16 October 2019

Wordless Wednesday 543

Maine, 2019

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15 October 2019

Today's Read: The Art of Regret by Mary Fleming

review of The Art of Regret by Mary FlemingImagine that you have accepted your unexceptional life as a solitary struggling shop owner who lives above his store. How would you react when chance circumstances boost your business? What if you then begin a forbidden love affair? At some point you will have to face the consequences of these life changes. Here is how Trevor McFarquhar's story begins:

For many years, in what might have been the prime of my life, I lived and worked on the rue des Martyrs. This narrow market street, which begins its climb at the northern edge of the banking and insurance district and ends in the skein of streets that wraps around the Sacre Coeur at the heart of Montmartre, is not on the tourist circuit and has no pretensions to Parisian grandeur. Behind and above its modest shop fronts are forgettable lives. Lives like my own, which I had reduced to a box, a one-room apartment on top of a one-room shop. Though the two were once a unit, at some point and for some reason--to make more space, to rent the shop and studio separately--the connecting stairs had been disconnected and my room could only be reached by an enclosed stairway in the courtyard. It's not unusual in  a city with a long history. Buildings change their function and configuration, and one structure is squeezed in front of, behind, or beside another. It's just such quirks that have made Paris Paris, a city of endless layers and perspectives, a city of story upon story.
The Art of Regret by Mary Fleming (She Writes Press, Oct. 22, p. 10 [ARC])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Paris, mid-1990s
  • Circumstances: Trevor McFarquhar was born in America but grew up in Paris after his newly widowed mother moved with her two young sons to France. Now in his late thirties, Trevor is estranged from his family and lives above his bicycle shop, barely squeaking by. His life changes when a transit strike creates a demand for bikes and a long-smouldering romance is given a chance to bloom. The newfound business success comes at the nick of time, but his relationship could cut the last remaining threads Trevor has with his mother and brother. Trevor is forced to set priorities and decide what kind of man he wants to be.
  • Genre & themes: fiction; second chances, late coming-of-age, healing old wounds, family, family secrets
  • Some random thoughts: Trevor is dealing with many unresolved issues from his past and has conflicted feelings about his family. Thus he finds it difficult to make connections and has been happy with casual hook-ups and uncommitted relationships. His business success has given him a new outlook, but he remains irresponsible when it comes to romantic partners. I'm curious if he has the courage to confront his past and change his present.
  • The author: Fleming, herself an American who has relocated to France, fills her novel with insider details of Paris, including prevailing attitudes about families, social class, and politics.
  • Acknowledgments: Thanks to Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity for the review copy of The Art of Regret.

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14 October 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: What I Read Last Week

What to read in October 2019Last week was interesting to say the least. It started out with a mini-work crunch brought on because I decided to accompany my husband to Maine. He is here for work, and because I work for myself and from home, I was able to temporarily relocate my office. But first I had to work ahead, then we had to get the house ready for the house sitter, and then we had the long drive up to New England.

Despite the hassles, I’m glad I made the trip.

I didn’t have much time to read or listen last week, but I did manage to finish two short books, ditch another one, and start a couple more.

Review of Machine by Susan SteinbergMachine by Susan Steinberg (Graywolf, Aug. 20). A short novel that can be interpreted in a number of ways. In this book, all of the characters and locations remain nameless, but the story takes place over the course of a summer at the shore (which says New Jersey to me) and is told through the eyes of a privileged teenage girl. This the summer the teenager’s perspective shifts, particularly after one of the local girls drowns during a night of partying. Besides obsessing over the circumstances of the death (was her brother involved? was it an accident? did she herself play a part?), she is awakened to her parents’ flaws, her brother’s downhill spiral, and her own place in the world. She begins to sense both the power and limitations of being female, and begins to make deeper connections between wealth, choices, actions, and consequences. That’s a lot to fit into 144 pages, but Steinberg pulls it off. There’s a poetic rhythm to the text, especially as the protagonist’s thoughts spill out and the girl is filled with a jumble of emotions. Machine isn’t for everyone, but it could make my top ten list for this year. Sophie Amoss does an amazing job performing the unabridged audiobook (Blackstone; 3 hr, 34 min); see AudioFile magazine for my audiobook review. (audiobook provided for freelance assignment)

