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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10 November 2018

Weekend Cooking: Ravioli Lasagna

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish ReadsAlthough I'm generally a cook-from-scratch kind of woman, I can't deny the convenience of some types of prepared foods. I almost always have cans of beans, jarred pasta sauce, and boxed chicken broth in the house. Sometimes I just want a no-fuss, quick meal after a long day at work.

Thanks to the March 2006 issues of Food & Wine magazine, I've found a way to put together a whole slew of store-bought ingredients for a delicious lasagna wannabe. Over the years, I've tweaked the original recipe for Vegetable-and-Ravioli Lasagna to suit our tastes, but Food & Wine's version is is also good.

I was reminded of this recipe because I'm about to head out for my annual fall lace workshop, and one of my contributions is to provide an Italian-inspired meal for Saturday's dinner. This is what I'm making this year.

Note that as you're reading this post, I'll already be out of town, so don't be surprised if I'm late to visit your blogs. I'll get there as soon as I can. Also the photo of the plated lasagna is from the Food & Wine site. Finally, despite the way it looks, my photo of the ingredients is not a Wegman's advertisement! I'm a happy customer, not a paid promoter of their products.

Weekend Cooking: Ravioli LasagnaThe biggest change I made to the recipe was to omit the roasted/grilled vegetables. I usually use my own homemade pasta sauce, which includes vegetables, so I don't add more. But even when I use store-bought sauce, I leave the veggies out; the spinach ravioli seems to be enough.

I have made this ravioli lasagna without boiling the pasta before baking it. The recipe works just fine that way, if you add about half again as much sauce.

Variations: I usually use half mild and half hot Italian sausage. Sometimes I use one package cheese ravioli, one spinach, and one mushroom. The recipe can be cut in half and baked in an 8-by-8-inch pan.

Here's my version of the recipe; click the link for the original.

Ravioli Lasagna
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 8

  • Weekend Cooking: Ravioli Lasagna1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 mild Italian pork sausages (6 ounces), casing removed
  • 2 hot Italian pork sausages (6 ounces), casing removed
  • 1 (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce, or vegetable pasta sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 (14-ounce) packages fresh cheese ravioli
  • 1 (14-ounce) package fresh spinach-and-cheese ravioli
  • 12 ounces (3 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking pan (3-quart baking dish).

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook over moderately high heat, stirring and breaking up the lumps with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the marinara sauce and the water and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add all the ravioli to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain the ravioli and return them to the pot. Add the sausage marinara mixture and toss gently to coat the ravioli.

Spoon one-third of the ravioli and sauce into the baking dish. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella and 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan. Repeat two more times (to make three layers in total).

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling. Remove the foil and bake 25 minutes until browned and bubbling. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
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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08 November 2018

7 Books for Crime Fiction Fans

There's something about long winter (late fall) nights that draws me to crime fiction. This November is no exception, and my reading list this month includes books featuring spies, serial killers, private detectives, and amateur sleuths. Here are seven novels to look for right now.

All about Forever and a Day by Anthony HorowitzForever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz (Harper, November 6): Attention James Bond Fans: Have you ever wondered how the debonaire agent got his start? The Ian Fleming estate authorized Horowitz to write this prequel to Casino Royale, in which we learn how Bond earned his reputation and his “license to kill.” Set in the 1950s on the French Riviera, the book includes all the familiar Bond tropes, including a sexy female agent of questionable loyalties and plenty of martinis. I generally have mixed feelings about continuing series after an author has died, but I’m curious. Its Goodreads rating is 4 stars. (cold war thriller)

All about A Dangerous Duet by Karen OddenA Dangerous Duet by Karen Odden (William Morrow, November 6): If you’re looking to start a new series right from the beginning, check out this mystery set in Victorian England. The novel features a brother-sister team: Matthew’s a young detective with Scotland Yard, and Nell’s an aspiring pianist who wants to further her studies. When Nell’s job puts her in the path of danger and Matthew is assigned a major case to bring down a gambling ring, the siblings realize they’re after the same gang of criminals. According to reviews, readers can expect a good mix of historical details, well-drawn characters, and a nicely wrought mystery. Its Goodreads rating is 4.3 stars. (historical detective mystery)

All about Inhuman Resources by Pierre LemaitreInhuman Resources by Pierre Lemaitre (Quercus, November 13): Four years after a middle-aged human resource manager lost his job, he is finally offered a chance at employment. Alain’s pride is worn thin, so he agrees to participate in “the ultimate recruitment test: a role-playing game that involves taking hostages.” Soon, however, Alain begins to understand that this is no game, and he really doesn’t stand a chance of success. Nothing goes as expected, and Alain’s world spins out of control. This novel promises dark humor and a tight plot. Its Goodreads rating is 3.74. (noir thriller)

All about Sweetpea by C. J. SkuseSweetpea by C. J. Skuse (Mira, November 27): I can’t resist a story starring a fellow editor. In this thriller, a young woman with a troubled childhood has found peace in her safe job as an editorial assistant, her dog, and her committed boyfriend. But beneath that sweet exterior lurks an anger that is just waiting for one more personal affront to let it bubble up to the surface: will the trigger be the unfriendly clerk, people who don’t know how to queue up properly, or a rude co-worker? This book, written in diary form, has been repeatedly called darkly comic. Who knew a serial killer could make you laugh? Its Goodreads rating is 4. (suspense, thriller)

All about The Pallbearer by Jordan FarmerThe Pallbearer by Jordan Farmer (Skyhorse, November 20): In a small West Virginia town in the post–coal mine economy, the Gilbert family rules with an iron fist. When two local men—one a social worker and one just barely scraping by—find themselves enmeshed in family business, they are forced into a tight spot, with the law on one side and the Gilberts on the other. Plot lines include blackmail, murder, dwindling prospects, and drugs, and the book features LGBTQ+ and physical different characters. Its Goodreads rating is 3.86. (crime fiction)

All about Naughty on Ice by Maia ChanceNaughty on Ice by Maia Chance (Minotaur, November 13): If you like your mysteries taken with a side dish of fun, give this Prohibition-era series a try. A society lady and her faithful cook have a reputation for finding lost items, but sometimes their investigations take a murderous bent. In this outing the detecting duo accept a holiday invitation to Vermont where they've been asked to look for an antique ring. Unfortunately, the wealthy family that hired them is missing its Christmas cheer, and the two women end up being the prime suspects when an elderly aunt is found poisoned. Small-town secrets and 1920s cocktails come into play. Its Goodreads rating is 4.2. (cozy mystery)

All about The Feral Detective by Jonathan LethemThe Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem (Ecco, November 6): A chatty young woman seeks the help of a taciturn private detective: she is trying to track down a missing girl, and he’s supposed to have a talent for finding the lost. As the two search the underbelly of California’s interior, they must find a way to safely navigate the survivalists, ex-hippies, and other groups who are living off the grid and who are fiercely protective of their own. Finding the girl may be the least of their troubles in this strange world nestled within our own. Underlying themes address the current state of affairs in America, such as the deep political and economic divides. Its Goodreads rating is 3.3. (detective story / thriller)

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