15 October 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Reading across the Genres

4 short book reviews from Beth Fish ReadsFirst, for my friends in Florida and the South -- I'm hoping you are safe and that you have electricity and that you spared the worst of the hurricane.

For the rest of you north of the Equator, I hope you are enjoying the fall weather. I'm thrilled I can pull out my sweaters and long-sleeved shirts. I'm so ready for cooler temperatures and afternoon tea. I still have a window or two cracked during the day, but it's definitely cold out there!

With October comes a seasonal busy time for my work, and my personal reading time is crawling. I've gotten through only 4 books in two weeks. Oh well, the books will still be there waiting after I meet my deadlines.

Audiobook review of The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz ZafonThe Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Harper; September 18). This is the final installment in Zafon's Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet. I listened to the first book (The Shadow of the Wind) when it first came out, before I was blogging, and that audiobook has remained one of my all-time favorites. I don't know why I didn't listen to the next two books, but I'm glad I gave Labyrinth of the Spirits a try. The plot follows Spanish secret police agent Alicia Gris as she attempts to complete her last mission before she returns to civilian life. The book is part thriller and part mystery and is set mostly in Barcelona. I barely remember the first book, but I didn't feel lost and I actually ended up recognizing the names of some of the characters. I liked the book, although I wasn't as blown away as I hoped. The tension was definitely there--as Alicia and her partner begin to uncover corruption stemming from the Franco regime, the danger increases--and I was invested in the outcome. I probably would have appreciated the book more if I had read the entire quartet; still I like the way Zafon conducted a kind of meta analysis as he tied up lose ends to the series. Narrator Daniel Weyman did a fine job reading the unabridged audiobook (HarperAudio; 27 hr, 55 min), which was a good thing, because this is a long audio. My only complaint was his British accent, which meant I had to keep reminding myself the book took place in Spain, not the UK. But all in all, his performance kept me invested. (For more on the audiobook; see AudioFile magazine.)

Audiobook review of Swing by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand HessSwing by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (Blink, October 2). I've become fond of novels in verse and so was looking forward to reading Alexander's newest. This coming-of-age story is about two high school friends who share a love a baseball, though neither of them made the team; who are good students, though they can still have fun; and who are different enough to push each other and teach each other. Noah is currently obsessing over his other best friend, Sam (a girl), and wondering how he can cross the line from buddy to boyfriend. The only problem is that Sam has a boyfriend, and she likes the other guy a lot, even if he is a jock and a bit of a jerk. Walt, on the other hand, is determined to make the baseball team and practices almost every day. He's also a trivia buff and and jazz lover. This short novel, though, is no high school romp; it covers themes of friendship, young love, diversity and race (Noah is white; Walt is black), responsibility, and larger societal issues. Alexander himself reads the audiobook (Blink Audio; 4 hr, 8 min), and I think this was a brilliant choice. His characterizations were spot-on and his diction is clear. He infused his performance with measured emotion. Swing may break your heart, but you won't want to miss this in print or in audio. You'll be thinking about Noah and Walt long after you close the book. (For more on the audiobook; see AudioFile magazine.)

Audiobook review of On Sunset by Kathryn HarrisonOn Sunset by Kathryn Harrison (Doubleday, October 2). I didn't know what to expect when I started this memoir of growing up in the sixties in Los Angeles. Instead of a straightforward chronology, Harrison's approach is more of a love song to her eccentric grandparents, who provided her with a unique upbringing. Her grandmother came from a wealthy family of multicultural Jews in Singapore, and her grandfather was raised poor in London. Each became world travelers and had fairly full lives when they met late in life. Their one irresponsible daughter went the other direction, getting pregnant while still a teenager. Though her mother didn't live in the big house on Sunset Boulevard, Harrison saw her often and wasn't abandoned in the usual sense. Her memoir is mostly a collection of her grandparents' stories: eight-day train trips from the Orient to Paris, fur trapping in the wilds of Alaska, meeting a Russian prince, fighting in World War I, immigration, and learning to accept one's fate without losing one's past. I loved Harrison's voice and her grandparents' stories. Don't miss this one. I listened the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 6 hr, 39 min) read by Rebecca Lowman, who beautifully blurred the line between author and performer. My only regret is that by listening I missed out on the photographs included in the book. I'll have to see if my library has a copy. (For more on the audiobook; see AudioFile magazine.)

