoir was polished, neatly typewritten, and safely stored away in his lifetime. He held off on sharing it--and himself--until his passing.
I so miss Cunningham's photos of fashion on the streets. I didn't know much about him, besides his photos, until I watched a documentary about his work. Then he got a spot in my heart. I can't wait to hear his story in his own words. Audiobook notes: I think Morey was brilliant choice. His voice isn't Bill's, but I think it has a similar quality. If I choose to listen, I will have a copy of the book in hand, though, to see the photographs.

Audiobook of Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob WoodwardFear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster Audio; 12 hr, 20 min), read by Robert Petkoff
With authoritative reporting honed through eight presidencies from Nixon to Obama, author Bob Woodward reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies.

Woodward draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files, and documents. The focus is on the explosive debates and the decision-making in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One, and the White House residence.

Fear is the most intimate portrait of a sitting president ever published during the president’s first years in office.
A list of don't-miss nonfiction titles for this month would be incomplete without mentioning Woodward's latest. One of the most trusted observers of the underbelly of the White House ever gives us a midterm take on Trump. Audiobook notes: Petkoff is a veteran nonfiction narrator who knows how to walk the line between an expressive delivery and an objective performance.

Audiobook of The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters: The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters: The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger (HarperAudio; 10 hr, 40 min), read by Bernadette Dunne
When 64-year-old Jackie Kennedy Onassis died in her Fifth Avenue apartment, her younger sister Lee wept inconsolably. Then Jackie’s 38-page will was read. Lee discovered that substantial cash bequests were left to family members, friends, and employees--but nothing to her. "I have made no provision in this my Will for my sister, Lee B. Radziwill, for whom I have great affection, because I have already done so during my lifetime," read Jackie’s final testament. Drawing on the authors’ candid interviews with Lee Radziwill, The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters explores their complicated relationship, placing them at the center of 20th-century fashion, design, and style.

In life, Jackie and Lee were alike in so many ways. Both women had a keen eye for beauty--in fashion, design, painting, music, dance, sculpture, poetry--and both were talented artists. Both loved pre-revolutionary Russian culture, and the blinding sunlight, calm seas, and ancient olive groves of Greece. Both loved the siren call of the Atlantic, sharing sweet, early memories of swimming with the rakish father they adored, Jack Vernou Bouvier, at his East Hampton retreat. But Jackie was her father’s favorite, and Lee, her mother’s. One would grow to become the most iconic woman of her time, while the other lived in her shadow. As they grew up, the two sisters developed an extremely close relationship threaded with rivalry, jealousy, and competition. Yet it was probably the most important relationship of their lives.

For the first time, Vanity Fair contributing editor Sam Kashner and acclaimed biographer Nancy Schoenberger tell the complete story of these larger-than-life sisters. Drawing on new information and extensive interviews with Lee, now 84, this dual biography sheds light on the public and private lives of two extraordinary women who lived through immense tragedy in enormous glamour.
Yes, I'm one of those people who can't get enough of the family that's been called U.S. royalty. There was much to admire about Jackie O, who found a place for herself despite being in the spotlight and despite sorrows. Audiobook notes: I really enjoy Dunne's performances of both fiction and nonfiction, and I'm confident her narration will be sensitive and engaging.

Audiobook of Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton by Tilar J. MazzeoEliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton by Tilar J. Mazzeo (Simon & Schuster Audio; 10 hr, 42 min), read by January LaVoy
Fans fell in love with Eliza Hamilton--Alexander Hamilton’s devoted wife--in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal musical Hamilton. But they don’t know her full story. A strong pioneer woman, a loving sister, a caring mother, and, in her later years, a generous philanthropist, Eliza had many sides--and this fascinating biography brings her multifaceted personality to vivid life.

[The biography] follows Eliza through her early years in New York, into the ups and downs of her married life with Alexander, beyond the aftermath of his tragic murder, and finally to her involvement in many projects that cemented her legacy as one of the unsung heroes of our nation’s early days. Featuring Mazzeo’s “impeccable research and crafting” (Library Journal), and perfect for fans of the richly detailed historical books by Ron Chernow and Erik Larson, Eliza Hamilton is the captivating account of the woman behind the famous man.
I love biography and am especially interested in learning the stories of people (read: women and POC) who slip through the cracks of history. I can't wait to meet the real Eliza. Audiobook notes: OMG, LaVoy is narrating this book! That's pretty much all I need to say. I love her work.

Which September audiobooks are on your list?

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

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