18 September 2019

Wordless Wednesday 541

Asters, 2019


Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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16 September 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Reading across the Genres

book reviews from Beth Fish ReadsOh happy day! I'm now officially back to a human-level workload. I met all my crazy deadlines last week and now I'm looking forward to having more time to read blogs and, especially, to read books. Yay!

I spent the weekend doing some baking (sandwich / toast bread and banana bread) and catching up with the household chores. I even did a little fun shopping.

We finally started the second season of Mindhunter, and it's just as good as we remembered. We often make Saturday a movie night, but this week, we ended up reading and listening to music instead. It was relaxing and just what I needed.

Here's what I listened to and read last week.

review of Elin Hilderbrand's What Happens in ParadiseI couldn't resist listening to Elin Hilderbrand's What Happens in Paradise (Little, Brown, Oct. 8). This is the second book in Hiderbrand's Paradise series, which is set on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The story revolves mostly around the Steele family, a few months after Russell, the father/husband, was killed in a helicopter accident. Irene is still reeling from her sudden widowhood and because she had no idea her husband had a secret life in the islands: not only a much younger mistress but also a tween daughter. The only good news is that Irene's husband left her a wealthy woman . . . or did he? It turns out Russell's business may not have been on the up and up. Sons Cash and Baker have their own woes: Cash's outdoor supply store is going under and Baker's wife is leaving him for a woman. Independently, all three decide to relocate to Russell's St. John luxury villa and think about a fresh start. In Hilderbrand's signature style, the story involves family and romantic relationships with broader themes stirred into the mix. In this case, the novel deals with sleazy business dealings, tax havens, secrets, and ethics. I loved getting to know the Steele family and their friends in St. John. As always with Hilderbrand, I felt the relationships and characters were realistic, and I'm fully invested in what happens next. But ARGH, I hate waiting until next fall to find out whether the Steeles find lasting happiness.

The unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 9 hr, 47 min) was read by Erin Bennett, who (as I've said before) is *the* voice of Elin Hilderbrand. I love the way Bennett picks up on Hilderbrand's style and tempo. She also creates great characterizations and never tips us off when someone is hiding secrets. Can't wait for next fall. (digital and audio copies provided by the publisher)

review of Renia's Diary by Renia SpiegelRenia's Diary (St. Martin's Press, Sept. 24) by Renia Spiegel and her sister, Elizabeth Bellak, is one of those rare things: a Holocaust diary that reveals the daily life of a young girl in Russian-occupied Poland. The diary starts out with typical 15-year-old thoughts about school and gossipy comments about classmates. After Poland is divided between Germany and Russia, Renia's thoughts turn to her mother, who is living in the German side -- almost daily she writes about how much she misses her mother as she tries to cope with everyday teenage issues (school, girls, boys) in an increasingly dangerous environment. Reina and her family are Jewish, but not particularly religious. She hopes God will protect her, but she never mentions going to the synagogue and only rarely acknowledges a holiday. Her diary is filled with poems she writes for various occasions and to express her deep feelings. Life gradually changes as food and goods become more scarce, the Germans come, and Jews are put under more and more restrictions. Finally, she is to be sent to the ghetto, and Jews without work permits will be likely be sent away to camps. Reina, 18 years old by then, hands her diary over to her longtime boyfriend. He hides Reina and his parents with friends and smuggles Reina's little sister into the city, where she is eventually taken to Warsaw to be reunited with her mother. Reina and the elderly couple were not so lucky. Decades after the war, the boyfriend tracks Elizabeth and her mother down in New York and returns the diary, where it remained hidden to the world until relatively recently. It's a hard read, but important. I read a digital galley and thus missed the photographs, though many are shown on the Smithsonian website. Never forget--especially in the current political climate. (digital copy provided by the publisher)

review of The Swallows by Lisa LutzThe Swallows by Lisa Lutz (Ballantine; Aug. 13) is set in a New England boarding school and addresses the #MeToo movement and sexual bullying. When new teacher Alex Witt asks her creative writing students to fill out an anonymous Q&A about themselves (what do you like, what do you hate, who are you), she learns about something called the Darkroom, which turns out to be a secret website created by the academy's male students. The site includes inappropriate photographs of female classmates and the running scores for a contest the girls don't know they're participating in: who gives the best blow jobs. Although the Darkroom and contest are not all that secret, the faculty seems to have a boys will be boys attitude. Alex is having none of it and so begins to help a couple of the girls who are determined to shut the boys down. The story is told from a variety of viewpoints and includes a couple of other plot lines. Lutz has written a timely book, and I hope it makes at least some young adults think twice about their behavior. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio, 11 hr) read by a Abby Elliot, Lisa Flanagan, Ari Fliakos, Michael Crouch and Johnny Heller. The performances were spot-on and captured the different emotional reactions of the students and faculty. More on the audiobook at AudioFile magazine. (audio copy for a freelance assignment)

