10 July 2020

Thoughts on Blogging in the Current Atmosphere

Hello, friends. Long time, no see, right? I'm still here, though my blogging days are definitely changing. In today's post, I want to talk a little bit about why I'm making changes and what to expect from me in the future.

Change Is in the Air

Recommended books from Beth Fish ReadsWe live in a time of change brought on not only from COVID-19 but also from a slew of very important social movements, particularly #BlackLivesMatter along with several other equality issues, including #WeNeedDiverseBooks. The political climate is polarizing, and for many people everyday life is difficult and economically scary.

It's imperative for all of us to educate ourselves in anti-racism, feminism, diversity, and equality. If you look around the book world or do some internet searching, you'll find book lists and suggestions from people way more qualified than I am. I do read "important" books, but I don't discuss them here on Beth Fish Reads or anywhere in social media, for two primary reasons: (1) I'm not an expert and don't claim to know the ins and outs of politics, medicine, religion, race, education, and so on. (2) I prefer real-time, face-to-face dialogue for expressing my thoughts about deeper topics and for learning from others.

It is under the current sociopolitical atmosphere that I struggle for energy and relevancy.

What I Plan to Write About / Where to Find Me

Recommended books from Beth Fish ReadsMy focus here at Beth Fish Reads has always been a bit personal. I write about the books that caught my attention, some of which I've read and reviewed and others that I've fed to the giant beast otherwise known as the TBR (to be read) list.

I plan to keep on reading, talking about books, and recommending books. It's just going to look a little bit different from what I've done before. Here's what to expect (assuming an ideal world -- ha, ha):

  • On Beth Fish Reads: A quick summary of the books I've read (every so often); lists of books that caught my eye, including audiobook information (hoping for one or two a month); Weekend Cooking posts (at least twice a month).
  • On Library Thing: A list of every book I've read, starting in January 2020. No public comments, no ratings.
  • On Goodreads: A list of every book I've read, starting in January 2020. Star ratings; some brief public comments if I have something to say.
  • On the AudioFile Magazine blog: A post every other Wednesday, alternating between narrator interviews and general audiobook talk.
  • On the AudioFile Magazine website and in the print edition: Audiobook reviews.
  • On Twitter, Instagram (posts and stories), and (maybe) Litsy: thoughts about books when the mood strikes.
Though my enthusiasm for blogging wanes, my love of books and sharing that love remains strong. I just need to find my place in this strange new world.

Stay healthy and safe. Wear your mask. Tell me what you've read lately.

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27 June 2020

Weekend Cooking: Barbecue (Documentary)

Review of Barbecue directed by Matthew SallehWith Canada Day and Fourth of July right around the corner, we here in North America would normally be planning a cookout of some kind with friends and family. Sadly, few of us will be celebrating with non-household members this year.

If you need your grilling or barbecue fix, then I recommend the 2017 documentary Barbecue directed by Matthew Salleh. I loved this film, which is not about famous pit masters and restaurant owners and does not offer any recipes. Instead, it’s about what barbecue means in a dozen places throughout the world.

We are introduced to everyday people who embrace food cooked over fire, coals, or gas; on horizontal or vertical spits; in pits, over wood, under rocks, and more. I enjoyed meeting each cook (mostly men), who waxed poetic about the meaning of shared meals around a fire or in the outdoors.

From South Africa to the Philippines, and from Mongolia to Texas, people have strong traditions of grilling out. I loved evident passion the cooks and their families had for gathering with others to share food preparation and to savor the delicious results.

The filming is beautifully done, with gorgeous scenery and mouth-watering food shots. The conversations with the featured cooks are interesting and engaging and respectfully done. Barbecue is a joy to watch.

For me, there were two major takeaways of the Barbecue documentary. First, people everywhere have the same feelings that cooking out means more than just sharing a meal with others. There is something about barbecue that says community, family, and festivities.

Barbecue directed by Matthew SallehThe second was how many amazing and wild techniques exist for cooking food (mostly meat). Cooks used hot rocks, pits, indirect heat, and flattops over gas. They cooked over synthetic materials and of course over wood and charcoal. Animals were cooked whole and cut up and few people grilled vegetables. I don’t want to spoil the surprises, but some of the cooking methods were definitely unique.

