24 February 2020

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: I'm Reading Again

Book thoughts from Beth Fish ReadsOkay, I admit it. I need a total reset, not a weekly reset. If you're a regular or semi-regular reader of Beth Fish Reads, then you know that I'm primarily about two things. I write about the books I've read and I write about the books coming out in the current month that caught my attention or that I think you all would be interested in.

Because of various family issues, I have hardly touched let alone written about January or February books. I've decided to cut my losses and shed the nagging sense of responsibility. March is going to be a new beginning, a clean slate. And I'm going to pretend that March starts today.

Of course, I still need to catch up with work and take care of duties related to my mother's estate, but I'm also going to remember the things that bring me joy and nourish my soul. That means reading, cooking, and textile arts. It also means getting back to my daily walks and paying attention to what I eat. Here's to fresh start!

Review of Age of Death by Michael J. SullivanI finished the fifth book in Michael J. Sullivan's Legends of the First Empire series. Age of Death (Grim Oak Press, Feb. 11) continues the story of the battle between the elves and the humans and takes place in two planes: the earthly and the land of the dead. I've written about all three of Sullivan's series and really can't stop praising his ability to create believable characters and a complex universe. Some of the things I love about his books: characters grow and change, characters make mistakes, it isn't always clear who is good and who is evil, people can die, the rules are consistent, and the balance of action and character study or history is spot-on. If you like epic fantasy, you'll love these books. Did I mention that Sullivan doesn't start publishing a series until the whole thing is written? Yes! No more waiting years between installments. Another thing: if you're audiobook fan, you must listen to Tim Gerard Reynolds's performances. I truly can't say enough good things about his characterizations, pacing, expression, and consistency across dozens of books. Go forth and read or listen. (audio and print editions from my personal collection)

Review of Greenwood by Michael ChristieI'm halfway through the very long but totally absorbing Greenwood by Michael Christie. (I wrote about the book earlier this month). I started out reading the book in print but have now switched to audio, which is read by Kimberly Farr (Penguin Audio; 18 hr, 37 min). I love this book! Although it has dystopian elements (the story starts in 2038 after climate change has clearly taken hold), Greenwood is mostly a family saga that stretches back to the early 20th century, complete with secrets and complex family relationships. It's also a commentary on environmental issues, especially forests and trees. I love the structure of the book, which mimics the rings of a tree as you move across the diameter: modern times, back through time, and then a return to today. This novel should appeal to a wide range of readers, especially because the dystopian elements are small yet absolutely believable (and a bit scary). Farr's performance is absorbing, and she handles the needed accents well. She hasn't created hugely divergent voices for the characters, but the differences are enough to keep us listeners on track. (Thanks to the publisher for the print ARC; audio provided for a freelance assignment)

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22 February 2020

Weekend Cooking: Cookbooks on My Mother's Shelves

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish ReadsOne of the more difficult tasks that children face after their last parent dies is cleaning out their house. My mother was still living in the same four-bedroom, two-story house that we moved to in 1964. Although neither she nor my father was a hoarder, there are still quite a number of personal items that my brothers and I need to look through.

Among my mother's things were dozens of cookbooks. Only one of my brothers is a dedicated cook, so the two of us went through the books, picking out the ones we wanted to take home. Many evoked fond memories and prompted stories about holidays or special occasions, which made our job a little bit lighter.

I ended up taking only seven cookbooks, and that's what's today's Weekend Cooking post is all about.

Lee Bailey

The first four I knew I wanted to find on my mom's shelves were all by Lee Bailey (the food writer, not the attorney). Bailey had a down-to-earth attitude about cooking and used to write a monthly column for Food & Wine magazine. As I said in a post I wrote in 2012:

Bailey's books are known for their beautiful photography, not only of the food but of the table settings, rooms, people, and natural surroundings. I love that his cookbooks are arranged by complete menus. Depending on the book and recipes, he also writes about wine choices, the inspiration behind the meal, the right occasion to serve the meal, and so on.
I'm pretty sure his books are currently out of print, which is why I was happy to find four on my mother's bookshelves. I had a really hard time finding cover images for his books; thus the fuzzy photos below.

