21 November 2018

Wordless Wednesday 517

My favorite walnut tree

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

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19 November 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 5 Books, 2 Settings

Book reviews from Beth Fish ReadsIt's is soooo weird but many of the books I read in late October and early November had connections to the Caribbean and involve people who are not exactly who they appear to be on the surface.

The crossovers have been totally coincidental--I had no idea of the setting of some of them before I started reading--and this has led to some confusing moments. As in, "Wait! What island am I on? What year?"

For example, Trinity (which I reviewed earlier this month), has a section that takes place at Oppenheimer's Virgin Island home, and Winter in Paradise has a scene in which the characters are in a boat and motor on by Oppenheimer's beach.

The unnamed young wife in The Winters grew up in the Caymans, is comfortable on boats, and is an orphan; one of the main characters in Winter in Paradise is around the same age, is also an orphan, and is also comfortable on boats, though she lives in St. John. A novel I edited in October takes place in Nassau in the past, and the last audiobook I reviewed for Audio File magazine takes place in Nassau in the present.

You would think that after those books I'd race for new and different settings, wouldn't you? Well, yes I did, but the next two books I read both took place in Paris! I think I've broken the cycle though because the book I'm currently listening to is a collection of science fiction short stories: very few real-life settings here. Phew!

Review of The Winters by Lisa GabrieleThe Winters by Lisa Gabriele (Viking, October 16): I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. I loved the reimagining of the characters and situation in a modern setting and thought it was clever to change Dani from creepy maid to bratty, unstable teenager. The isolated estate, called Asherley, is located on an a small island off the Hamptons, and instead of a forbidden boathouse, we have a forbidden greenhouse. The dead Rebecca is, of course, perfect and beautiful and loved by everyone. Max is a New York state senator, so his duties often call him away from home, leaving his young (unnamed) fiancee alone. The soon to be second Mrs. Winters was raised in the Caymens and is now orphaned, so she has no one to turn to when she begins to feel uncomfortable--and the tension and sense of foreboding are definitely there. Even though I pretty much knew where the story was going (because this is, after all, a retelling of the classic), there were still some surprises, and I was completely engrossed, especially at the end, wanting to know how the new twists were going to play out. I think you can safely read and enjoy Gabriele's contemporary story, even if you haven't read the classic, but being familiar with the original will add depth. (review copy provided by the publisher)

Review of Winter in Paradise by Elin HilderbrandWinter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown, October 9): In a departure from Hilderbrand's normal books, there is only one brief passing mention of her beloved Nantucket. The book starts in the Midwest but takes place mostly in St. John, where a mother and her two grown sons reunite just after the new year. Each of them is in the middle of a personal crisis, but before they can talk about their own problems, they're hit hard by a devastating family tragedy: Irene's husband and the boys' father died in a helicopter accident over the ocean. That would be horrible all in and of itself, but Russell hadn't told his family that he was going to be in the Caribbean; he was supposed to be on a boring business trip. Thus the family trip to the island is not for pleasure, and as they piece together the puzzles and surprises Russell left behind, the family discovers they didn't know him at all. Meanwhile, the brothers meet a beautiful young woman (a rivalry ensues), and Irene meets a a man who offers her kindness and understanding. I can always count on Hiderbrand to give me great characters, a tight plot, and a good mystery. This is the start of new series, and I really like the characters and St. John setting. I think I kind of know where the story is going, so the ending, which sets up the next installment, was not altogether unexpected. I wasn't a fan of the abrupt ending, but I'm looking forward to the second book. I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition of Winter in Paradise (Hachette Audio; 10 hr, 11 min), read by Erin Bennett, who has narrated almost all of Hilderbrand books. Bennett is always a pleasure to listen to, and I enjoy her characterizations and the way she captures the essence of Hilderbrand's writing. (audiobook review copy provided by the publisher)

Review of Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn MatherLearning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, June 2018): The only thing I knew about this debut novel before I started it was that it had won a number of awards and dealt with real-life issues. Sixteen-year-old Indira was raised by her loving, but strict grandmother in the Bahamas. She has spent most of her life trying to prove that she is nothing like her mother, who is known for her drug addition and loose reputation. Granny believes in Indy and wants to give her a better life and chance to climb out of poverty, so she sends her to live with her son's family in Nassau and attend a private high school. What Indy finds in the city is an aunt who thinks she's poor trash, an older male cousin who disrespects her and abuses her, and a distant uncle. She is teased at school, and her same-age female cousin runs hot and cold. This is an all-too-real and heartbreaking story of a young girl who tries her best to be good but who is thwarted and divested of power at every turn. After a chance meeting of the owners of a yoga retreat, Indy slowly learns to trust but finds it hard to overcome her self-shame until she realizes only she can save herself and others from the fate of her mother. My heart went out to Indy, and I loved her voice. Mather presents Indy's situation with honesty and respect, and I'm pretty sure this book will have a place on my top-ten of the year list. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Dreamscape Media, 9 hr, 18 min), read by Chrystal Bethell. This is my first time with Bethell, but I'm looking forward to more of her work. Her sensitive narration captured Indy's pain, and her accents were believable, while avoiding stereotypes. Indy's internal dialogue sometimes verges on free verse, which Bethell delivered with aplomb. Read or listen, but don't miss this book. (review copy for a freelance assignment)