Now for a couple of warnings. Most of the people featured in Barbecue did not speak English, so if English is you’re primary language, be prepared to read subtitles. Second, if seeing raw meat or butchering is upsetting to you, then you won’t want to watch this documentary.

I highly recommend Matthew Salleh’s Barbecue; it may inspire you to try some new techniques at your next cookout. Here’s the trailer.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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20 June 2020

Weekend Cooking: One Last Lunch, ed. by Erica Heller

Review of One Last Lunch, edited by Erica HellerHere’s a book that has a little something for everyone--not only us foodies but also anyone who dreams about having "A Final Meal with Those Who Meant So Much to Us."

One Last Lunch, edited by Erica Heller, is a collection of about 50 short pieces written by chefs, actors, writers, comedians, and more as well as friends and relatives of well-known late-celebrities. The concept is simple, a variety of people were asked to imagine they had one last meal with someone who meant a lot to them or who influenced them.

If you had been asked, whom would you invite to lunch? What would you talk about? Where would you eat? What would you eat?

I wasn't too surprised by the number of people who wrote about meals with immediate family, for example, Erica Heller and Kirk Douglas wrote about their fathers and Malachy McCourt and Rick Moody wrote about their siblings. Others imaged meals with their mentors (Sara Moulton chose Julia Child), friends (Richard Lewis picked Jonathan Winters), and acquaintances (Bob Balaban picked Groucho Marx).

For me, One Last Lunch is the kind of book to read piecemeal and out of order. I started with names I recognized, either the person writing the story (Caroline Leavitt, Kirk Douglas, Benjamin Cheever) or the person invited to lunch (Paul Newman, Marcella Hazan, Lou Reed). Some stories are about a real lunch and some about an imagined meal; some pieces are essays, some are plays, and some are lists; all are short, intimate, and engaging.

Food and drink, of course, play a big part in the essays, but so do conversation, memory, and thoughts about the afterlife. One Last Lunch will make you think and will make you smile and cry.

Thanks so much to the Abrams Dinner Party for sending me a copy. I’ve read maybe a third of the pieces and am looking forward to the rest.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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12 June 2020

17 Books to Read This Week

Welcome back to my "new releases in June" series. While more complete lists can be found via a Google search and some buzz books won’t be found here, my lists are curated to my own tastes. Here are the books released this week that interested me most.

Note that release dates have been changing owing to current events. Please double-check availability before ordering or searching your local library.

