28 February 2010

Review: Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

Tess Monaghan isn't sure what she what she's all about. She lost her newspaper job as the result of a merger and now supports herself by working for family members. She manages to get by because she lives in an apartment above her aunt's bookstore and has friends who take care of her.

The one thing Tess is sure about is that she loves to row and almost never misses an early morning practice with her good friend Darryl "Rock" Paxton. When Rock suspects that his fiance may be having an affair, he offers to pay Tess to do some informal private investigating.

Tess doesn't feel comfortable about trailing Ava, but for thirty bucks an hour, she thinks, "What the heck?" Her work sets off a chain of events that leads to a murder and the arrest of an innocent person. Thus Tess teams up with Tyner Gray, a rowing coach and attorney, to help clear his client's good name.

Baltimore Blues is the first in Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series. Tess may be confused about her life calling, but she is pretty sure about herself. She's smart, strong, and loyal. Although her independent and headstrong streaks take her down paths that others would avoid, she is not careless, only a bit naive; after all, the only kind of investigating she knows is that of a journalist.

One of the joys of Baltimore Blues is how deeply we are planted into the city of Baltimore. The neighborhoods, the waterfront, the history, the people--we are introduced to it all. East Coast readers will nod approvingly of Tess's food choices, brands and flavors that cry Mid-Atlantic Region. And one can only imagine the reaction of those familiar with the restaurants that Tess frequents, although her tastes run more to burgers and fries than to champagne and caviar.

But what about the murder mystery? Lippman presents enough red herrings to throw you off track but does not waste time distracting you needlessly. The characters and the clues were given throughout the novel; however, readers may not find it easy to put them all together much before Tess and Tyner do. In the end, the pieces combine to build a logical solution; Lippman did not have to rely on magic tricks to tie up the crime. Although the novel explores Tess's personal life, it is a bit grittier than a typical cozy.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (by BBC Audiobooks America) read by Deborah Hazlett. Hazlett does a fine job presenting Tess as an intelligent, level-headed young woman. Her portrayal of the other characters got the job done without flourish, which fit the mood of Baltimore Blues quite well.

Laura Lippman has a website where you can learn more about her work and read a biography of Tess Monaghan.

Published by HarperCollins, 1997
ISBN-13: 9780380788750

Challenges: New Author, Audiobook, What's in a Name, Laura Lippman, 2010, 100+
YTD: 18
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+

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27 February 2010

28 Days of Winter: A Visit with Carrie Vaughn

Welcome to Day 27 of Harper Teen's 28 Days of Winter! Be sure to visit the 28 Days website for a chance to win a copy of today's book.

You know you loved Carrie Vaughn's urban fantasy series featuring Kitty Norville so you know that you're guaranteed to fall for her new young adult novel Voices of Dragons.

The new book is a different kind of fantasy, one that links a twenty-first-century teen with a creature right from medieval legends.

Here's the publisher's summary:

On one side of the border lies the modern world: the internet, homecoming dances, cell phones. On the other side dwell the ancient monsters who spark humanity's deepest fears: dragons.

Seventeen-year-old Kay Wyatt knows she's breaking the law by rock climbing near the border, but she'd rather have an adventure than follow the rules. When the dragon Artegal unexpectedly saves her life, the rules are abruptly shattered, and a secret friendship grows between them.

But suspicion and terror are the legacy of human and dragon inter­actions, and the fragile truce that has maintained peace between the species is unraveling. As tensions mount and battles begin, Kay and Artegal are caught in the middle. Can their friendship change the course of a war?
I can't wait for the release of this novel on March 16. In my opinion, any book with a dragon in it is one that I'm bound to love. I am so excited to be hosting an interview with Carrie Vaughn, who talks about. well, dragons! and her new novel, Voices of Dragons. Thanks so much to Harper Teen for putting together this great Q&A.

Five Questions for Carrie Vaughn

Harper Teen (HT): Why dragons? Why put them in the modern world instead of a fantasy world?

Carrie Vaughn (CV): Well, dragons are just cool, of course. Why the modern world? The whole thing started with an image of my main character flying on the back of a dragon around my local area (the foothills of Colorado around Boulder). She had a video camera and was filming a “dragon's eye view” of the flight. That specific scene never made it into the book, but the idea of putting dragons and modern technology in the same world really hooked me. I had to come up with how dragons might fit into the "real" world, how that would change history, and how people and dragons would relate to each other, especially when people have airplanes and weapons that match dragons' flight and fire-breathing. (The answer—not very well.)