review of Cat Science Unleashed by Jodi Wheeler-ToppenCat Science Unleashed by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen (photos by Matthew Rakola) is a National Geographic Kids book (Aug. 27) that helps kids (and adults) learn more about their furry feline friends through easy in-home experiments and activities. The book is illustrated with photographs of kids and and their pets, and I'm happy to report that the book features a diverse group of young scientists. The activities help us learn about cat health, senses, predatory behavior, and intelligence. The activities are easy, fun, and inexpensive to do. For example, kids can test their pet's hearing and purring by using a smartphone. The photos, fonts, and colors are engaging, and I can't wait to try some of these tests with my niece's cats. Fun and informative for cat lovers of all ages. Below is an example spread from the book--click to enlarge. (print copy provided by the publisher)

review of Cat Science Unleashed by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen

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14 September 2019

Weekend Cooking: The Abrams Dinner Party: 2019-2020

I'm so excited to announce today that I've been invited to be a member of the Abrams Dinner Party for another year. As you well know, I love pretty much all the cookbooks and food / beverage books that Abrams publishes each year.

If you're new here, you might not know what it means to have a place at the Abrams Dinner Party. Here's the 411:

Thanks to the wonderful people at Abrams, I will receive a copy of each book in their entire food and drink catalog for their current fall season and upcoming winter, and spring seasons, so I can share the goodness found inside those book covers with you.

 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 to share tips and tricks and anything I think would be fun to write about. I'm looking forward to another year of learning, cooking, and discovery.

So how does this affect my opinions and reviews of the books I receive through the Abrams Dinner Party Program? 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. Again, I'm not getting paid and I will always give you my true opinion.

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This week I got my first batch of books for the fall season. I haven't had much time to look through any of them yet, but I can tell you right now I'm thrilled to see food writing and memoir along with the straight-up cookbooks. I love learning about food and drink as much as I love cooking and baking. In the coming weeks, you'll be learning a lot more about every one of the books shown here, but I thought I'd give you a little sneak peek.

We have a cider book, a food history, a food memoir, a cookbook written by one of my all-time favorite technique authors (and copyedited by a long-time virtual friend of mine), and a vegetarian book of one of my favorite cuisines. These all are already winners for me. I'm seriously so incredibly thrilled to explore each and every title, I can hardly contain myself.

Oh, and I have to throw out a little teaser: the artwork and photographs in these books are super-duper. I mean, I just want to sit down and look at the pictures in at least three of these books.

So, buckle down and get ready. I'm planning on reviewing the first of these books next Saturday!

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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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09 September 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Late Summer Reading

short book reviews from Beth Fish ReadsHappy Monday! It's been a while since I wrote a review post, so this is going to be long on books, but not necessarily long on words. Despite feeling overworked, I've still found time to make a dent in my reading list.

Even though it's September, I'm still reading summer books, though I just started listening to the new fall Elin Hiderbrand book. I couldn't wait any longer to read the next installment in her St. Johns trilogy.

We watched the movie Mary, Queen of Scots on HBO this past weekend. What a disappointment. Not only was it historically inaccurate but it was somewhat superficial. It didn't address any of the burning questions we have about Mary, so I'm not quite sure what the point of the movie was. Perhaps I was just too burned out from work to catch the details.

review of Someone We Know by Shari LapenSomeone We Know by Shari Lapena (Pamela Dorman Books; July 30): This thriller involves several families living in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in a small town in the Hudson Valley. The story starts off with a murder, and from there we learn about infidelities, betrayals, break-ins, and bad parenting. We meet best friends, troubled couples, a snoopy widow, and a couple of teenage boys with issues. Seriously, I would not want to live in that town. The gist of the book is figuring out who did the killing and why and whether any of the other neighborhood issues has anything at all to do with the death. Someone We Know held my attention, but there were a number of eye-rolling moments. The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 7 hr, 50 min) was read by Kirsten Potter, who did a fine job with capturing the characters' personalities and their reactions to the various goings-on among their friends. (print and audio review copies provided by the publishers)

Review of I Guess I'll Write It Down by Beth EvansI Guess I'll Write It Down by Beth Evans (Morrow Gifts, June 11): This little hardcover journal is filled with a combination of lined and dot-grid pages, and at just over 6 x 4 inches, it's the perfect size to slip into your purse or tote bag. I'm not very good at keeping a journal on an everyday basis, but I do like to carry a small journal when I travel. It's the perfect size for jotting down info you want to remember: that restaurant you liked, the wine you tasted, or the museum you visited. You always think you're going to remember when you get back to your hotel, but I have better luck when I write things down right away. If you like to record your dreams, this little journal would be perfect for that too. I Guess I'll Write It Down would also make a nice stocking stuffer or hostess gift. (print copy provided by the publisher)