Contemporary Stories

  • What to Read in JuneThey Say Sarah by Pauline Delabroy-Allard (Other Press). Genre: literary fiction; LGBTQ+; translated. Learned from reviews: The writing promises to be as poetic and passionate as the relationship between a teacher and musician. Fast-paced and captivating story of an all-consuming love. First line: “In the half-light of three a.m., I wake.” Audiobook: no information.
  • 500 Miles from You by Jenny Colgan (William Morrow) Genre: women’s fiction; rom-com Learned from reviews: Lissie, a London nurse, is asked to temporarily swap places with Cormack, who provides medical care to a small town in the Scottish Highlands. Though they’ve never met, they end up emailing and texting to discuss patients and more. What happens when they meet in person? First line: “It should have started with ominous dark crows, great murmurations and flutterings, bad omens taking to the sky; with thick storm clouds rolling in, clocks striking thirteen.” Audiobook: Read by Eilidh Beaton (11 hr, 3 min)
  • Always the Last to Know by Kristan Higgins (Berkley) Genre: general fiction Learned from reviews: A family’s cheery veneer is cracked after John has a stroke; as his wife and daughters take on care-giving responsibilities, their flaws and vulnerabilities are exposed. Humor eases the sharp edges of the more serious issues of family dynamics and living up to others’ expectations. First line: “ ‘You’re engaged? Oh! Uh … huzzah!’ ” Audiobook: Read by Laural Merlington, Amy Rubinate, Xe Sands, & Graham Winton (12 hr, 58 min)
  • The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore (William Morrow) Genre: general fiction; beach read Learned from reviews: A summer of transformation for three people who meet on Block Island. Two women and one man, all in different seasons of their lives, meet, become friends, and try to hold their secrets close. By August’s end, no one is the same. First line: “ ‘It was disconcerting, to see a man cry like that,’ said Bridget Fletcher.” Audiobook: Read by Courtney Patterson (12 hr, 15 min)
Stories for Food Lovers
  • What to Read in JunePizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier (Doubleday) Genre: literary fiction; quirky. Learned from reviews: A pregnant, conflicted, grieving pizza-delivery girl becomes obsessed with a stay-at-home mother who orders a weekly pizza for her son. Pregnancy hormones raging, pizza girl struggles to find her future. First line: “Her name was Jenny Hauser and every Wednesday I put pickles on her pizza.” Audiobook: Read by Jeena Yi (5 hr, 33 min)
  • Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman (Sourcebooks Landmark) Genre: contemporary woman’s fiction Learned from reviews: Kate’s life seems to fall apart on the eve of her 40th birthday. Reluctantly, she volunteers at an assisted living home, where she meets the feisty 90-something Miss Cecily. Through their friendship and the older woman’s cookbook, Kate finds a brighter future. First line: “Kate Parker is ravenous.” Audiobook: no information
True Stories
  • What to Read in JuneThe Language of Butterflies by Wendy Williams (Simon & Schuster) Genre: nonfiction; nature. Learned from reviews: Written by a science journalist, this introduces us to the hidden life of the “world’s favorite insect.” We learn about their behavior, life cycle, preservation, and relationship to the ecosystem and to us. First line: “Long ago, when I was twenty, penniless, and hanging in London, looking for something free to do, I drifted into the city’s Tate Gallery—filled with some of the world’s best-known art—and walked straight into a staggering J. M. W. Turner masterpiece.” Audiobook: Read by Angela Brazil (8 hr, 38 min)
  • Honey and Venom by Andrew Coté (Ballantine) Genre: nonfiction; memoir Learned from reviews: Written by a leading urban beekeeper, this memoir takes us through a year of what it’s like to be a honey producer in New York City. With hives on the rooftops of iconic buildings and even on the grounds of the United Nations, Coté shares not only the ins and outs of his family’s business but also a unique look at the city. First line: “I bleed honey.” Audiobook: Read by Andrew Coté (9 hr, 22 min)
  • Rebel Chef by Dominique Crenn with Emma Brockes (Penguin Press) Genre: autobiography; culinary Learned from reviews: I first heard of Crenn through the show Chef’s Table; I was interested in knowing more about her. Here Crenn shares her journey from her native France as the adopted daughter of a politician to her earning three Michelin stars for her San Francisco restaurant. Not an easy trip for anyone, especially a woman. First line: “When I was six months old, I was left in the care of an orphanage near Paris and it was from here, a few months later, that my parents adopted me.” Audiobook: Read by Hope Newhouse (5 hr, 14 min)