HT: How was writing Voices of Dragons different from writing your previous novels in the Kitty series?

CV: In some ways it wasn't—I tend to follow the same process of brainstorming, outlining, writing, and revising. But Kay is a very different character than Kitty, with a different set of problems, and I had to keep those in mind. In some ways the story is also much bigger, dealing with wide-reaching politics and war, rather than the more local and slice-of-life stories in the Kitty books. I had to think a lot more about the history of the world.

HT: What are some of your favorite dragon stories?

CV: I went through a lot of literature looking for references to dragons—there are tons! There’s a dragon in Beowulf, I love the dragon in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (which is partly why I gave my dragon a name from The Faerie Queene), and Tolkien’s Smaug from The Hobbit is a most excellent dragon. I'm also a fan of Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon, which definitely has some echoes in Voices of Dragons. Robin McKinley is one of my favorite writers, and Maur, the dragon in The Hero and the Crown, is intensely scary. Another most excellent dragon. I'll also admit to liking the cheesy ’80s movie Dragonslayer. Oh, and then there's the dragon Maleficent turns into in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. You see? So many dragons to be inspired by!

HT: What would you do if you met a dragon?

CV: I’m not sure. It would depend on what kind of dragon, I think. If it was a big, angry, non-intelligent, eat-everything-in-sight dragon I would definitely hide and hope for the best. (If I ran, it might chase me, and chances are it’s much faster than I.) If it were a talking dragon, but malevolent, I would have to brush up my riddling and try to talk my way out of it. But I’d hope to meet a friendly talking dragon and ask it to tell stories.

HT: What's your preferred hot drink to curl up with when reading: tea, coffee, or cocoa?

CV: Hot cocoa.

Thanks again to Harper Teen and Carrie Vaughn for stopping by today. Don't forget to click on the "28 Days of Winter" button in my sidebar to enter for today's drawing.

Carrie Vaughn survived her air force brat childhood and managed to put down roots in Colorado. Her first book, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, launched a popular series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk-radio advice show. Ms. Vaughn has also written many short stories. This is her first work for young readers. Ms. Vaughn lives in Colorado.

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Weekend Cooking: Cocktail Time by Sandra Lee

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Although I'm not a big cocktail drinker (preferring wine or scotch), I have always been intrigued with Sandra Lee's cocktails. They are generally beautiful to look at and feature fruit flavors. Thus I was excited to get the chance to review her book Cocktail Time.

The subtitle says 218 Cocktails & Appetizer for the "Best Time of the Day." I didn't count the recipes, but the book is chockfull of great drinks and small foods for every time of the year.

In the opening pages, Sandra gives advice for stocking a bar--from glassware to mixers--and offers some tips for what types of food to serve.

The chapters are divided by month, which is a great way to organize this kind of book. Hot drinks for the winter months, lovely red drinks for February, and light and refreshing drinks for summertime. The index is very well organized so you'll always be able to find what you want.

One thing I particularly like about Cocktail Time is that Sandra offers several alcohol-free drinks that make fun and pretty alternatives for you, your guests, and your kids.

I made two of the drinks and found them easy to put together and delicious to sip. I picked the cocktails based on what kinds of spirits were already in our cabinet. The drinks are not inexpensive when you think about buying all the different mixers and liqueurs.

The finger and snack foods all follow Sandra Lee's "semi-homemade" style, which means they rely on spice mixtures and ready-made products. The foods look very appealing, but I generally cook from scratch. I made her Ginger-Garlic Shrimp (p. 40), basing my from-scratch version on her recipe. The shrimp were a hit, and I'll be making them again (if I can remember exactly what I did!).

Here are the two cocktails we tried and will be making again. Note that Cocktail Time suggests brand names, but I am listing generic ingredients.

Paradise Martini

Makes 1 drink

Ice cubes
1 ounce vodka
1 tablespoon cold water
½ ounce creme de cassis
½ ounce amaretto
1 lime wedge
Maraschino cherry

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the vodka, water, creme de cassis, and amaretto. Squeeze in the lime juice. Cover and shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glass Garnish with cherry.