Review of The Perfect Wife by J. P. DelaneyThe Perfect Wife by J. P. Delaney (Ballantine, Aug. 6): This techno/domestic thriller has shades of the movie Stepford Wives. Five years after his wife disappears under mysterious circumstances, Tim -- a leading AI developer -- succeeds in building a companion robot with Abbie's face and memories. What happens when the bot-Abbie develops self-awareness and begins to wonder what really happened to Tim's wife? To make matters more complicated she is beginning to question how Abbie could have voluntarily left her autistic son. The mystery/thriller parts of The Perfect Wife are very twisty and make you think about some of the issues surrounding AI. In addition the novel tackles theories of treating children on the autism spectrum. I stuck with the story, but I didn't love it. The majority of the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 10 hr, 42 min) was read by Saskia Maarleveld who did a fine job with the sections from bot-Abbie's point of view. Graham Halstead and Euan Morton read sections told by other characters. (digital copy provided by the publisher; audio copy for a freelance assignment)

Review of The Book Charmer by Karen HawkinsThe Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins (Gallery; July 30): This fun, light story has a touch of magic and a lot of charm. The small Southern town of Dove Pond is in trouble: businesses are moving out and the mayor isn't keeping close tabs on the town's budget. Sarah Dove (a descendant of the town's founding family) has grown up believing that she will save the town with a bit of the famous Dove luck. Meanwhile Grace Wheeler's life has been turned upside down when her sister overdoses, leaving behind a young daughter just when their foster mother (known as Mama G) begins to show signs of dementia. In a desperate plan to regroup, Grace moves her cobbled-together family to Dove Pond, Mama G's home town, hoping familiar surroundings and old friends will help the older woman feel less at sea. As it turns out Sarah's part in saving the town is convincing Grace, a business wizard, to take charge of the annual Fall Festival. A predictable plot is the comfortable backdrop for some of the larger issues found in The Book Charmer: aging, PTSD, found families, friendship, and trust. I really liked this sweet, small-town story -- perfect escape fiction. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 11 hr, 42 min) was jointly read by Tavia Gilbert, Amanda Ronconi, and Sebastian York. Their voices blended well and each nicely portrayed their character's point of view. (audio copy for a freelance assignment)

review of National Geographic's Cat Breed Guide & Dog Breed GuideCat Breed Guide by Gary Weitzman and Stephanie Warren Drimmer & Angela Modany / Dog Breed Guide by Gary Weitzman and T. J. Resler (National Geographic Kids, Sept. 3): These books are definitive guides to all things about our favorite pets. These books may be labeled for kids, but they're really for anyone who wants to know more about domestic dogs and cats. The heart of each book is devoted to the different breeds of dogs and cats. The specific breed pages contain a photograph plus information about the animal's history, characteristics, and general disposition and include a quick-look chart on the breed's, size, grooming requirements, personality, and (for dogs) exercise requirements. But the books are filled with so much more: such as how to read dog and cat body language, how to communicate with your pet, stats on their senses (smell, sight, hearing, etc.), how to know which breed will be the perfect pet for your home and circumstances, how to prepare for and care for your pet, and how to train your pet. Plus you'll find features on dogs and cats in folk lore, art, and literature and you'll learn about dog and cat intelligence. Cat Breed Guide and Dog Breed Guide are must-have resources for any pet lover. (print copies provided by the publisher)

By the way, I finished Carnegie Hill by Jonathan Vatner (see my feature here for information) and enjoyed getting to know the residents of this New York City apartment building. The book was generally light reading with a broader eye on relationships and marriage as well as on socioeconomic class and the generation gap. Recommended.

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07 September 2019

Weekend Cooking: Peach Coffeecake

peach coffeecake from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain BakingI'm not quite sure why I haven't been doing a lot of interesting cooking lately. Don't get me wrong, I'm still cooking almost every night, but as summer winds down, we've been on a kind of tried-and-true kick: homemade pizza, red beans and rice, grilled chicken, vegetable curry . . . you get the picture.

That's all about to change because I have several new cookbooks coming my way and several new-to-me cookbooks checked out of the library. But for today, I'm going to share the King Arthur Flour peach coffeecake I made for a Labor Day cookout with friends.

I have a photo of my finished cake (a repeat for those of you who follow me on Instagram), but because the cake was for a holiday party, I never did get a photo of one of the cut pieces.

Note that this is an easy, moist, and good coffeecake and you could easily use any stone fruit (plums, nectarines) for this. I'd even try it with blueberries or apples. The original recipe said to peel the peaches, but I don't bother. And King Arthur says you can use frozen, thawed peaches, if you don't have fresh.

Peach Coffeecake
One 9 x 13-inch cake
peach coffeecake from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain BakingCake

  • 2 cups (8 ounces) white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) diced fresh peaches
Topping
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purposed flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch cake pan.

peach coffeecake from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain BakingMake the cake: Whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in the egg. Add the dry ingredients one third at a time, alternately with the buttermilk. Add the vanilla. Stir in the peaches until evenly distributed. Pour and spread into the prepared pan.

Make the topping: combine the butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon until evenly mixed. Sprinkle over the top of the batter.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before serving.

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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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