  • Cult of Glory by Doug J. Swanson (Viking) Genre: history Learned from reviews: I’ve always been fascinated with the fabled Texas Rangers, especially as they are portrayed in film and fiction. In this examination, investigative reporter Swanson sets the record straight, revealing the sometimes ugly truth of the 200-year-old law-enforcement agency that learned to put a positive spin on their deeds, even before Texas was officially part of the union. First line: “There is not, nor has there ever been, a group quite like the Texas Rangers.” Audiobook: Read by Kaleo Griffith (17 hr, 56 min)
Stories Set in the Past
  • What to Read in JuneBelladonna by Anbara Salam (Berkley) Genre literary fiction; coming of age. Learned from reviews: After high school, two American friends move to Italy to enroll in an art history program. In the late 1950s, Bridget nurtures a secret love for Isabella, but over the course of their freshman year, she learns Isabella has secrets of her own. First line: “It was Isabella who invented the game Dead Nun.” Audiobook: Read by Jill Winternitz (10 hr, 34 min)
  • The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz (Random House) Genre: literary fiction; family Learned from reviews: When Ellie discovers she’s pregnant in the early 1950s, Brick marries her—each giving up dreams of college and leaving their small Ohio town—to raise their daughter together. This novel covers deep themes of family, sacrifice, the women’s movement, secrets, marriage, and lost and found hopes. First line: “Samantha McGinty pressed her cheek against the cold window and exhaled slowly to cloud the glass.” Audiobook: Read by Cassandra Campbell (14 hr, 12 min)
  • Red Sky over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman (Mira) Genre: historical fiction; WWII Learned from reviews: I’m reading this one now. Set on the Big Island of Hawaii and starting on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we meet Lana, who not only must cope with the aftermath of the bombing, but is also grieving her father’s recent death, discovering his secrets, and helping his neighbors. Once I started reading, I was hooked. First line: “When I close my eyes, I still see the fiery glow of lava in Halema‘uma‘u crater.” Audiobook: Read by Jennifer Robideau (10 hr, 1 min)
Stories Set in Other Worlds
  • What to Read in JuneThe Shadow Wand by Laurie Forest (Inkyard Press) Genre: epic fantasy; YA Learned from reviews: This third in the well-love Black Witch Chronicles series is told through multiple points of view. Things I like about this series: flawed but likeable characters and a focus on a grass-roots civil rights–like movement. Note that some readers found the first book to be homophobic, but my take was that the characters grew, learned, and changed. First line: “Edwin Gardner sits on the silk-cushioned chair in a haze of grief.” Audiobook: Read by Julia Whelan (19 hr, 50 min)
  • Rage and Ruin by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Inkyard Press) Genre: contemporary fantasy; YA Learned from reviews: This is the second in the Harbinger series, continuing the story of Trinity (half human, half angel) and her gargoyle protector, Zayne. They fight demons and try to save the world from their home base in Washington, D.C. Super character development and world building. First line: “I blinked open achy, swollen eyes and stared straight at the pale, translucent face of a ghost.” Audiobook: Read by Lauren Fortgang (16 hr, 38 min)
Stories with a Twist
  • What to Read in JuneStranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle (Park Row) Genre: domestic thriller Learned from reviews: A young woman marries a rich older man; despite gossip and doubters, her life seems blessed. All that begins to unravel when a woman’s body is found floating in the lake by their house. Her husband asks her to lie, an investigative journalist is reviving cold cases, and Charlotte is beginning to question everything. First line: “I untie the dock cleats and shove the boat into water as gray as the sky.” Audiobook: Read by Xe Sands (9 hr, 39 min)
  • Safe by S. K. Barnett (Dutton) Genre: thriller Learned from reviews: Twelve years after her kidnapping, Jenny returns home, welcomed by her grateful family. She knows she is supposed to feel safe now, but is she really? What happened to Jenny during the missing years? Promises to be twisty, captivating (ha!), creepy, and unputdownable. First Line: “The first poster was put up within a day of the disappearance.” Audiobook: Read by Brittany Pressley (9 hr, 4 min)