Review of Jar City by Arnaldur IndridasonJar City by Arnaldur Indridason (Picador, 2006): When I was doing my big book culling the other week, I made a vow to myself to start reading from own shelves. We're all drawn to the new and shiny and sometimes forget those books we always meant to read. I learned about Indridason's Reykjavik police procedural series starring Inspector Erlendur when I was lucky enough to attend a BEA book blogger reception in Picador's offices; I left the party with the first couple of books in the series. Since then, I've collected all the Erlendur books to date. I thought it was about time I actually read them.

Oh boy have I missed out. I really like the setting, the mystery, and getting to know Erlendur and his family. Jar City starts with a murder that leads the inspector to revisit a cold case involving rape. Meanwhile, a bride disappears from her wedding reception and no one has heard from her and two elderly sisters were assaulted. Besides juggling multiple police cases, Erlendur (divorced) is dealing with a troubled daughter. Family issues, police department relationships, and the way rape victims are treated, all come into play. Indridason builds the tension and writes a tight story, and I really enjoyed getting a peek at life in Iceland. If you like mysteries set outside the United States or the UK, give this series a try. I'm already looking forward to the second book.

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13 October 2018

Weekend Cooking: Matty Matheson A Cookbook

Review of Matty Matheson A CookbookRemember when I encouraged you all to apply for the Abrams Dinner Party for this coming year? I also applied, and I'm so excited to have been asked to participate again.

I had so much fun sharing Abrams cookbooks and great recipes with you last year, and I have every reason to believe this year will be just a good or even better. Here's a little bit about the  program, and if it sounds familiar, that's because I borrowed from last year's post.

Here's how the Abrams Dinner Party works: I'm being given the opportunity to share Abrams's entire food and drink catalog for their fall, winter, and spring seasons. I won't necessarily be posting a detailed review of every book, but each one will be featured here, on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, and/or on Litsy. I have permission to share scans of photographs and recipes from the books, and I'm looking forward to a year of learning and discovery.

So how does this affect my opinions and reviews? Don't worry, I'm not getting paid, and I fully intend to provide you with my honest opinion of any book I review. Because of FTC rules, whenever I write about an Abrams Dinner Party book or post a photo on any social media platform, I am required (by law) to disclose my association with Abrams. I've decided to use the hashtag #ad because it's small and unobtrusive.

Remember: #ad means I received the book because I'm a member of the Abrams Dinner Party program. I'm not getting paid, and I will always give you my true opinion.

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Review of Matty Matheson A Cookbook Just in time for cooler fall temperatures, I've received my first few cookbooks from Abrams. I've already cooked from two of them, and everything I made was delicious.

The first cookbook from this year's Abrams Dinner Party I want to talk about is Matty Matheson's A Cookbook (Oct. 9). Have you ever heard of Matheson? I only know him because his cheeseburger was named best in Toronto on a show called Burger Wars (the recipe is in the book).

Since getting a copy of A Cookbook from Abrams, I've learned that Matheson's been associated with several restaurants and is also well known for his television shows on Viceland. Now that I've learned more about the chef, his family, and his food, I'll be following his career.

Review of Matty Matheson A CookbookSo what did I like about Matheson's cookbook? The first thing that caught my eye were the drop-dead gorgeous photos of the Canadian coast, the food, his family, and his friends. Next, I love the organization of this book: the first part is a collection of family recipes and inspirations and includes such diverse foods as lobster pie, curry casserole, and Sunday spaghetti with meat sauce. The second part contains restaurant recipes--for example, cassoulet, vegetarian club sandwiches, and venison stew.