Review of Love a la Mode by Stephanie Kate StrohmLove a la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm (Disney-Hyperion; November 27): After so many heavy books, I needed a palate cleanser, which I found in this delightful novel, perfect for food lovers. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Henry Yi and Rosie Radeke, both of whom were accepted into a young chef's academy in Paris. Henry grew up in the kitchen of his father's Chicago restaurant, whereas Rosie is a home baker from Ohio. Their backgrounds, talents, and ethnicities are very different, but they share the dream of becoming professionals in the culinary world. This contemporary young adult rom-com is so much fun. We meet the other (diverse) teen students and the demanding chef teacher. We enter the kitchens and feel for the teens' struggle to perfect their cooking and baking techniques while also meeting their academic requirements. There is romance drama, mean girl drama, and kitchen drama. Love a la Mode was the perfect escape novel for me, combining humor, a love story, cooking, and Paris in one package. There's nothing high-brow here, but I enjoyed meeting Rosie, Henry, and their friends. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 9 hr, 35 min) read by the author. You know how I usually feel about author-read audiobooks, but Strohm was great. Her French pronunciations seemed fine to me, and she (as one would hope) captured the personalities of her characters beautifully. This audiobook would be the perfect accompaniment to your holiday cooking. Too much fun to miss. (audiobook review copy provided by the publisher)

Review of The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de RosnayThe Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay (St. Martin's Press; October 30): I had high hopes for de Rosnay's latest novel, which promised a dysfunctional family and a Paris setting. The novel does indeed provide both and was particularly interesting in light of last winter's flooding of the city. Most of the book is told from the viewpoint of Linden Malegarde, a world-famous photographer who returns to his native France to attend his father's 70th birthday celebration. His mother, American by birth, decided to hold the gathering in Paris with just the original family; no in-laws or grandchildren are invited. Paul, the patriarch, is a renown arborist, who seems to like his trees better than people, but his wife hopes the gathering will be a success. The party weekend coincides with the worst flooding of the Seine in a century, and the events that follow (including family illnesses) are complicated by the rising water. While I enjoy de Rosnay's writing style, I didn't think this was her strongest novel. The flow of Linden's story is interrupted by sections from Paul's diary, in which he describes a traumatic event of his own childhood. That story is, indeed, disturbing, but it's never really tied into the main narrative, and I ended up wondering why it was included in the novel. I also found the number of big things this family faced to be slightly over the top: one or more of them were dealing with LGBTQ issues, alcoholism, bad marriage, affairs, suicide, unrequited love, distant parents, self-doubt, PTSD, bullying, rape, and medical problems. While I know that many of us are juggling several significant simultaneous problems, it seemed unbelievable in The Rain Watcher. I think de Rosnay had several good ideas here, including thoughts on the changing environment, but she didn't quite pull them off in the novel. I am, however, looking forward to her next book. (review copy provided by the publisher)

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17 November 2018

Weekend Cooking: Review of Flavor by Joseph Keatinge

Review of Flavor by Joseph Keatinge / Wook Jin ClarkI like graphic novels and I like stories that involve food and cooking, so I was excited to read Flavor (Image Comics, November 27), written by Joseph Keatinge with artist Wook Jin Clark.

The main character is Xoo Lim, who is single-handedly trying to save her parents' crepe restaurant, while also finding a way to heal them from a mysterious illness. She's underage and unlicensed, but her uncle Geof serves as the figurehead, keeping the officials at bay.

Xoo lives in a walled city where cooking is king, people fight over truffles, hot peppers can be used as weapons, and bars serve ice cream instead of alcohol. Her dog, Buster, helps in the kitchen and is literate.

Another plot line involves shady evil officials who are perhaps guided by the gods. We also have an up-scale culinary academy, a dangerous culinary underworld, and life-or-death cooking contests. And of note, Geof seems to be harboring his own secrets as well as an overindulgence problem when he visits the bar.

Flavor collects the first six issues of the comic, setting up the world in which Xoo lives. The artwork pops, and the emotions and personalities of the characters are clearly rendered. Each sector has a slightly different color scheme, so it's easy to tell whether we're at the academy, in Xoo's home, or in the city itself. The sample page shows Xoo, Buster, and Geof at the restaurant (click to enlarge the image).

