24 June 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: My Uneven Reading Week

Stacked-Up Book thoughts: Book reviews for mid-JuneMy fingers are crossed, but I think we may be seeing the end of the monsoon season. This past weekend was beautiful, and I managed to get outside and work in my gardens. They aren't the best they've looked, but I think the flowers are happy for the improvement.

The good weather couldn't have been better timed because a friend was in town, visiting from England. We were invited to lovely afternoon cookout, which was the perfect way to reconnect and relax.

I didn't get much reading finished this week, mostly because I had to bail on two -- yes, two -- of my books. One I ditched fairly early on, but the other I stupidly hung in there for way too long. Fortunately, I managed to finish one audiobook and made good progress on print books.

Review of Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner (Crown Books for Young Readers, Feb. 2019). This young adult novel is about two best friends struggling to balance their teenage loyalties and dreams with the realities of their after-high-school opportunities. Josie and Delia have spent two years as hosts of a weekly fright night, which shows raunchy horror flicks on local-access television. They've had some success with their on-screen banter and intermission acts, and their show has been syndicated to several other local-access stations across the country. As their senior year ends, their future as TV co-hosts comes into question. A cute boy, an invite to a horror com (think Comic Com, except for horror movies), and family issues leave Delia and especially Josie with tough decisions.

Zentner nails this story. The girls were easy to connect with, their dilemmas seemed realistic, and the conclusion was satisfying. I loved the humor and quick dialogue but was also heartbroken for the girls as they dealt with the first steps of becoming adults and faced the consequences of their choices. Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee has good crossover appeal to older readers, and I fully recommend it. Note that I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 10 hr, 20 min) read by Sophie Amoss and Phoebe Strole, who blended well together and delivered on the full range of emotions. See AudioFile magazine for my audiobook review. (Review copy provided by the publisher; audiobook provided for a freelance review)

thoughts about Ancestral Night by Elizabeth BearI gave Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear (Gallery, March 2019; Simon & Schuster Audio, 16 hr, 48 min) more than a fair chance. This first in a new space opera series has garnered much praise. In the far future, Halmey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz (male) fly a space salvage ship, collecting debris that has been left behind by all kinds of sentient species. When trying to score big, they uncover a secret and catch the attention of space pirates and the universe authorities. The entire story is told from Halmey's point of view (supposedly her diary), which is full of introspection and angst. I wish I knew why I devoted 10 hours of my life to this audiobook. There was too much "being in Halmey's head" for me, which consisted mostly of her wondering if she was doing the right thing, missing her friends, tweaking her emotions, ruminating over her upbringing, and reviewing her one big failed relationship. I guess I kept thinking something or other would happen. Sigh. Narrator Nneka Okoye did a fine job delivering Halmey's inner voice, but in the end, I had to say good-bye. (audiobook copy provided by the publisher)

thoughts on The Wolf Connection by Teo AlferoFortunately, I didn't spend much time at all with The Wolf Connection: What Wolves Can Teach Us about Being Human by Teo Alfero (Atria, June 25). This book was compared to Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs's Women Who Run with the Wolves and with Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus. Who could resist downloading a review copy? I pretty much jumped at the chance to read this. I wish I had paid closer attention to the publisher's summary, because I quickly realized this was not a book for me. On the other hand, it may be the perfect book for you. I was looking for study about animal behavior, but what I got was the story of a program that helps heal people and guide them to a fuller life through a connection with these amazing animals. I support any program that can help people move past trauma while at the same time preserve Native American lore and can further our understanding of wolf behavior. It just wasn't the book I was expecting to read this week, and so put it aside. I may return to The Wolf Connection later in the year, now that I understand what it's all about. (digital copy provided by the publisher)

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22 June 2019

Weekend Cooking: Recapping the Abrams Dinner Party 2018-2019

All about Abrams Dinner Party 2018-2019As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I've now finished introducing you to the entire food and drink list published by Abrams Books since fall of last year. I've felt very privileged to have been invited to the Abrams Dinner Party and thrilled to have shared my experiences with their cookbooks over the last year.

Abrams is already looking forward to next year, and they've recently posted the application form for the 2019-2020 edition of the Abrams Dinner Party. If you're interested in having a seat at the table next year, be sure to fill out the form, which is found on the Dinner Party website.

The Power of Sprinkles by Amirah KassemI encourage all of you to fill out the application. On the website, you'll find testimonials from some of this year's guests, including one from me. Abrams makes it so easy to spread the word about their cookbooks, and--in case you're wondering--they expect Dinner Party members to be honest about their opinions. This is not a paid gig, but you will receive all the food and cooking books Abrams will publish next year.