Each recipe and chapter is introduced by a personal story, often about Matheson's family and friends, sometimes about his travels, and sometimes about the origins of the dish itself. The chef is very much himself in this book and speaks from the heart and without censure. Among my favorites is the introduction to the famous cheeseburger -- and I love the final photo in the book. I won't spoil it; you'll have to read and see it for yourself.

Here's what I've made from Matty Matheson's A Cookbook so far. The Green Olive Dressing is, according to the book, Matheson's very favorite salad dressing, which he learned from his mother-in-law. I followed the directions exactly and served it (as suggested) on a delicate lettuce. The recipe made quite a lot, but we ate the leftovers on crackers, which I recommend trying. The Sausage and Potatoes were easy and good and perfect for fall. This is a sheet pan dinner made by Matheson's wife. I did not make my own sausages (I don't have the equipment, plus I'm lazy), and instead followed the chef's advice: "If you don't want to make sausage you don't have to. Just buy good Italian sausage from a butcher like a normal human being."

Review of Matty Matheson A Cookbook

Finally, the crisp temperatures put me in the mood for homemade tomato soup; to go with it I made Matheson's recipe called Mom's Cheesy Things, and I even used his mother's recipe for the bread. The only thing I did differently was to cut the bread recipe in half because I wanted only one loaf. The basic method is this: you slice the bread into thick pieces, sprinkle on grated cheese and spices, bake until melted, and drizzle with a little Worcestershire sauce. We loved these -- a nice change from regular grilled cheese, and I could totally see cutting the toasted breads into strips and serving them with drinks. (Note: the food photos in the collage are all mine; the cheeseburger is from the book.)

A few things to know about Matty Matheson A Cookbook: If you live near the coast or can get fresh seafood and shellfish (of all kinds), you'll find some great family recipes in this book. If you're a vegetarian, you'll have less luck. If you're a hunter or have access to game and game birds, you'll find some new ideas. If you're somewhere in between, you'll find a number of dishes to add to your regular rotation. If you like to read cookbooks, you'll be in heaven.

Instead of recipe, I'm going to share a short video clip of Matty Matheson making sausages. The recipe he's using in the clip is a little different from the one used in the dish shown above. I have to say, he makes the whole process look pretty easy -- if you have a sausage-stuffer machine, that is. I think I can buy an attachment for my stand mixer . . . hummmmmmm.


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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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11 October 2018

9 Books to Read in October

I thought I'd do something a little bit different for this week's roundup. Instead of featuring books with a uniting thread (audience, genre, etc.), I'm giving you a peek at my ereader. So here, in alphabetical order, are nine October books I really want to find time to read. They span a range of genres, but nonetheless, each one calls to me. Which one would you read first?

9 books to read in OctoberBitter Orange by Claire Fuller (Tin House Books; October 9). Quick take: This is a thriller set in an isolated English country manor in the late 1960s. An architecture student gets involved with the friendly couple living just below her. Are they as perfect and fun as they seem? Why I want to read this: There has been much good buzz and several starred reviews. I like the setting and the time period, and I enjoy a good psychological thriller. Opening line: "They must think I don’t have long left because today they allow the vicar in."

9 books to read in OctoberThe Collector's Apprentice by B. A. Shapiro (Algonquin; October 16). Quick take: Set in 1920s Paris and Philadelphia this is the story of a Belgian woman accused of a crime committed by her ex-lover. She is determined to recover her father's stolen art and prove her innocence; along the way she crosses paths with contemporary artists and writers. Why I want to read this: The short version is that I love Shapiro's books and totally trust Algonquin. I also love books set in the twenties and always learn something about the art world from Shapiro's novels. Opening line: "Paulien is aware that being banished to Paris with 200 francs in her pocket isn’t the worst of circumstances."