Beth Fish Read's note: We left out the cherry.

California Lemon

Makes 1 drink

1¼ ounces gin
1 ounce lemon drop cocktail mixer
¼ ounce blood orange bitters
Ice cubes
1 lemon wedge

In a cocktail shaker, combine gin, mixer, and bitters. Add ice, cover and shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with lemon wedge.

Cocktail Time at Powell's
Cocktail Time at Amazon
These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by John Wiley & Sons / SL Books, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780470554876
YTS: 17
Source: Review copy (
see review policy)
Rating: B-

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26 February 2010

Featuring . . . Life's That Way by Jim Beaver

This Friday and every Friday for the next couple of months, I will be featuring a book that was published under the Amy Einhorn Books imprint. I am starting with the 2009 books and will spotlight them in alphabetical order.

Jim Beaver, the author of Life's That Way, has probably been to your house. Well, at least on your television, if you've watched Deadwood or Supernatural or one of the forty movies he's acted in.

Most of us think of television stars as living charmed lives, but, of course that isn't true. Rich or poor, famous or unknown, none of us is protected from the tougher side of life. Jim Beaver was one of the unfortunate--or was he?

Life's That Way is a modern-day Book of Job. In August 2003, Jim Beaver, a character actor whom many know from the popular HBO series Deadwood, and his wife Cecily learned what they thought was the worst news possible--their daughter Maddie was autistic. Then six weeks later the roof fell in--Cecily was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.

Jim immediately began writing a nightly e-mail as a way to keep more than one hundred family and friends up to date about Cecily's condition. Soon four thousand people a day, from all around the world, were receiving them. Initially a cathartic exercise for Jim, the prose turned into an unforgettable journey for his readers.

Cecily died four months after being diagnosed, but Jim continued the e-mails for a year after her diagnosis, revealing how he and Maddie coped with Cecily's death and how they managed to move forward. Life's That Way is a compilation of those nightly e-mails. Jim's experience is universal for anybody who has lost a loved one. But Life's That Way is not solely about loss. It is an immediate, day-by-day account of living through a nightmare but also of discovering the joy of a child, of being on the receiving end of unthinkable kindness, and of learning to navigate life anew. As Jim says, these are hard-won blessings. But then again, life's that way.
Everyone who read and reviewed Life's That Way was affected by Jim's story. Here are three examples from book bloggers (click on the links to read the full reviews):

Kathy (Bermudaonion's Weblog): "Jim bared his soul in these emails and the writing is beautiful, emotional and sad; yet somehow it’s filled with hope and love. . . . [T]his book is painfully touching and emotionally draining, but oh, so good."

Rebecca (The Book Lady's Blog): "His remarkable ability to give voice to painful, intimate thoughts and terrifying worries are what make these emails special and worth sharing. . . . Life’s That Way is a gift of a book and one that will join Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking as a classic exploration of love and grief."

Elizabeth (As Usual I Need More Bookshelves): "Sometimes, you are lucky enough to read a book that changes you. It changes the way you look at life, and relationships, and the things that really matter. It reinforces what you've always know, and reminds you of what's really important. Life's That Way is that kind of book."

Jim Beaver has a website, where you can learn more about him, his work, and Cecily. Here is a link to a video that shows Jim doing both a reading and an interview.

This book was featured as part of the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge (click to join the fun). For information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010.

Life's That Way at Powell's
Life's That Way at Amazon
These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780399155642

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25 February 2010

Thursday Tea: An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor

This week I'm listening to An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor. This is the third novel in Taylor's Irish Country series (I read the first two before I started blogging, so no reviews here).

It's been one year since Barry Laverty received his diploma from Queen's University in Belfast. Instead of staying in the city and becoming a high-powered specialist, he has joined the household and practice of one Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly, where he is learning that being a country GP takes more skills than just doctoring.

In 1964, the village of Ballybucklebo is still very traditionally country but close enough to Belfast to take advantage of the latest trends. The older folks are charmingly old-fashioned but not totally removed from modern life. If you want to travel to a simpler time in an Ireland beyond the familiar conflicts, stop by and visit the quirky patients of the doctors at 1 Main Street.