Just for fun, I thought I'd recap some of the Abrams cookbooks I reviewed this year. I received 13 titles from Abrams to share with you, and I can honestly say there were no misses in this batch. Naturally, I related to some cookbooks more than others, but I wasn't disappointed in any of them. Each was beautifully designed and fully met the expectations of its audience. My favorite photo of the year, the Fairy Toast recipe from The Power of Sprinkles by Amirah Kassem, is shown above.

Instead of using the publisher's images of the cookbook covers, I took pictures of my personal copies so you could see the sticky notes marking recipes that I've made or that I plan to make. Yeah, I should buy stock in those things. Note that the links lead to my full reviews.

Cookbooks That Surprised Me

All about the Abrams Dinner PartyI admit I was feeling a little neutral when I found Cali'flour Kitchen by Amy Lacey and Pescan by Abbie Cornish and Jacqueline King Schiller in my mailbox. Don't get me wrong, we love cauliflower and eat it quite often. We also eat fish and are what I think is now called flexitarians, meaning we eat about 50 percent vegetarian. I was worried that I wouldn't find enough recipes in these books to suit our tastes and needs.

Boy was I wrong--big time! Once I began looking through and reading the cookbooks, I found tons of appealing recipes. I was excited to learn how to make our own cauliflower rice (saving money and controlling ingredients) and was amazed at all the ways cauliflower can be transformed to mimic other ingredients. As for Pescan, well, I fell in love with an awesome bean, pesto, and grilled shrimp dish and discovered our new favorite way to eat carrots. As you can see, I found way more than just two recipes to add to my repertoire.

Cookbooks That Are More Than They Seem

All about the Abrams Dinner PartyBased on just the titles, you might think you know exactly what both Icing on the Cake by Tessa Huff and Homemade Christmas by Yvette Van Boven are all about. So did I. But the truth is that each of these books offers home cooks so much more than just cakes and holiday cheer. All you have to do is start flipping through them to get the picture (and, yes, they are full of gorgeous photos!).

Icing on the Cake turns out to be an accessible instruction cookbook on how to decorate cakes, pies, cookies, cupcakes, and more. Photographs and lots of hand-holding give you confidence to make the prettiest desserts on the buffet table. Hey, if I can make a lattice crust slab pie, so can you! The bonus of Homemade Christmas is that the recipes aren't not just for Christmas. Instead the book contains dozens of appealing dishes for fall through the first spring thaw. I learned new ways to serve Brussels sprouts and made a delicious pear salad, super yummy potatoes au gratin, and one of our new favorite rice salads.

My Three Favorites

All about the Abrams Dinner PartyIt was really hard to pick my top three cookbooks from this past year's Abrams Dinner Party titles. I still feel bad that I didn't include The Modern Cook's Year by Anna Jones, because I've cooked out that book a ton. Instead I went with three that will keep us company all summer and the ones my husband was particularly fond of. Yeah, I had to pick the meat and pizza cause it's always good to bring a smile to the family dinner table.

BBQ&A by Myron Mixon has totally upped our grilling smarts. As I said in my full review, we just can't get enough of the spice rubs and sauces. I don't think I'll ever go back to buying grocery store BBQ sauce; the homemade versions in this book are just too good (and too easy to make) to pass up. We feel as if we've barely scratched the surface of this book.

One of the major hit recipes of the Abrams Dinner Party season is found in The Bacon Bible by Peter Sherman, and I shared that relish in my review. I'm not quite sure I'll ever be tempted to make my own bacon from scratch, but I sure am glad to have recipes for bacon-infused cocktails, soups, salads, burgers, chilis, and more. We've loved every single thing we've made so far. And that apple-bacon relish! Swoon!

All about the Abrams Dinner PartyWe love, love, love making our own pizza from scratch. We often grill it, but sometimes bake it in the oven. Thus it should come as no surprise that Genuine Pizza by Michael Schwartz made it to my favorite list. What you might be surprised about is that this book contains the other major hit recipe of the year. And it's not pizza. It's the small-batch recipe for chocolate chunk cookies. As the Dinner Party guests discovered, these cookies can be stuffed with pretty much any kind of chocolate or chocolate candies that float your boat. I'm making some tomorrow!

Finally, I want to take this moment to thank Abrams for inviting me to the Dinner Party. I have so many more recipes to try and to share with you, and it's all thanks to the good people at Abrams Books. If you're interested in joining the fun, be sure to visit the Dinner Party website and fill out the application form. You never know, there may be a seat at the table with your name on it.