Review of Can You Hear the Trees Talking? by Peter Wohlleben Can You Hear the Trees Talking? by Peter Wohlleben (Greystone Kids, Oct. 1). Both Mr. BFR and I loved Wohleben’s The Secret Live of Trees, and I was curious how the German forester would transform that essay collection into a book for middle grade readers. What I found was a delightful way to introduce children to the wonders of the trees and to the world of the forest. Wohlleben begins each chapter with a question, such as Do trees get thirsty? How do trees have children? Can trees talk to each other? and What makes trees sick? The answers are fun and easy to read and are illustrated with great photos, including pictures of children and animals in the great outdoors. Readers will find quizzes, experiments to try, and observational quests. We learn about the animals, fungi, and bugs that interact with trees, and we discover the benefits of trees in the wild and in the city. The book ends with a look at a forest through the seasons. Any child who is curious about nature would love Can You Hear the Trees Talking?, and it would make a great book for family activities as well as for use in a traditional or homeschool curriculum. For more about Wohleben, see Greystone Book’s interview. (digital copy provided by the publisher)

review of Call Upon the Water by Stella TillyardCall Upon the Water by Stella Tillyard (Atria, Sept. 17). The story of a seventeenth-century Dutch engineer and surveyor who helped with “draining and developing an expanse of marshy wetlands known as the Great Level” in England. After a complicated relationship with a woman he met in the marshes, Jan flees to the New World, where his services are again needed in New Amsterdam. I really wanted to love this book, but despite great period details and the promise of intrigue, betrayal, and maybe romance, I just didn’t connect to Jan or his situation. I tried this book in print, digital, and audio formats, but in the end, I decided to put it aside at just about halfway through. Note that other reviewers have raved about Call Upon the Water, and perhaps I should have read or listened to it during a calmer week. If you like historical fiction that offers a mix of science and drama, you should give it a try. (all three formats provided by the publisher)

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12 October 2019

Weekend Cooking: From Scratch by Michael Ruhlman

Review of From Scratch by Michael RuhlmanYou'll have to forgive me if I start this post by quoting myself, when I wrote about Michael Ruhlman's book How to Roast, because I can't introduce him any better than I did then:

There are a handful of cookbook authors whose books I just have to own: sometimes because I know the recipes will be foolproof and sometimes because I know I'll learn something. Michael Ruhlman succeeds on both these accounts while providing that magic third element of timelessness.
Michael Ruhlman's newest book is From Scratch (Abrams, Oct. 15), which I received as part of the Abrams Dinner Party program. I was happy to see that Ruhlman included my all-time favorite way to roast chicken (see the cover photo), which I discovered in his earlier roasting book. You may think you know how to roast chicken, but his method is seriously moist and delicious.

Now, here's where From Scratch does something a bit different. Ruhlman doesn't stop with the main dish, he goes on to teach us how to make a couple of sauces, how to brine a chicken (if we're so inclined), and how to add in a salsa verde or other flavors. He tells us how to cook a spatchcocked chicken (another favorite of mine) and how to turn a store-bought rotisserie chicken into a comforting feast after a long day.

Review of From Scratch by Michael RuhlmanBut wait, there's more! What else can you do with your chicken? Ruhlman to the recuse: make stock, make soup, make consomme. Serve it with Brussel sprouts or broccoli and take your pick of potato options. Have leftovers? Make a chicken salad or chicken pot pie.

Ruhlman treats omelets, lasagna, steak frites, paella, cassoulet, slow-roasted pork shoulder, curry, the BLT, and the profiterole in the same manner. A base recipe spins and curves and bends into many others (see the scan to the right). So you see, even though the subtitle says "10 meals," the 175 included recipes help you create enough dinners to get you through, say, a half year. Then you can start all over again and continue to perfect your skills.

Ruhlman adds plenty of extras throughout From Scratch, such as notes on specific ingredients (like summer tomatoes), thoughts on a variety of dishes (like risotto), and tips on techniques (like toasting spices). You'll also find a few cocktail recipes and lots of solid good advice.

I love Ruhlman's easygoing attitude about what "from scratch" means. While it'd be amazing to raise your own livestock and grow your own grains, vegetables, and fruit to make a truly from scratch dinner, in the long run:
"From Scratch" is an attitude, not a recipe or a ridgid set of instructions. Take a whole chicken, place it in a skillet, roast it in a hot oven for an hour--dinner from scratch.
Michael Ruhlman's From Scratch is the perfect cookbook for anyone who wants to hone his or her kitchen skills, whether that person is just learning to cook or has been cooking for decades. Besides all the delicious, well-presented recipes, I love how Ruhlman demonstrates just how easy it is to serve from-scratch dinners, even after a jam-packed day at work or school. If you've been in a rut or have lost your cooking mojo or passion, this is the book for you. If you love to cook or wish you knew how to cook or if you're somewhere in between, put From Scratch on your wish list.

Review of From Scratch by Michael RuhlmanThe first from scratch dinner I made From Scratch was pulled pork sandwiches. I made the bread from scratch, I cooked the pork (locally produced) slow and low in the oven, I made the BBQ sauce, and I made the broccoli slaw using vegetables from the farmer's market. I did buy the pickles, but, hey, I didn't have weeks to wait!

Ruhlman's Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder was amazingly tender and flavorful for such a simple preparation. The recipe includes quite a lot of extra information and tips on how to speed up the process or slow it down, so I encourage you to get a copy of the cookbook (from the library or the store).