9 books to read in OctoberDracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker (Putnam, October 2). Quick take: Set in 1868 in Ireland, England, and Germany. Here's the publisher's tag line: The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author . . . a supernatural thriller . . . and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them. Why I want to read this: Simple curiosity has drawn me to this title. Also, I'm not afraid to admit that I like a good Gothic tale. I understand a movie deal is in the making. Opening lines: "Bram stares at the door. Sweat trickles down his creased forehead."

9 books to read in OctoberGo to My Grave by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur Books; October 23). Quick take: This is a standalone Gothic thriller set in a Galloway bed and breakfast where a group of friends are gathering for a reunion. It involves long-buried secrets that are starting to surface. Why I want to read this: I love a Scottish setting and the idea that the past will come back to haunt you. And you have to agree that October is a great month for a good mystery/thriller. Opening lines: "The house was a held breath. Its ten empty rooms waited, polished like a bowl of apples."

9 books to read in OctoberIn the Hurricane's Eye by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking; October 16). Quick take: The subtitle gives you a clue: "Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown." Set in 1781, this is an examination of how Washington turned a series of defeats into a much needed victory for the struggling new nation. Why I want to read this: Two things: I'm interested in American history and Philbrick is the author who makes it all accessible and interesting. To be honest, I'll probably listen to the audiobook, while following along in the eBook. Opening lines: "When France entered the American Revolutionary War in the spring of 1778, George Washington dared to hope his new ally had put victory within reach. Finally, the British navy’s hold on the Atlantic Seaboard was about to be broken."

9 books to read in OctoberThe Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher (Berkely; October 2). Quick take: Set in England and America, this novel is about Kick Kennedy, the rebellious daughter who became a London sensation when her father was the U.S. ambassador to the UK before the start of World War II. Why I want to read this: I don't know much about Kick, and I'm interested because she tried to follow her own path, including falling for a guy who wasn't Catholic. I'd like to know more about her. Opening lines: "Presentation day. Finally, Kick thought as soon as she opened her eyes that morning."

9 books to read in OctoberThe Library Book by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster; October 16, 2018). Quick take: Set in Los Angeles in 1986, this entry in the true crime genre is about the burning of the city's public library, which destroyed or damaged more than a million books. Why I want to read this: I usually like true crime and investigative journalism. I also want to know if the author ever finds the answers to these questions: Did someone set the fire on purpose? If so, who was it? And why was the library the target? Opening line: "Even in Los Angeles, where there is no shortage of remarkable hairdos, Harry Peak attracted attention."

9 books to read in OctoberMarilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy (William Morrow; October 23). Quick take: Set in Prince Edward Island in the late 1800s and inspired by the Anne of Green Gables books, this is the story of Marilla--her heartaches and sacrifices; her strengths and joys--in the years before the red-headed orphan changed her life forever. Why I want to read this: I'm a lifelong Anne fan, so I need to know Marilla's story. I have faith that McCoy is just the author who can bring this beloved character alive. [Full disclosure: although I've never met her in real life, I consider Sarah a friend.] Opening line: "It’d been a rain-chilled May that felt more winter than spring."

9 Books to read in OCtoberWinter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown; October 9). Quick take: Set in contemporary times in Iowa and the Caribbean, this is a story of love and betrayal and loss and new beginnings as a woman in a happy marriage learns her husband is not all who she thought he was. Why I want to read this: I've always enjoyed Hilderbrand's summer beach reads, and I've come to look forward to her "off-season" books. I was excited to learn of this first entry in a new series, which is not set on Nantucket. This sounds like the perfect way to escape holiday stress. Opening lines: "It’s the first night of the new year. Irene Steele has spent the day in a state of focused productivity."

Let me know which ones are on your fall reading list.

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09 October 2018

Today's Read: The Lies We Told by Camilla Way

All about The Lies We Told by Camilla WayWhat would you do if you realized the person you loved most was not at all the person you thought he or she was? For Beth, this is particularly painful, because that person is her young daughter, Hannah. For Clara, it's her live-in boyfriend, Luke.