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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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21 June 2019

5 Books about Ourselves and Our World: June Nonfiction

A few days ago I was involved with an email conversation with a blogger friend of mine about the path our reading lives have taken in the last couple of a years. We were in agreement: we find ourselves turning more and more to escape reading (with some nonfiction thrown into the mix) and less and less to heavy, deep books. Coincidentally, I saw a similar conversation between two other blogger friends on Twitter just yesterday.

Perhaps it's the political climate or perhaps it's 11 years of blogging. I don't have the answer, but I'm happy to know that I'm not alone. Today's post is all about June's nonfiction that I still plan to read. I've made some headway on some of these, and hope to have fuller thoughts soon.

summary of Childfree by Choice by Amy BlackstoneChildfree by Choice by Amy Blackstone (Dutton, June 11): This look at "redefining family" is written by a research sociologist and professor who is herself, child free by choice. Blackstone's book (and her research) explores why choosing not to be a parent is still controversial, how that choice affects a couple's relationship to their extended families and friends, and what it all might mean for our world at large. Spoiler: she sees many positives. Granted, you might dismiss her as defending her own lifestyle choice, but Blackstone backs up her conclusions. You can get a sense of her work and her humor on her popular blog, We're {Not} Having a Baby. Why I want to read this: I'm drawn to Childfree by Choice for a couple of reasons. First, I too am child free, mostly by choice and somewhat by failing to choose. Second, I'm interested in the author's academic viewpoint, which I suspect will differ from some of the more popular (trade) reporting on what it means to opt out of parenthood.

summary of Giants of the Monsoon Forest by Jacob ShellGiants of the Monsoon Forest by Jacob Shell (Norton, June 11): This is a kind of ethnography written by a geology professor about the relationship between humans and elephants in Burma and India. Most of us have two visions of elephants: wild and roaming the African savanna or serving the tourist industry in southeast Asia or perhaps doing tricks in a circus. In fact, elephants of the southern Asian rain forests have had a long relationship with humans, similar to the Western idea of humans and horses. They work with and for people, and develop lifelong attachments to their riders. In this book Shell introduces to the forests, the elephants, and the people who bond with them and we learn how even though the Asian elephant is not bred to be domesticated, these intelligent animals nonetheless help humans and at the same time may save an ecosystem. Why I want to read this: I jumped at the chance to read Giants of the Monsoon Forest first and foremost because I have a lifelong interest in animal behavior. In fact, my undergraduate thesis was on nonhuman primate behavior. I also have a love of elephants that I inherited from one of my grandfathers, who liked all things elephant.

summary of The Ice at the End of the World by Jon GertnerThe Ice at the End of the World by Jon Gertner (Random House, June 11): This book, written by a journalist, focuses on Greeland's melting ice sheet and its implications for our future. Did you know there were entire branches of science devoted to studying ice cores and that Greenland is one of the places to go if ice is your thing? Ice cores reveal not just Earth's history--climate, creatures, polutants--but they also hold keys to our future. Gertner talks about the island's transformation from hostile wilderness to major scientific  laboratory and then introduces us to contemporary scientists who are racing the climate-change clock to recover as much data as possible before Greeland's trillions and trillions of tons of ice melt into the sea. In addition, he gives us perspective on what it means now and what it will mean for younger generations when Greenland at last turns primarily green. Scary and fascinating stuff. Why I want to read this: If you follow my blog then you know I love nonfiction about the cold regions of our world, so The Ice at the End of the World seems a good fit for me. I'm of course interested in climate change and the fate of our planet, And, finally, I've met one of the leading ice core scientists (he's the husband of a woman I know through fiber arts), and I've been curious about his and his colleagues' work for years.

summary of The Way Home by Mark BoyleThe Way Home by Mark Boyle (June 11, Oneworld): This modern-day Walden story, set in Ireland, is written by a former businessman. Most off-the-grid memoirs have an element of wacky about them, but Boyle's experience of living without electricity (and thus without the internet) in a house he build himself follows in the footsteps of Thoreau. He's no isolationist, either, and his story is as much about life in rural Ireland as it is about reconnecting with self and nature. It's my understanding that is also an account of living without money (or very little of it), which has both benefits and risks (though healthcare is less of a worry in Ireland than it is in the United States, though I digress). Why I want to read this: I realize it wouldn't be the life for everyone, but when I was younger, I was drawn to the homesteading idea The Way Home describes a similar experience. I also like the fact that Boyle is not a cultist; he's just a guy who found a way to live with less in a world that always seems to want more, whether that's money, things, or connectedness.