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads
  • City Food (Clarkson Potter, 1984) has menus with such great titles as "On a Ferry," "A Swell, Swell Dinner," "On a Rooftop Terrace," and "In a Painter's Loft." Yet, in true Bailey fashion, the menus are quite accessible. Here's one: Grill tuna with Creole sauce, string beans and mushrooms, oven-baked potato chips, coconut flan, wine, and coffee.
  • Cooking for Friends (Clarkson Potter, 1992) compiles menus from around the world, including the Florida Keys, Gascony, New York City, and Tuscany. One of the Greek menus goes like this: pistachio-coated fish with cucumber sauce, orzo with onions and black olives, baked honey-mint tomatoes, and peach bread pudding with brandy jam sauce.
  • Country Desserts (Clarkson Potter, 1988) breaks from Bailey's signature menus to give us tons of recipes for down-home cakes, cobbles, cookies, ice cream, and pies. The kids' desserts are hardly just for kids and the pound cakes, muffins, tarts, and bread puddings will make your mouth water.
  • Good Parties (Clarkson Potter, 1986) covers the seasons from lazy summer lunches to city birthday parties, warming Sunday roasts, and winter getaways. A Sunday pasta dinner consists of vegetarian pasta with tomatoes and peppers, a lettuce and cheese salad, crusty bread, a peach cake, and wine and coffee.
If you ever see any of Lee Bailey's cookbooks at a yard sale or used book store, don't pass them by. Some of the ideas/meals may be dated, but all his recipes are pretty much guaranteed to succeed.

Thoughts for . . .

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish ReadsIn the late 1950s and early 1960s, Houghton Mifflin published three cookbooks: Thoughts for Food, Thoughts for Buffets, and Thoughts for Festive Foods (maybe not in that order). My mother used the latter two so much that they no longer have covers, so I had to search the internet for images (which you see to the right). So many of our long-time family favorite dishes came from these cookbooks that I had to have my mother's copies. I love that she wrote in the books and that they are so beaten up. I'm not sure how much I'll cook from these books, but I'm going smile every time I see them on my bookshelf. One puzzle though: Why didn't she own the first cookbook? Hummm.

Knopf Cooks American

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish ReadsBack in 2011, I wrote about the cookbook series Knopf Cooks American, which was published in the 1980s and 1990s (I think) and covered all kinds of cuisines and regional cooking found in United States, from the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest. I bought at least six books in the series and so was happy to see that my mom had one of the titles I didn't own.

Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America was first published in 1994 and encompasses quite a broad range of flavors and traditions. The subtitle pretty much tells you all you need to know about this cookbook: "A splendid feast of over 300 Kosher recipes, old and new. With stories from Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews who settled throughout this country." The book is also full of black-and-white family photos that document family meals, celebrations, menus, and restaurants. It doesn't look like my mother ever cooked out of this book, but I did find some recipe clippings tucked in its pages.
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 February 2020

5 Ways to Catch a Serial Killer: New Crime Fiction

If you read a lot of crime fiction, you'd think a serial killer lived on every block of every town or city in the world. I do read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, but I'm pretty sure I don't live next door to the new Ted Bundy.

The common thread of the books I feature today is that they all involve multiple murders and in all but one case the killer is yet to be identified or caught. The protagonists range from ordinary citizens to FBI agents, each one determined to find the villain before he (or she?) strikes again.

review of The Third to Die by Allison BrennanThe Third to Die by Allison Brennan (Mira, Feb. 4), stars an LAPD detective and an FBI special agent who are tasked with tracking down the "Triple Killer" before he strikes again. Every three years, starting on March 3, the killer murders three people, three days apart, and then disappears for three years before starting the cycle over. After Detective Kara Quinn finds the body of a nurse, Special Agent Mattias Costa and his forensic psychologist are sent to help investigate. The trio has three days to stop the next murder and only six days until the killer goes into hiding for three more years. Reviews have been mixed, but I'm all in, especially because this may be the start of a new series.