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08 June 2020

10 Books for Your June Wish List

June marks the official start of summer, which means we can look forward to vacations (or staycation, as the case may be), lazy days on the deck or porch, and maybe even some afternoons at the pool or beach. Hand in hand with warmer weather comes more time for reading.

Throughout this month I will be sharing my picks for the week's new book releases. For the most part, the books on my lists are for summer escape reading, though you'll also find a few nonfiction titles mixed in. I also include a few books in translation.

Note: For a variety of reasons, publishers have changed the release dates of many of this season's titles. When I wrote this post, the following books were all set to publish on June 2; check dates before ordering. [This list was postponed from last week; look for the second post on Thursday or Friday.]

Head to the Beach

  • 10 books recommended by Beth Fish ReadsThe House on Fripp Island by Rebecca Kauffman (Mariner) Setting: South Carolina. What happens? Two families on different sides of the economic divide vacation together. The adults have secrets, and the children are on the brink of change. Before the trip is over, one person has been killed. The novel is introduced by the ghost of the victim, leaving the reader to figure out the clues as the story progresses.
  • The View from Here by Hannah McKinnon (Atria) Setting: Connecticut. What happens? Three adult siblings and their families reunite at the family lake house to celebrate their grandmother's 97th birthday. One brother and the sister have led conventional lives, but the other brother has been distant. His arrival, with a woman and her daughter in tow, foreshadows change for the family dynamics--but what kind of change is uncertain.
Read with the Lights On
  • 10 books recommended by Beth Fish ReadsSeven Years of Darkness by You-Jeong Jeong (Penguin) Setting: South Korea. What happens? Sowon was only 11 when his father was sent to prison for killing his wife, a young girl, the girl's father, and two security guards before opening a dam and flooding an entire village. Sowon grows up under the shadow of his father's crimes, until seven years later he receives information that could clear his father's name. This promises to be a complex thriller. (in translation)
  • The Guest List by Lucy Foley (William Morrow) Setting: Ireland. What happens? What could possibly go wrong at an opulent celebrity wedding held on an island with with iffy cell service? Long-festering jealousies, too much alcohol, and exposed secrets lead to murder. This is a twisty closed-room-type mystery/thriller.
Prepare to Discuss
  • 10 books recommended by Beth Fish ReadsThe Choice by Gillian McAllister (Putnam) Setting: London. What happens? The choice making up the book's title is multilayered. First, a woman chooses to believe the man walking behind her is up to no good. Second, she decides to strike first by turning around and pushing him. Third, she must choose what to do when she realizes she may have killed him: call for help and face the consequences of her actions or keep walking and live the rest of her life as if nothing happened. What does she do? What would you do?
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Riverhead) Setting: United States; last half of 20th century. What happens? Twin sisters grow up in a small Louisiana town where the black community has been consciously self-selecting for lighter skin tones. After running away from home as teens, the girls make very different choices to escape their past: Stella runs a second time, this time to live in the white world, disappearing from her family forever; Desiree marries the darkest man she can, though ends up back at her mother's house. The paths of the twins may have diverged, but those of their daughters intertwine in unexpected ways. Race, socioeconomics, transgender, love, family, self-identity, and many more themes to think about.
  • An Elegant Woman by Martha McPhee (Scribner) Setting: United States; 20th century. What happens? How four generations of women coped with their differing circumstances, reinventing themselves as necessary and informing the lives of their children and their grandchildren to follow. This family saga takes us from the East Coast to the upper Plains, from richer to poorer, from supportive to indifferent as a set of sisters in contemporary times try to understand the lives of the women who came before them.
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (Ecco) Setting: Hong Kong. What Happens? A contemporary Irish expat living in Hong Kong must decide who she really is. While eking out a living teaching English to the wealthy, Ava meets a rich male banker and soon allows herself to become a kept woman, entering a social stratum she could never afford. When he is transferred to London, Ava meets a powerful female lawyer and is soon attracted to her and her lifestyle. When the banker returns to Hong Kong, Ava must decide who she is and what she wants.
Pick Fantasy or Reality
  • 10 books recommended by Beth Fish ReadsThe Court of Miracles by Kester Grant (Knopf BYR) Setting: alternate Paris; 1828. What happens? After the failed French revolution, Paris is ruled by two courts: that of Louis XVII, which remains indifferent as ever to the plight of the poor, and that of the underworld guilds, who control the people. Nina has found a place in the Thieves Court, building her reputation as a skilled burglar, but when her BFF attracts the attention of the Guild of Flesh, Nina becomes determined to save her friend and the others enslaved by that guild. Action and adventure mixed with themes of class, race, and human trafficking.
  • The Inner Coast by Donovan Hohn (Norton) Setting: United States What happens? This collection of 10 previously published essays explores our relationship with the landscape, with our past, and with some of our literary heroes. Several essays focus on water, ranging from ice canoeing to scuba diving, droughts, and the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. In some pieces, Hohn turns to his family, writing about his mother's struggles with mental health and his uncle's passion for collecting antique tools. His discussions of literature include Henry David Thoreau, Adrienne Rich, and even the Bible. Put these though-provoking, prize-winning essays on your reading list.

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2020. All rights reserved.

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