The Tea. I'm drinking Stash Tea's White Christmas, which is one of my favorite teas. The company describes it as a "unique blend of white tea, cool peppermint, and a hint of ginger." It is a perfect tea for a winter's night, with just the right amount of spice and sweet.

The Assessment. Barry and his girlfriend might try a white tea, if they could find one in Belfast in the 1960s. But Mrs. Kincaid, the housekeeper, would likely poo-poo such a fancy concoction in favor of something more familiar, such as a good Irish breakfast tea. On the other hand, could it be a better match? White Christmas tea for a book that takes place during the Christmas season.

Now it's your turn: What are you reading or listening to this week? What's in your mug or glass?

Thursday Tea is hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. Here's how it works: Tell us what tea you are drinking (and if you like it). And then tell us what book are you reading (and if you like it). Finally, tell us if they go together.

Source: Review copy (see review policy).
FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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24 February 2010

New Editions: Willow by Julia Hoban

You might recall that Willow by Julia Hoban was one of my top ten reads in 2009, earning a rare A+ rating. You can read my full review here, but I'd like to share just a bit of what I wrote last fall:

Willow is . . . a startlingly realistic look at what can happen when we feel separated from our own world. It's about connections and trust. Hoban does not pretend to offer magic solutions; instead, she gives us much to think about and discuss.

Willow is a must-read novel. . . . [I]t was nominated by the American Library Association for Best Book for Young Adults.
If you haven't yet read the book, here's your chance to pick up a copy. Willow was released in paperback yesterday in the United States.

If you are in the UK, the novel is being released with a different cover and new title--Scarred--in March. But never fear, it's the same fantastic book.

For more on Julia Hoban and some insights into the novel, check out the mini-interview I conducted in September 2009. After I finished reading Willow (Scarred), I wanted to talk about it with everyone. It would make the perfect book club choice.

Willow at Powell's
Willow at Amazon
These links lead to affiliate programs

Hardcover published by Penguin USA, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780803733565

Paperback published by Speak, 2010
ISBN-13: 978014241662

UK edition published by Little, Brown Group (March 18, 2010)
ISBN-13: 9780749942328

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Wordless Wednesday 67

Cardinal in Winter, 2010

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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23 February 2010

Review: The Night Is for Hunting by John Marsden

The Night Is for Hunting is the sixth book in John Marsden's Tomorrow Series. (I reviewed the second, third, fourth, and fifth books here.) Although my review does not contain spoilers for this novel, it does assume you've read the others in the series. For just my opinion, skip to below the asterisks.

The novel starts right where the last one ended, with Ellie, Homer, Kevin, Lee, and Fi in Stratton, hiding out in what used to be Ellie's grandmother's house. Life in the city is beginning to get rough--food is getting hard to find and the invaders are sending around patrols to round up any remaining free Australians.

One night when Ellie is wandering the city, she comes across the gang of little kids who had mugged her when she first arrived in Stratton. But instead of a feisty group of survivors, Ellie finds four hungry, scared, and untrusting children, ranging in age from about five to eight.

When enemy forces become intent on capturing the children, the teens rescue the kids and make a daring escape back to Hell, their sanctuary. The bush camp has always been a safe haven for Ellie and her friends, but taking care of the "ferals" (the little ones) proves challenging, and it seems that enemy patrols may be drawing near.

To make matters worse, a raid on a nearby station to obtain food goes horribly wrong, and Ellie, Fi, and Homer are held prisoner by enemy immigrants. Escape without injury, violence, and death seems remote, and the three are forced into a face-to-face battle for their lives, with no one to count on for possible backup.

* * * * * * *
Marsden's talent at creating suspenseful, action-packed scenes and utterly believable teenagers does not falter in this novel. Each book in the Tomorrow series is as good as or better than the one before it.

The Night Is for Hunting introduces two major changes in Ellie's life: the added burden of being responsible for four young children and the deteriorating safety of their bush camp. Desperate circumstances and the driving need to try to inject some normalcy into the children's lives push the teens to take risks that have serious consequences.

