22 April 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: A Mixed Reading Week

2 books to read in AprilHappy Earth Day! It's finally spring in Pennsylvania, and I'm staring to see early flowers everywhere. Yay (and sneeze)!

If you're looking for a way celebrate nature and learn more about the importance of conservation, I can't recommend the Netflix documentary series Our Planet more highly. We haven't seen all the episodes yet, but the filming is amazing and the message is important. I've included the trailer in this post, which gives you a hint of this don't-miss series.

Because there was so much to see on the news last week and because I'm working ahead to get ready for a lacemaking workshop coming up in a few days, I didn't get a lot of reading done. Hey, some weeks are slow.

review of The Last by Hanna JamesonThe Last by Hanna Jameson (Atria; April 9). I still love good dystopian fiction, and The Last combines an all-too-probable end-of-the-world story with a murder mystery. I really couldn't resist. The premise is this: Jon, an academic historian from the Bay Area attends a conference in a remote hotel in Switzerland. On the last day, before he can check out, massive nuclear war is launched, wiping out entire cities and even countries. A couple dozen people (made up of guests and staff) remain at the hotel to figure out what to do next. The characters come from different walks of life and from different countries. Some are stuck in the hotel alone; others have family with them. Some are resourceful or have a survivor instinct; others want to give up or take their chances in the surrounding woods; some even commit suicide. Can the people at the hotel work together to forge a future? Are there other people alive on the planet? And who murdered the little girl whose body Jon finds? The book consists of Jon's journal, which is a daily record of what happens at the hotel after the bombs are dropped and includes interviews Jon conducts of the other survivors. In addition, Jon becomes obsessed with trying to identify the killer, and he records his investigation and his suspicions in his journal. This novel was almost too scary to read because the idea didn't seem all that farfetched. I liked the set up, the setting, and the way the characters interacted with each other. The problems and choices the survivors faced seemed realistic, and so were the descriptions of the hotel and the changes to the environment. I would have given this a big thumbs up, right up to the end. I don't need my novels to be tied up with a bow, and I don't mind a few open ends that spark my imagination, but this book ended with way too much unresolved. I couldn't find any indication that a sequel was in the works, yet the ending screams, "you'll get the answers in the next book." Made me mad. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 12 hr, 16 min) was brilliantly read by Anthony Starke, who nailed the characters' personalities and accents and created an atmosphere of dread and uncertainty. I've never listened to Starke before, but he's now on my recommend list! (audio and digital editions provided by the publisher)

Review of Tiny Hot Dogs by Mary GiulianiTiny Hot Dogs by Mary Giuliani (Running Press, April 9). Giuliani (no relation to Rudy) grew up in Montauk (Long Island) in an Italian Catholic family, dreaming of becoming a Jewish actress. Her life, however, took a different turn, and she is now known as being a caterer to the stars. This light memoir is told in short essays and is filled with recipes. There are laugh-out-loud moments from Giuliani's life as well as some fun stories about the famous people she's met. She also provides some behind-the-scenes insight to what it's like to be around the rich and famous, though contact is mostly from the kitchen and the sidelines. Giuliani's memoir is also a tribute to family and a strong marriage and includes her struggle to become pregnant and to sustain a pregnancy. Despite some inevitable sorrow, Giuliani's stories are mostly upbeat and positive. Life can be funny, and no matter how often we think we know where we'll end up, the gods usually have something else in mind. To echo the quote from Ina Garten that appears on the cover: "I love this book!" I may even get around to making one of Giuliani recipes. Note that this little memoir would make a great Mother's Day gift if the mother in your life has a good sense of humor and enjoys spending time in the kitchen. The audiobook (Hachette Audio; 4 hr, 25 min) is read by the author, and although I didn't listen to the book, I sampled a little bit of the narration. From the few minutes I heard, I thought Giuliani did a nice job. The audio comes with a PDF of the recipes. Thank you, Hachette for making sure that audiobook lovers won't miss out on the recipes. (audio, digital, and print copies provided by the publisher)

And here is the promised trailer.

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20 April 2019

Weekend Cooking: Eat Clean Play Dirty by Danielle Duboise and Whitney Tingle

review of Eat Clean Play Dirty by Danielle Duboise and Whitney TingleHave you heard of the food-subscription service Sakara? Founded by Danielle Duboise and Whitney Tingle, the company does more than just promote a particular diet. From what I learned by reading their new cookbook Eat Clean Play Dirty (which I received as part of the Abrams Dinner Party program) and by looking around their website, Duboise and Tingle are all about a balanced, healthful lifestyle, which finds its base in a plant-based, low-sugar meal plan.