Review of Flavor by Joseph Keatinge / Wook Jin ClarkWithout giving up spoilers, the core of the story revolves around Xoo and Buster and the various plans they have to help Xoo's parents. Geof's motives for attempting to support Xoo are unclear. And, in fact, there is a lot about this comic that is unclear to me. For example, even after six issues, I'm not at all sure how the different plot lines will come together. I was also confused by Xoo's gender, which may be part of the point, but I'd like to have some kind of hint.

On the other hand, I really liked Buster the dog. He's not only cute but he seems to be the most practical and down-to-earth character in the book. I also kind of love to hate Geof, and I'm still trying to figure out whether he cares about his brother's family or if he's only in this for himself. There are a couple of cooking contests in this collection, and we learn that Xoo's specialty is definitely crepes.

At the end of the book we find a crepe recipe and a little blurb on culinary science. What we don't find at the end of the book is a solid conclusion . . . because the book ends on a major cliff-hanger. Argh!

I have mixed feelings about Joseph Keatinge's comic series Flavor. On the one hand I like some of the characters and really like the artwork. On the other hand, I didn't connect strongly with any of the story lines, and I have the uneasy feeling that I missed some key point. Will I look for the next collection? I might. Can I recommend this series? Not wholeheartedly.

Do you make crepes? I've made them only a couple times. In my family, it's my sister-in-law who reigns as the crepe queen.
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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16 November 2018

A Bookish Miscellany

This week's roundup is a departure from my norm. Besides my weekly book list, I want to tell you about a couple bookish events this month plus alert you to a super podcast. So let's jump right in.

For Audiobook Fans

Audiobook Book Publishers holiday giveawayIt's November, which means it's one of the biggest travel months of the year. And you know what I like to do when driving or flying? That's right, I listen to a good audiobook, which makes the time zip on by and the trip that much more fun.

If you're not sure what to listen to next or which audiobooks to pack for your holiday travel, put aside your worries. The Audiobook Publishers Association teamed up with 21 bloggers, who have some great listening recommendations and who are offering one of their readers the chance to win 8 audiobooks. Visit the APA's website to get the list of participating bloggers. Don't be shy, enter for a chance to win. Good luck!

Behind the Mic Podcast from AudioFile magazineIf you need even more audiobook recommendations, be sure to tune in to AudioFile Magazine's new podcast, Behind the Mic. The podcast airs every weekday and is available via whatever podcast app you use and whatever operating system you like.

The really cool thing about this podcast is that it lasts only about 5 minutes! Each episode (they're up to about 60 now) focuses on a single book, which means you can listen quickly whenever you have a spare moment: while getting ready for work in the morning, when settling into your office for the day, or while walking to your car at lunchtime. Check out the list of available episodes and get ready to add to your wish list.

Giving the Gift of Reading

Buy One, Give One at ZulilyIt's that time of year when we're reminded to be grateful for what we have and to give to those who are less fortunate. Zulily and Penguin Random House have once again joined forces to provide books to children in need.

When shopping for books for the kids on your holiday list, be sure visit the Zulily website or app and look for the Buy One, Give One banner. For every book you buy, Penguin Random House will donate one book to First Book, which provides quality books to families, children, and classrooms across the country. Here is a list of holiday books that are part of this generous program.

Borrowing Books

This week's roundup is quick look at some random books I have checked out of the library.

all about The Red Sister by Mark Lawrence The Red Sister by Mark Lawrence (Ace, February 2018): This is the first in an epic fantasy trilogy that a friend of mine told me about. Here's the short blurb from the publisher: "A brand-new epic fantasy trilogy about a girl of rare talents who enters a convent to learn the art of combat and is drawn into a battle for empire." I didn't want to research the book too much (for fear of spoilers), but I think the main character is harboring secrets and powers. Reviews have been mostly glowing, noting that the world and concept are fresh. Most also mention how quickly they were drawn to the characters and their plight. I'm intrigued by the fighting nuns! Book two is already out and the final installment is just a few months away.

all about My Twenty-Five Years in Provence by Peter Mayle My Twenty-Five Years in Provence by Peter Mayle (Knopf, June 2018): you may recall that I reviewed this memoir in September. So why did I wait in the library hold line to get a copy of the book? I listened to the unabridged audiobook for a review assignment, which meant I missed out on the photographs that were included in the memoir. The library ebook became available just yesterday, so I haven't had a chance to flip through it, but I plan on spending an hour or so this weekend just looking at the pictures. As much as I love audiobooks, I hate missing out on the visuals and wish audiobook publishers would include PDFs of the illustrations.