And throughout it all, Ellie writes in her journal and reflects on her life. When one of the little girls can't remember much of her life before the war, Ellie thinks:
It scared me to realise how shadowy our memories can be. . . . I wondered if the opposite to identity was war. By separating us from our pasts, by tearing out all the previous pages of our lives, war had left us with nothing. I felt my life began last January and what went before was a vague dream, growing vaguer every day. And if it was like that for me, how much worse was it for Natalie? She had barely begun her life, barely had begun to grow into a human being, and already her world was being dismantled around her. (p. 205)
As in the other books in the series, The Night Is for Hunting does not shrink from the sights and smells and unthinkable choices that the invasion has brought to the survivors. War for Marsden is not a game.

The unabridged audio edition of The Night Is for Hunting was read by Suzi Dougherty, who could not be better as Ellie. Dougherty brings the excitement, the pain, and the fear to life without distracting the listener from the heart of the story.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001 [originally published 1998]
ISBN-13: 9780618070268
Audio by Bolinda Publishing, 2001
Challenges: Young Adult, Audiobook, Buy and Read, 2010, 100+
YTD: 16
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+

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22 February 2010

Review: Rose by Jeff Smith


If you've been a reader of this blog for a while, then you might remember when I reviewed Jeff Smith's Bone series in 2009 (review index). Smith's novel Rose takes place before the Bone series and tells the story of the red dragon, Princesses Rose and Briar, the dragon queen, and Lucius.

I am a bit hesitant to discuss the plot in any detail because I do not want to introduce spoilers to the Bone books. Although Rose is described as a prequel, I think it is better read after finishing the nine novels involving the Bone cousins.

Rose focuses on the background story of the Bone novels, when the two princesses of the Northern Valley were young and before the Lord of the Locusts had been awakened. The sisters have very different personalities and talents, and when they were young, they were jealous of each other and competitive. Almost before the girls can finish their schooling, they are called upon to help their people, but each has her own idea of how she wants the world to be. The ultimate consequences of their actions are resolved only decades later, at the end of the Bone series.

If you have read the Bone books, you will comfortably slip into the world of Rose. Smith once again manages to pepper his epic fantasy with a great mix of humor and suspense. Like the other novels in the series, this one can be read at face value or can be mined for deeper, universal issues. This is a must-read for all Jeff Smith fans.

The book ends many years before Fone Bone shows up in the valley, leaving open the possibility that Smith will tell us more about the history of the world he created.

Jeff Smith has a blog, where you can see illustrations and read about the history of his Bone books.

Rose at Powell's
Rose at Amazon
These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Scholastic / Graphix, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780545135436
Challenges: Young Adult, What's in a Name, Graphic Novel, Buy and Read, 2010, 100+
YTD: 14
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B

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21 February 2010

Readalong 2: Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the second installment of this month's readalong of The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien. Clare from The Literary Omnivore is our host.

For more on how my reread (relisten) is going, check out my earlier thoughts (#1, #2). There is still time to join in the Lord of the Rings Readalong.

Here are the mid-month questions for The Fellowship of the Ring:

1. If you’ve been with us since the beginning, how do you feel about the narrator compared to the narrator in The Hobbit?

I have never had a problem with the switch in tone between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. I love the deeper look into the history of Middle Earth, the tales and hints of a much earlier time and the changing politics and relationships among the different beings. LOTR is much more complex; the plot lines are intertwining. Each member of the fellowship has his own reason for being on the journey, and those reasons affect his decisions and his behavior. The characters grow and change, face doubts, and find strengths (and weaknesses) within themselves.

2. How’s your pace going? Is it smooth sailing or have you found passages that are difficult to get through?

I finished last week. I flew through; I always do. Once I open the first page or listen to the first disk, I am immediately pulled in and just can't turn away.

3. If you’ve read this series before, is The Fellowship of the Ring, for the most part, as you remembered? If not, is it what you expected or something else?

I mentioned in a previous post that I always seem to get something else out the book with each reread. For some reason, I am picking up a lot more on the foreshadowing this time through. A casual mention of a place that is later the scene of an important event or battle or a hint at a person or ancient legend that will prove the key to success in the final book.

I know that many people shy away from rereading for a variety of reasons, but this trilogy seems to beg for multiple visits. Tolkien presents the world of Middle Earth in such a way that you understand that there is a deep history. Every place the characters pass through has a story, and you learn more about those stories with each reread. The first time you are concentrating on the battle taking place within the city's walls; the second time you are noticing the layout of the city and why it was built that way. The first time you are seeing the landscape almost as if you were a tourist; the next time you are learning about the peoples who once lived there.