Summary of One Giant Leap by Charles FishmanOne Giant Leap by Charles Fishman (Simon & Schuster; June 11): This history of how we went from a president's speech to a moon landing in less than decade is written by a journalist. Perhaps in this day and age of technology, the idea that United States successfully landed two men on the moon isn't all that shocking, but at time when color television was definitely not in every household, it was a pretty amazing accomplishment. Fishman gives us the backdoor look at the people, technology, and politics behind the moon landing. We visit the research laboratories, learn about how space suits where made, and discover the engineering behind the Apollo program. It's a story of invention and bravery and everyday acts of devotion to the project. Why I want to read this: I grew up with the manned space program and still remember watching the moon landing on our family's (black-and-white) television. I'll never stop being fascinated with space. This is the 50th anniversary of the first human to have walked on the moon and this book is just of many that tell the story.

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19 June 2019

Wordless Wednesday 535

The Continental Divide, 2019


Click image for full effect. For More Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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17 June 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 2 Novels for Armchair Travels

2 book reviews from Beth Fish ReadsHello from rainy central Pennsylvania. We've had so much rain, I'm wondering if I'll ever get my gardens in shape for the summer. I mean it's already June 17!! Yikes.

In happier news, I've been kind of absent lately because we were in Colorado last week to attend the wedding of the daughter of our close friends and found family. The weather there was beautiful, the wildflowers were out, and we could see the snowy the Rockies (we were slightly east of them). The wedding itself was perfect and we were so happy and grateful to have been there.

The downside, of course, is coming home and taking care of all.the.things. We had a family issue (all is fine now) and I was not quite where I wanted to be work-wise. By skipping some of my reading and listening time and working through the weekend, I can now (as of Sunday night) say I'm busy but in good shape. Phew!

I never get enough reading time when I'm out of town because I'm more interested in exploring and enjoying the outdoors. I did however finish one print book and one audiobook. Yep. That's about it. Oh well; every week (or two weeks!) can't be a stellar reading week.

review of Pariah by W. Michael GearPariah by W. Michael Gear (DAW, May 14). As you know, I'm a fairly recent convert to science-fiction, and the Donovan trilogy is an example what I'm loving about this genre. Oh, but wait! Did I say trilogy? Ummm, apparently there are going to be more than three books, at least that's my impression after finishing Pariah. Anyway, the short take on the main plot is that there is a small colony of Earthlings trying to colonize a new planet. They been cut off from the rest of the human worlds for a while, so they've had to adapt their cultural norms to new circumstances. But when first one and now two ships suddenly appear, life as we know it on Donovan begins to change. So what we have are culture clashes and differing opinions of how to inhabit or live in a new world. Many of the issues faced by our heroes are those faced by Western colonizers on Earth as they "discovered" the Americas, Australia, and other places. Because, of course, Donovan is not without inhabitants. And how the humans treat the native life--both plants and animals--shows that some of us haven't learned much over the centuries. Anyway, we have bad guys, good guys, people in between; we have native creatures; we have social / cultural questions; and we have lots of action, seeing as Donovan is not a paradise, even if it can support human life. Gear is great at world building, character development, and believable social interactions. Recommended series. (Thanks to the publisher for a finished copy)

review of Disappearing Earth by Julia PhillipsDisappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (Knopf, May 14): I don't think I've ever read a book set on the Kamchatka peninsula before, but I hope this won't be my last virtual visit. This book is a little hard to explain because it's kind of a genre bender. It starts off with the disappearance of two sisters, aged 8 and 11, who do the one thing we're always told not to do: accept a ride from a stranger. From there, the mystery/thriller aspects are always in the background but don't always take center stage. Instead, the chapters that follow read almost like linked stories, each one focusing on different woman or girl whose life is somehow affected by the kidnappings. A teen loses her best friend because of family differences over how to stay safe. A woman is haunted by the fact that she's pretty sure she was a witness but can't remember enough details. A family begins to wonder if the daughter/sister they thought ran away a few years earlier might have actually also been a victim. The mother of the girls can't move forward. And we meet other women suffering from other losses and troubled relationships. Along the way we learn of life on the northern peninsula and the differences between city life, village life, and native (first peoples) life and the gap between the rich and poor and between those who grew up in the USSR and those who remember only modern-day Russia. Phillips doesn't forget about the sisters and doesn't let us forget either, and so the snapshots of life in another place do come around again to remind us that the story is driven by the fate of the girls. A book I'm going to think about for a while. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 11 hr, 15 min) wonderful read by Ilyana Kadushin. My audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine, but I can tell you that I was totally taken in by Kadushin's portrayals of the various women and girls. The only problem with the audiobook edition is that you won't have a copy of the map or cast of characters. (review copy provided for a freelance assignment)

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