Review of Never Forget by Martin MichaudNever Forget by Martin Michaud (Dundurn, Feb. 11) is set in Montreal and stars police detective Victor Lessard and his partner, Jacinthe Taillon. The mystery starts out with several seemingly unrelated events: a murder, a suicide, and a missing person. Lessard and Taillon, however, soon discover the possible links among the current cases as well as some evidence that the crimes may be related to a political assassination that occurred decades earlier. The pressure is on to solve the cases before anyone else is killed. Political intrigue, conspiracy theories, and lure of revenge all play a part in this twisty mystery. This is the third in a series, but the first one to be published in English.

review of The Only Child by Mi-ae SeoThe Only Child by Mi-ae Seo (Ecco, Feb. 11) features an FBI-trained criminal psychologist who is in Seoul to interview a serial killer who insists he'll tell his story to no one else. While Seonkyeong is doing her work, her husband is moving his estranged 11-year-old daughter into their house. The girl lived with her mother and then her maternal grandparents; now that all three have died, her father has taken her in. The girl is difficult, to say the least, but more disturbing, Seonkyeong is finding a surprising number of similarities between the convicted murderer and her stepdaughter. Are Seonkyeong's suspicions legit or is she just having trouble dealing with an adolescent?

review of Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little (Viking, Feb. 25) takes place on an island off the coast of Delaware where a movie about an unsolved murder is being filmed. When Marissa Dahl takes over the film editing duties, she discovers that the movie is based on a real-life cold case that took place on that very island decades earlier; she also quickly learns that the movie set is fraught with tension and an unhappy cast and crew. After she discovers a body, Marissa suspects that the original killer may still live on the island. With the help of some local teens and her own curiosity, she sets out to expose the villain before he can strike again. The novel includes details about how movies are made as well as a little bit of romance.

review of Ten Days Gone by Beverly LongTen Days Gone by Beverly Long (Mira, Feb. 18) stars Wisconsin police detectives A.L. McKittridge and Rena Morgan who are tasked with investigating the murders of four women, who were killed  days apart in the small town of Baywood. The killer has been striking every 10 days for more than a month, leaving very few clues behind. In this first installment in a new series, we learn as much about A.L.'s and Rena's personal lives as we do about the crimes, as the detectives race to end the killing spree, overcome obstacles, and do their best to protect the woman they think could be next victim. Good character development with a nod to larger issues (such as marriage and parenthood) round out this thriller.

Which serial killer novel is calling to you? I'm equally interested in The Only Child and Pretty as a Picture.

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18 February 2020

Today's Read: A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

review of A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly JacksonWhat if a girl from your high school disappeared without a trace, and her Indian American boyfriend was accused of her murder, despite the fact that her body was never found? Would you believe the local accusations if the boy ended up killing himself? Pippa Fitz-Amobi always had fond memories of Salil Singh and just can't fully believe the stories that implicated him in Andrea Bell's murder. Several years later, Pip decides her senior project is going to involve taking a closer look into what really happened to Andie and Sal.

Here's how the first narrative chapter starts (see scan below for a look at the first graphic page):

Pip knew where they lived.

Everyone in Fairview knew where they lived.

Their home was like the town’s own haunted house; people’s footsteps quickened as they walked by, and their words strangled and died in their throats. Shrieking children would gather on their walk home from school, daring one another to run up and touch the front gate.