Although it is impossible to absorb everything that Tolkien created on just one or two readings, the basic story itself is accessible enough that ten- and eleven-year-olds can read and enjoy it.

4. Are you using any of the extra features- maps and indexes, for instance- in your book?

As I said in one of the write-ups for The Hobbit, I love the visuals, and I frequently referred to both the map and the illustrations of Middle Earth to enhance my reading. In the unabridged audio edition, I am treated to the music of Middle Earth as well.

Bonus notes: If asked on a pop quiz with only two seconds to answer, I would likely say that The Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite of three books. But when I have time to think about it, I'm not sure. Each book has its own flavor and level of action. Some of my favorite characters are in The Two Towers and some of the darkest moments are in the The Return of the King. I'm not sure that I really do have a favorite.

Many editions are available; try Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004ISBN-13: 9780618574940Source: Have owned for years (see review policy).

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Who Wants to Be a Hero? Book Tour with C.J. West

Are you a fan of thrillers? How about unpredictable and dangerous heroes? C.J. West is the author of a series of books featuring Randy Black, who is just that kind of guy. In fact, the character and the story have caught the eye of filmmakers, and Sin and Vengeance has been picked up for a movie option.

If you live in or can travel to New England this spring, you can attend a fun and active book tour for C.J.'s latest novel, Gretchen Greene (out in March). This is a book tour like none other . . . trust me! When C.J. asked me if I would help spread the word about this exciting tour, I said yes without hesitation.

Who Wants to Be a Hero?

There's a little something for everyone on C.J.'s book tour, which takes place in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, starting in early April and continuing until June.

Driving demo: Ever want to know how to drive a car like the cops do in the movies? Advanced Driving & Security, Inc., which trains security drivers, offers a demonstration and a chance for participants to drive on a training course.

Handling firearms: At this event, sponsored by the Gun Owner's Action League and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, participants will learn firearms safety and marksmanship and will get a chance to practice at a shooting range.

Wine and cheese: Okay so action isn't your thing, never fear, you can opt for wine and cheese tastings. Both the Westport Rivers Winery and the Admiral Fitzroy Inn are featured in or inspired scenes in the Randy Black novels. Here's your chance to spend an afternoon enjoying the finer things in life.

Newsroom visit: Danielle Williamson, a crime reporter who is the model for one of the Randy Black characters, will guide participants through the newsroom of the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette. Learn the behind-the-scenes action of a newspaper and join C.J. and Danielle for dinner after the tour.

Ante up: At bookstores and other venues, join C.J. in a game of Texas Hold 'Em. Never learned to play? No problem, lessons will be given at C.J.'s book signing events.

For dates and locations visit C.J.'s website. Note that some events require reservations and a fee.

Sounds like a really fun tour with some great activities. If I lived in New England, I'd be thinking about those wine events . . . but that's just me.

FTC: I get absolutely no compensation for this; I happen to be a person who likes to help out her friends.

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20 February 2010

Weekend Cooking: Babette's Feast (The Film)

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


One of my favorite movies is a Danish film based on Isak Dinesen's short story of the same name, Babette's Feast. The basic premise is that a French woman runs to Denmark to escape war in her home country. She finds employment in the house of two very religious and very conservative spinster sisters. Babette learns to cook the bland and boring food the sisters deem proper fare for the righteous.

When Babette wins the lottery, she decides to hold a banquet for the Danish people who took her in. As the wine flows and the sensual food is served, we discover who Babette really is and a few secrets of the sisters.

When I was looking for a summary of the film, I noticed that the movie site IMDb says the story takes place in nineteenth-century Denmark, but a site dedicated to Babette's Feast and Dinesen says it is located in Norway.

Regardless of the setting, I recommend the movie. The film is subtitled for those of us who don't speak Danish, but it is well worth your time. Dinesen's subtle sense of humor and love for food are both well appreciated. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1986.

I have not read the short story, which was first published in English for The Ladies Home Journal.

Here's the best trailer I could find in English.