The photos (above and below) are of my own bread baked from Ruhlman's recipe (it looks just like the photo in the book!) and the finished dish. We were in heaven.

Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder
Review of From Scratch by Michael RuhlmanServes 8
  • 1 (4-pound / 1.8 kilogram) bone-in pork shoulder or 1 (3-pound / 1.36 kilogram boneless pork shoulder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 275F/135C.

Give all surfaces of the pork a generous coating of salt. Put the pork in a Dutch oven or other large pot, cover it, and put it in the oven for 4 hours (or a little less for a boneless shoulder).

Remove the lid and check to see if it's tender by shredding it with two forks. If it doesn't pull easily, cover the pot and return it to the oven for another hour, or until it does.
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 2019

Still Reading; or What's in My (Virtual) Book Tote

Am I the only one who has more than one style of reading? I bet not. Most of the time, I read books the regular way—starting on page 1 and reading to the end, straight through, in short order. Other books I read piecemeal over the course of several weeks or even months, and not necessarily in order from the first page to the last.

What? Am I crazy? Maybe, but let me explain. The books I’m talking about are collections of short stories or essays, travel writing, food writing, history, some biographies, and other nonfiction. For example, I might be interested in a trade book on, say, dinosaurs. Because I’ve read quite a lot about paleontology, not only in graduate school but also for fun, my approach may be to skim some of the background chapters and then to read carefully when the author turns to newer research or discoveries.

I’m content with my weird reading habits, but I’m often uncomfortable talking about the books I've read unconventionally here on Beth Fish Reads. I can't help but wonder if I should share my thoughts about a book I haven’t read cover to cover or that took me a while to read. It’s silly isn’t it? If I make it clear I’m still reading, then why not let you know what I think so far?

That’s what today’s post is all about. Here are the books in my current slow-read stack. (Print or digital copies provided by the publisher or publicist.)

Review of An Encyclopedia of Tolkien by David DayI’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan, which I first read when I was in sixth or seventh grade. Since then, I’ve reread the entire series, starting with The Hobbit, about every five years. It’s no surprise that I was excited to get a chance to read David Day’s An Encyclopedia of Tolkien: The History and Mythology That Inspired Tolkien’s World (Canterbury Classics, Oct. 8). Before I get to the contents, just let me tell you that this leather-bound hardback is simply gorgeous. It has gilded edges, a marker ribbon, and contains close to 200 beautiful black-and-white drawings of Tolkien’s universe. Day includes entries on people and characters, lands, creatures, and events found in the books. Some entries relate to Tolkien’s inspirations and scholarship, and others are about gods and legends from various traditions (Greek, Roman, Norse, biblical). I’ve been flipping through, admiring the artwork and reading the entries that catch my eye. If you are a LOTR fan, then you must have a copy, and if there is a Tolkien lover in your family, then this is the perfect gift.

Review of Daughters of Chivalry by Kelcey Wilson-LeeI’m not sure what triggered my interest in the Middle Ages, but I find it hard to resist novels set during that period, and I also like reading medieval history. Kelcey Wilson-Lee’s biography and history, Daughters of Chivalry: The Forgotten Children of King Edward Longshanks (Pegasus, Oct. 1) is more than the story of Edward I’s five daughters. Wilson-Lee presents a non-romanticized look at the complex lives of medieval noblewomen. I’m still in the early chapters, so can’t comment on the overall level of scholarship or conclusions, but I like the different perspectives. Women and girls were, of course, used by men for political or economic gain; that didn’t mean, however, they were totally without independence, that they couldn’t be successfully defiant, or that they couldn’t find ways to take full advantage of their circumstances. Far from being demure damsels in distress waiting for their knight in shining armor, women sometimes had the power to save themselves. I’m assuming Edward’s daughters do just that. Other themes are education, childbirth, and court life.

Review of How to Catch a Mole by Marc HamerMy father was on a lifelong mission to rid our yard and gardens of moles. This was one battle he lost. In How to Catch a Mole: Wisdom from a Life Lived in Nature (Greystone, Oct. 1), Marc Hamer shares his journey from professional mole hunter to mole accepter. This book offers a little bit of everything because Hamer, himself, has had a multilayered life. The essays and poems collected here reveal the hidden life of moles, recount Hamer's own journey to and from his solitary profession, and bring us closer to nature. In the introduction, Hamer tells us,

There is a difference between truth and honesty, so I am going to tell you one of the millions of honest stories that I could tell you that might be good enough to call ‘true’. One of the stories that led me to the point of kneeling in a muddy field in December with a dead mole in my hand and deciding it was time to stop killing.
The book is beautifully illustrated with black-and-white drawings by Joe McLaren. I'm reading this collection, one essay or poem at a time. One thing, though, even if my dad (who really did love animals) had had the chance to read this book, I doubt he'd have given up on his dream of a mole-free property.

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