The basic premise of Sakara, which you can find both in the cookbook on the website, is fairly straightforward: they don't count calories, they eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, they aren't afraid of fats, they pay attention to their microbiome, and they believe in having a cocktail and eating their dessert.

I really wanted to love Eat Clean Play Dirty. Their recipes look appealing, and I think the authors have a good grasp of nutritional principals and current research. My big problems are (1) I'm not totally committed to a vegan lifestyle, (2) I live in a small town, and (3) I'm too lazy to run from store to store looking for ingredients on the off-chance I could find them here in central Pennsylvania. Ingredients like turmeric root and hijiki seaweed are absent from my grocery store; even lemongrass, microgreens, and mangoes are hit or miss finds.

Eat Clean Play Dirty by Danielle Duboise and Whitney TingleThat said, I found several recipes to try and one I plan to make this summer (it's the recipe I'm sharing today). Everything I made from this cookbook was a success, especially a polenta and vegetable casserole, which I absolutely will make again. The soba noodle bowl (shown to the right), was tasty (I substituted portabella mushrooms for the shiitakes) and easy to make. Duboise and Tingle's recipe for this dish calls for asparagus--perfect for spring.

Note that although I've called Eat Clean Play Dirty a vegan cookbook some recipes do call for honey, which could be problematic for some of you. Other recipes use coconut palm sugar or maple syrup as sweeteners. If you've been vegan for a while, I suspect you'll know how to swap out the honey.

Recommendation: If you're committed to a vegan way of life and you're looking for good recipes and new ideas, you'll be happy with Eat Clean Play Dirty, especially if you live in a city with plenty of well-stocked food stores. If you incorporate vegetarian dishes into your weekly meal plan (like me) but haven't yet made the move to 100 percent vegan, then you'll probably be happier checking this cookbook out of your library before buying.

I've marked the following salad to try once local summer fruits appear at the farmer's market.

Sexiest Salad in New York City
Serves 2
Eat Clean Play Dirty by Danielle Duboise and Whitney TingleFor the Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) sunflower oil
  • 2 tablespoons wildflower honey
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of Himalayan salt
For the Salad
  • 1/4 cup (25 g) sliced almonds
  • 8 cups (240 g) torn kale leaves
  • 3/4 cup (125 g) cooked or canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup (95 g) blueberries
  • 1/2 cup (65 g) raspberries
  • 1 peach, thinly sliced
  • 4 large strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup (12 g) minced chives
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
Make the dressing: In a jar or blender add all the ingredients. Shake or blend until completely smooth.

Make the salad: Scatter the sliced almonds in a large pan over medium-low heat. Toast the nuts, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In 2 medium bowls, make beds with the kale. Top with the chickpeas, blueberries, raspberries, peach, and strawberries. Sprinkle with the chives, hemp seeds, and toasted almonds and drizzle with the dressing.
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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19 April 2019

8 April Books That Should Be on Your Radar

Today’s round-up comes in two parts: general fiction and books in translation. All the April books featured here deserve some extra buzz in the blogging world, some because of the issues they address and others because they offer insight into worlds that may be very different from our own.

The descriptions of the plots are primarily based on the publishers’ summaries, and I’ve included the first sentence of each book as well. I hope at least one of the featured titles catches your attention and sends you off to your local bookstore or library. I’m currently reading, and really enjoying, two of them (Bakhita and Feast Your Eyes), and hope to get to the others fairly soon.

Literary Fiction

summary of Feast Your Eyes by Myla GoldbergFeast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg (Scribner, April 16). This novel is told through a variety of media: catalog notes from a photography show, interviews, journal entries, and so forth. It’s the story of photographer Lillian Preston who is arrested on an obscenity charge after exhibiting partially nude photographs of herself and her daughter. The time period is the mid-1900s, and public and legal questions of art vs. pornography affect Lillian’s career and future. The book is told through the eyes of Lillian’s daughter, Samantha. Reviews: a 4.6 rating on Goodreads; star from Kirkus. Themes: women professionals, art, artists, mothers and daughters. First line: “I was ten when I saw it, Pops sitting across the breakfast table with his Daily News and his cigarette.”