Here's how the story starts (with Beth):

At first I mistook the severed head for something else. It wasn't until I was very close that I realized it was Lucy's. To begin with, I thought the splash of yellow against the white of my pillow was a discarded sock, a balled-up handkerchief perhaps. It was only when I drew nearer and saw the delicate crest of feathers, the tiny, silent beak, that I fully understood. And suddenly I understood so much more: everything in that moment became absolutely clear.
The Lies We Told by Camilla Way (Berkley, October 9; paperback original, page 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times in London; 1980s in Cambridgeshire (UK)
  • Circumstances: In the 1980s, Beth is becoming increasingly worried about of her daughter, Hannah, whose behavior is out of control. The five-year-old rarely shows emotion and already seems to have a bullying streak. In modern times, Clara wakes up in her London apartment to discover that her perfect boyfriend, Luke, has disappeared into thin air. This dual-time-period book follows Clara as she (with a little help from the police) searches for clues about Luke's fate and alternately follows Beth as she tries to cope with her fear of Hannah. How these two seemingly different plot lines come together is at the heart of the novel.
  • Genre: psychological thriller, mystery
  • Themes: secrets, lies, coming to terms with the truth
  • Why I want to read this book: I want to know how Beth and Clara's lives intersect. What happened to Luke and is he as perfect as he seems? And what about Beth and her sociopathic daughter? I can't even imagine what it would be like for a parent to be afraid of her child. Sounds like a great October spooky read.
  • More about the book and the author: Publishers Weekly says the novel has "palpable tension"; the Washington Times says the "twisted narratives [are] fueled by obsession . . . driving relentlessly on to disaster"; the Goodreads score is 4.3; Crime Fiction Lover blog had mixed feelings about the character development but still recommends it for light reading. At Female First, Camilla Way wrote "10 Things I'd Like My Readers to Know About Me."
  • Acknowledgments: thanks to Berkley for a finished copy of Camilla Way's The Lies We Told.

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06 October 2018

Weekend Cooking: Wine Reads by Jay McInerney

Review of Wine Reads by Jay McInerneyYou may know Jay McInerney as a novelist (Bright Lights, Big City), but did you know that he's a James Beard Award-winning wine writer? He currently writes for Town & Country magazine, but his wine columns have also appeared in the Wall Street Journal and House and Garden.

Take note that his edited collection of wine writing, Wine Reads (Atlantic Monthly Press; November 13), comes out next month. The 27 pieces included in this volume were written by a wide range of wine lovers, including the expected wine critics and food writers (Eric Asimov, M. F. K. Fisher) along with writers of fiction and nonfiction.

Some of the selections cover legendary stories, such as George Taber's "A Stunning Upset," which describes the first competition in which a California wine beat the French. Others are excerpted from novels (like Sweetbitter and Sideways), and some of my favorites were the more personal stories.

Wine Reads is the kind of book you'll want to savor, a selection at a time. I'm not quite finished, and I didn't want to rush my way through just to write a review. On the other hand, I wanted to alert you to the November publication date, because I think Wine Reads would make an excellent holiday gift suitable not just for wine lovers but for those who appreciate excellence in writing as much as they do in their wineglass.

The collection opens with a piece by Roald Dahl (yes, that Dahl), who describes a 1950s dinner party in which an "interesting" bet over a wine occurred. Jim Harrison swoons over the sound of a popping cork and talks about how wine accompanied the stresses and joys of his everyday life--not just the weddings and holidays.

Bill Buford writes about an exclusive Burgundy tasting he attended that had, perhaps, a bit too many wines on the table. I also liked Tilar J. Mazeo's account of how the Widow Barbe-Nicole and her champagne survived the 1814 Napoleonic War; war wasn't always good to winemakers, their cellars, and their vineyards.

Jay McInerney's Wine Reads is the perfect collection for winter reading, preferably with a glass of wine near at hand. Buy a copy for yourself and another as a gift. Wine Reads deserves a place on your bookshelves; it's the kind of book you'll return to over the years to revisit a story or to read a passage aloud to your friends.

Thanks to Atlantic Monthly Press for the review copy.

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

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