all about The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace JohnsonThe Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson (Viking, April 2018): Speaking of missing out on visuals, I held off starting the audiobook of this true-crime story because I wanted to see the photos while I was listening. This book is about an obsessed American fly-tier who stole 299 rare bird carcasses from a branch of the British Natural History Museum. Why? So he could sell the feathers to fellow fly-fishing enthusiasts and make a fortune. What was so devastating about this strange crime is that many of the birds were collected over 150 years ago by the famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Johnson, also a fly-fisherman, became fascinated with this story and wanted to know more about Edwin Rist, the music student who became a feather thief. The book won all kinds of starred reviews, and I'm really looking forward to being able to view the photographs while listening to this weird twenty-first-century heist.

all about At My Table by Nigella LawsonAt My Table by Nigella Lawson (Flatiron, April 2018): I have a major weakness for cookbooks. In an effort to feign restraint, I've developed the habit of delaying buying a new one until I've had a chance to check it out of the library or at least look through it at the store. Last week one of my Weekend Cooking participants wrote about Nigella's newest cookbook, and I couldn't resist taking a look. I've gone through this cookbook only very quickly, but it looks like it's focused--as the subtitle says--on home cooking and geared to cooks of a variety of skill levels. There are about 275 recipes that take you from breakfast to cocktail hour drinks and nibbles all the way through to after-dinner dessert. The photographs are stunning, and I'm afraid I can already tell that this is a must-own book. There are a couple of fall/winter recipes that are calling my name, such as a beet and goat cheese salad and a pork with prunes dinner. God save my wallet. Full review sometime in the future.

all about Death at the Chateau Bremont by M. L. LongworthDeath at the Chateau Bremont by M. L. Longworth (Penguin, June 2011): Not long ago a friend of mine recommended a mystery series set in Aix-en-Provence, featuring a chief magistrate and his law professor girlfriend. I love the concept and setting of these mysteries. It's the south of France! I expect to read about the beautiful countryside, good wine, and excellent food . . . n'est-ce pas? In this first installment we meet the investigators and learn of the importance of an excellent neighborhood cafe. Oh, and there's the murder of the count and whodunit puzzle. Reviewers comment on the vivid descriptions of the town, the chateau, and the secondary characters. I always seem to find room to add just one more series to my reading list.

I'm not quite sure who the library gods are, but I do know they like to play with me. No matter how spread out I make my library requests, all the books always seem to become available within a few days of each other. I waited months for some of these, and others I got right away. In any case, I'd better get reading or resign myself to the sadness that is returning books to library before I've had a chance to read them.

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13 November 2018

Today's Read: The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay

All about The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de RosnayIs it ever too late for a family to heal its wounds? When Linden Malegarde returns to Paris to celebrate his father's 70th birthday (immediate family only; no spouses or children), he has little hope, but sometimes life really does offer second chances. Here's how the novel begins (skipping the prologue):

"It's been like this for the past two weeks," says the listless taxi driver. The rain pours down, a silver curtain, hissing, obstructing all daylight. It is only ten o'clock in the morning, but to Linden, it feels like dusk glimmering with wetness. The taxi driver says he wants to move away for good, flee Paris, find the sun, go back to balmy Martinique, where he is from. As the car leaves Charles de Gaulle Airport and edges along the jammed highway and ring road that circles the city, Linden cannot help agreeing with him. The sodden suburbs are dismal, clustered contours of cubic volumes bedecked with garish neon billboards flickering in the drizzle. He asks the driver to turn on the radio, and the man comments upon his perfect French, "for an American." Linden grins. This happens every time he returns to Paris. He replies he's Franco-American, born in France, French father, American mother, he speaks both languages fluently, with no accent at all. How about that, eh? The driver chortles, fumbles with the radio, well monsieur certainly looks like an American, doesn't he, tall athletic, jeans, sneakers, not like those Parisians with their fancy ties and suits.
The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay (St. Martin's Press, October, page 5)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times, mostly Paris
  • Circumstances: After the Malegarde family reunites in Paris to celebrate the patriarch's 70th birthday, family secrets threaten to be exposed as the waters of the Seine begin to flood the city. The father is an arborist who seems to love his trees more than he does people. The mother just wants everyone to be happy. Linden believes he's let his parents down, despite his success as a photographer, and his older sister is entangled in an unhappy marriage. A family tragedy combined with the worst flooding in a century, weaken the family's barriers, and long-buried or unacknowledged truths must be confronted.
  • Genre: contemporary literary fiction
  • Themes: secrets, family, LGBTQ+, alcoholism, climate change, redemption
  • Why I want to read this book: I like de Rosnay's writing and the fact that this novel addresses contemporary issues, family dynamics, and how childhood trauma--if allowed to fester--can affect us throughout our lives.
  • The structure of the novel: The book is told from two perspectives. One is the story of the birthday reunion and the Paris flood; the other is told through the father's diary. Also note that this is not a feel-good, escape story, but a book that deals with real life.
  • An extra: if you understand French, here  is a video in which de Rosnay talks about her new novel.
  • Acknowledgments: thanks to St. Martin's for the finished copy of Tatiana de Rosnay's The Rain Watcher.

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