summary of The Dream Peddler by Martine Fournier WatsonThe Dream Peddler by Martine Fournier Watson (April 9, Penguin). Robert Owens, a traveling salesman, offers potions that will allow his customers to control their dreams. When he arrives in a small town at the turn of the last century, many folks want to dream about love and their future spouse, but some dream of revenge. When Robert is caught up in town scandals and gossip, secrets are exposed and the bonds of the community begin to crumble. Quirky characters and a rural-America setting add charm. Reviews: a 4.1 rating on Goodreads. Themes: marriage, love, grief, finding one’s way in life. First line: “The dream peddler came to town at the white end of winter, before the thaw.”

summary of Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea LawlorPaul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor (Vintage, April 23). Set in the 1990s, this is a kind of retelling of Orlando set in the queer world of university towns and pop culture. From Riot Grrrl music to women’s studies classes and gay bars, Paul is able to gender-shift his way through a variety of alternative communities across late-20th-century America. But how does his fluid gender affect his relationships, and can he/she find (or even want) intimacy? Reviews: a 4.2 rating on Goodreads; star from Kirkus. Themes: LGBTQ+, self-realization. First line: “Like a shark, Paul had to keep moving.”

summary of My Coney Island Baby by Billy O’CallaghanMy Coney Island Baby by Billy O’Callaghan (Harper, April 9). A kind of Irish twist on Same Time Next Year. A man and a woman, married to others, have had a 25-year affair, meeting at a run-down hotel on Coney Island on the first Tuesday of every month, savoring a few hours of peace and joy. When their home lives begin to intrude on their intimacy, they are forced to face the realities of their secret relationship and their futures, either together or separate. Reviews: a 3.8 rating on Goodreads; star from Kirkus. Themes: marriage, love, relationships, honesty. First line: “The air out here is mean with cold.”

Books in Translation

summary of Lie with Me by Philippe BessonLie with Me by Philippe Besson, translated from the French by Molly Ringwald (yes, the actor) (Scribner, April 30). While in Bordeaux as an adult, a novelist sees a face in the crowd that reminds him of a boy he loved when they were teens. Told as a memoir, this novel explores a secret relationship between two ill-matched boys who held on to each other at time when being gay in France was not part of the accepted social norm. Reviews: a 4.3 on Goodreads; Kirkus praised Ringwald’s translation. Themes: young love, LGBTQ+, self-acceptance. First line: “One day—I can say precisely when, I know the date—I find myself in the lobby bar of a hotel in a provincial city, sitting in an armchair across from a journalist, a low round table between us, being interviewed for my latest novel, which recently came out.”

summary of Acts of Infidelity by Lena AnderssonActs of Infidelity by Lena Andersson, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel (Other Press, April 23). When Ester fell madly in love with Olof, she knew the actor was married. She heard him speak the words when he said he wasn’t going to leave his wife, but she was sure he’d eventually change his mind. As the years pass, however, Ester finally faces the truth: she is a permanent “other woman”—but what will this revelation lead to? Reviews: a 3.7 rating on Goodreads. Themes: marriage, affairs, self-reflection, relationships. First line: “Ester Nilsson had arrived at that point in her life when each birthday leaves its mark.”

summary of Bakhita by Véronique OlmiBakhita by Véronique Olmi, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter (Other Press, April 16). This novel is based on the life of  Mother Josephine Bakhita, a Catholic nun, born in the mid-1800s, who devoted her life to serving the poor. When only 7 years old, she was kidnapped from her Sudanese village to be sold into slavery and a life of abuse, until she was bought by an Italian consul, who took her with him to Italy, where Bakhita’s spiritual transformation began. She survived unimaginable horrors before her salvation and was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2000. Reviews: a 4.2 rating on Goodreads. Themes: family, slavery, religion, redemption. First line: “She does not know her name.”

summary of City of Jasmine by Olga GrjasnowaCity of Jasmine by Olga Grjasnowa, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire (Oneworld, April 9). Set against the backdrop of war-torn Syria, this novel focuses on the fates of an ex-pat surgeon who is detained when he tries to leave after a short visit to renew his passport and an actress and her boyfriend who conspire to escape to the safety of Europe. The surgeon is caught in a web of resistance politics and the young couple finds that life as refugees falls far short of the future they had imagined. Reviews: a 4.2 rating on Goodreads. Themes: politics, war, survival, hope. First line: “The first fields are already visible through the plane window, followed by an ocean of houses that vanishes again; then the wing slews upwards and the window reveals nothing but sky blue.”

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17 April 2019

Wordless Wednesday 539

Forsythia, 2019

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

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15 April 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Recommended Fiction in Print or Audio

Reviews of recommended audiobooks for your wish listLast week was a catch-up week. I've finally gotten a break in my workload, but instead of relaxing, I took care of all the little things I've let go the last couple of months and even got some yard work done. It feels great to work human hours again.