But it wasn’t haunted by ghosts, just three sad people trying to live their lives as before.
A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson (Delacorte Press, Feb. 4, ARC)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Fairview, Connecticut (a fictional small town)
  • Circumstances: Several years earlier, a popular girl was supposedly murdered by her boyfriend, who later killed himself. Many in Fairview were happy to blame Sal and continue to harass and shun his family. Pip, however, has never really believed that Sal was a killer. The more she looks into those horrible events, the more secrets she discovers. But can she clear Sal's name, find out what happened to Andie, and avoid getting killed—all before her senior project is due?
  • Genre & themes: murder mystery, thriller; young adult audience
  • Gleaned from reviews: twisty plotting, well constructed, hard to put down
  • Why I want to read this: Jackson has set the book up to be narrative text mixed with interviews, school forms, and other media (see screen shot below). I like a good thriller and this one has been compared to the podcast Serial and the documentary Making a Murderer (both of which I loved) because all three involve a small community that is convinced they have the answers to a murder, even if the so-called evidence is shaky at best. Plus I love books that use a variety of graphics and non-narrative storytelling.
  • Audiobook: I may decide to listen to this one because the all-star cast includes many greats, including Michael Crouch, Robert Fass, Marisa Calin, and Gopan Divan. (From Listening Library: 10 hr, 53 min)
  • Acknowledgments: Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of Holly Jackon's A Good Girl's Guide to Murder.
  • Scan: from the opening page of the digital advanced readers copy (click to enlarge if necessary).
review of A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

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15 February 2020

Weekend Cooking: Cook Something by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Review of Cook Something by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa HamiltonAre you familiar with Canal House? It's a cooking, publishing, and design company founded by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, two women who celebrate everyday, home cooking using fresh ingredients.

I've been a fan of theirs for many years, and I love their philosophy, which is all about the pleasures of cooking, especially for ourselves and those we love. Their newest cookbook, Cook Something: Recipes to Rely on (Voracious, 2019), is all about encouraging cooks of all abilities to master a few techniques and then expand on them, giving us the tools and confidence to make home-cooked meals every day.

I love the layout of the book and, of course, the beautiful photography (one of the things Hirsheimer and Hamilton are known for). For example, take the soup chapter. It starts out with several recipes for homemade stocks and broths. What follows is combination of traditional recipes--with measured ingredients and full instructions (minestrone is one of these)--and what I'm calling "ideas"--with suggested flavor pairings (beans in broth is an example).

An idea I tried is Udon Noodle Soup:

We simmered 2 pieces of beef shank in some homemade chicken stock (pages 84-87), along with 1 peeled parsnip, 1 peeled carrot, 1 peeled shallot, some parsley stems, and 3 star anise. The resulting broth was lip-smackingly sticky and rich with flavor. To the strained hot broth, we added some sliced peeled carrots and a tangle of udon, the Japanese wheat noodles. Slurp!
Review of Cook Something by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa HamiltonI, however, sliced the parsnip and carrot, later shredded the beef and returned it to the pot, used 5-spice powder instead of the anise, and served it with soba noodles. Hey, a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do. Regardless, it was delicious and super-easy to make.

Other categories of recipes in Cook Something are eggs, snacks and nibbles, salads, pastas, fish, chicken, braises, ground meats, grilling, vegetables, and desserts. Among the recipes I've tried are cheese toasts, sardine and lemon melba toasts, chicken tomato broth with raviolini, lentils with roasted beets, and the very delicious ragu bolognese.

If you're looking for new ideas for weeknight and family cooking, this is a great book for you. If you're an experienced cook who needs a push to get out of a rut, Cook Something will offer just the nudge you're looking for. If you wish you were more skilled in the kitchen, Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton will be your new best friends.

I feel confident recommending this cookbook as a buy. If you're vegetarian or vegan, however, you'll want to look before purchasing. You'll find plenty of great ideas, but many of the recipes include meat and fish.

For more on Hirsheimer and Hamilton, see this article in Food & Wine about their new restaurant. To see some more of their photography, visit their site Life at Canal House. For my review of their Spaghetti: Pronto! cookbook, click on through.

Thanks to Voracious Books for the review copy of Cook Something. The scan and recipe come from the cookbook and are used here in the context of a review. All rights remain with the original copyright holders.
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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