I don't think I need to tell Game of Thrones fans that the new (final) season started last night, but have you been watching Discovery of Witches on AMC? If you're in the UK or get Sundance Now, you've probably already seen it. But I had to wait for it come on AMC, so I'm stuck with once-a-week viewing. I loved the books and couldn't wait to see the series. Based on the first episode, I love the way it's filmed, the actors, and how the show interprets the books.

I started a print book and a digital book last week and finished two audiobooks. I'll have more on Bakhita and Tiny Hot Dogs next week, but here's what I thought of the other two.

review of The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur JaswalThe Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal (HarperAudio; 13 hr, 10 min; April 30). Even though I don't have sisters, I was fairly quickly caught up in this story of three sisters who travel to India to honor their late-mother's last request. Rajni, much older than the other two sisters, is organized and proper and maybe even a little uptight. Jezmeen, in her early 30s, is still hoping to make it big as an actress, though she's currently between jobs. Shirnia, the "good" sister, impulsively married a man she met through an online Indian dating app and moved from her native London to Melbourne, Australia. Each is hiding personal problems from her sisters. They all undertake this trip through India with mixed feelings, but they want to honor their mother's dying request that they scatter her ashes in the sacred waters of her homeland. On the surface, the novel is a light and sometimes funny sibling road trip through a country that none of them know--although when she was just a teenager, Rajini accompanied her mother on a single journey to visit relatives. Deeper layers explore mother-daughter relationships, sisters, life in India for women, Punjabi culture, aspects of Sikh religion, marriage, and other general contemporary issues. I was surprised at how strongly I connected to the sisters and sympathized with their problems. I, of course, can't speak to the authenticity of the British Punjabi experience described by Jaswal, but the story felt true to me. I listened to the audiobook for a freelance assignment. The bulk of the book was nicely performed by Soneela Nankani, who captured the sisters' different personalities and set the tone for both the humor and the more serious scenes. Deepti Gupta read the few short sections voiced by the Shergill sisters' mother.

Side note: No one is more surprised than I am to discover that I'm a science-fiction fan. Seriously, I never really got into the sci-fi television series when I was kid, and though I watched the early Star Wars movies (and even copyedited a few of the novels), I never became immersed in that universe. But in the last few years, and particularly recently, I've found several series and trilogies I love, the Illuminae Files books by Annie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff among them. So when I saw they had written a new series, described as a science-fiction epic, I had to give it a try.

review of Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Listening Library; 11 hr, 30 min; May 7). The book opens as Tyler, the top student in the newly graduated class of cadets from Aurora Academy, rescues the only survivor from a centuries-old space ship. As a result of this act of heroism and the ensuing mandatory quarantine, Tyler misses the chance to pick his own crew for the peacekeeping, humanitarian, and diplomatic missions he's been trained to lead. The good news is that his twin sister and his lifelong best friend hold out to serve under him. The bad news is that he's stuck with three people no one else wanted. Meanwhile, Auri is revived from cryo-sleep, only to discover she's missed more than 200 years of history and is, within hours of awakening, already a person of interest. Before she can sort out friend from enemy in a world she barely recognizes, she's told by academy authorities to stow away in the cargo hold of Tyler's ship. The consequences of these acts, circumstances, and discoveries converge with universe-shattering consequences. I always like a book that is told from multiple viewpoints, and Kaufman and Kristoff do this brilliantly. The characters are fully realized, each carrying his or her own cultural and personal and familial baggage and each with a distinct personality and attitude. I liked the slow build up of trust (or not) among the crew and the way the six main characters interacted with each other. The revelation of the foundational conflict was well set up, presented a few surprises, and points to more adventures and discoveries to come as the series progresses. I'm being vague because you should learn about this universe, Auri, and Tyler's squad on your own. In fact, I recommend that you not read reviews, for fear of totally ruining the story. (Though Kirkus doesn't reveal any secrets.) Put this on your wish list in print or in audio. I'm going to find it really, really hard to wait for the next book. (review copy provided by the publisher)

The audiobook is read primarily by Kim Mai Guest (Auri), Johnathan McClain (Tyler), Erin Spencer (Tyler's twin), and Candice Moll (Tyler's best friend). Lincoln Hoppe, Donnabella Mortel, Jonathan Todd Ross, and Steve West take on the other crew members and one of the handheld computers. There are no weak links here; the eight narrators kept the characters consistent and were equally adept at building tension. Good pacing and expressive performances made it hard for me to take out my earbuds.

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