FTC: I bought the film on tape but no longer own a VCR, if you want to send me a DVD, I'll review the movie again.

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19 February 2010

Guest Post: Johanna Moran on the Henry Oades Case

I am currently reading The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran. This is a novel that has grabbed me from the beginning. I have connected with the characters, and I want to know what is going to happen to them.

So what's this book all about? I am so pleased and lucky to have Johanna Moran herself answer that question.

Before I even opened the cover of the book, I was intrigued by how Johanna came to write this novel. It seems that she has known about the case of Henry Oades for many years, and the idea of writing about him is almost a family legacy. I asked her to tell us more.

Johanna Moran, Her Family, and the Henry Oades Case

Thanks for inviting me to your blog. I'm delighted to get to talk to your readers about The Wives of Henry Oades. A little background: More than a half-century ago, my father, a law professor, came across an abstract on the Oades case, and brought it home to my mother, who was attempting to write short fiction in her nonexistent spare time.

Henry Oades was an Englishman who'd come to California from New Zealand, where his wife and children had been abducted by Maori, and in time given up for dead. Many years later, Oades remarried in America. When his first wife turned up on his doorstep, he was tried not once, but three times for bigamy, a crime punishable by hanging.

My mother was intrigued and gave thought to fleshing out the principals, but that's as far as she got. She may have had three kids down with mumps that week or a spectacular birthday party to host. In any event, writing and five children never did mesh. She squirreled the abstract away, perhaps thinking she'd get to it eventually. She gave it to me about ten years ago. The abstract did not delve into the interior life of either wife, and I was glad. I had my own vision almost immediately.

To start, I considered my own marriage. It's my first, but it's my husband's second. How outraged would I have been in wife number one's shoes, how confused in number two's? I imagined dutifully accompanying my husband halfway around the world, enduring and surviving horrific hardship once there, only to ultimately discover that he had "moved on" as it's so blithely put today. I pictured, too, opening the door to find my husband's long-thought-dead wife standing there, fully prepared to push me aside and resume her position.

Over the years, my mother, sisters, and I have hashed out The Wives of Henry Oades at length, revealing much about ourselves at the same time. Marriage, I found, is a delicious subject to anatomize, particularly aloud with others. How I'd love to be a fly on the wall, better yet, a participant in a chair, at every book club discussion.


Thanks so much, Johanna! I am so taken by the idea that this is almost a family tale for you and that the Oades case links your parents' interest with your own. And thanks so much for sharing the fabulous photos with us. I just love both the one from your childhood and the one with you, your mother, and your sisters -- with The Wives of Henry Oades, of course! (Click on the photos to see them full size.)

Be sure to look for my full review in the next few days. And in the meantime, you can read an interview with Johanna and see the reader's guide.

Source: Review copy (see review policy).

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Featuring . . . The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming

This Friday and every Friday for the next couple of months, I will be featuring a book that was published under the Amy Einhorn Books imprint. I am starting with the 2009 books and will spotlight them in alphabetical order.

The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming is a little bit of everything: historical fiction, alternate history, time travel, and love story. Here's the publisher's summary:

After discovering an old photograph, an elderly antiques dealer living in present-day Los Angeles is forced to revisit the history he has struggled to deny. The photograph depicts a man and a woman. The man is Peter Force, a young frontier adventurer who comes to New York City in 1901 and quickly lands a job digging the first subway tunnels beneath the metropolis. The woman is Cheri-Anne Toledo, a beautiful mathematical prodigy whose memories appear to come from another world. They meet seemingly by chance, and initially Peter dismisses her as crazy. But as they are drawn into a tangle of overlapping intrigues, Peter must reexamine Cheri-Anne's fantastic story. Could it be that she is telling the truth and that she has stumbled onto the most dangerous secret imaginable: the key to traveling through time?

Set against the mazelike streets of New York at the dawn of the mechanical age, Peter and Cheri-Anne find themselves wrestling with the nature of history, technology, and the unfolding of time itself.

I read and reviewed Kingdom of Ohio last month and can definitely recommend it. You can also find a review at S. Krishna's books.

What I didn't talk about in my review is that I grew up in a small town outside of Toledo, Ohio. Part of the novel is set close to my home turf. I loved the descriptions of Toledo, the Maumee River, the shores of Lake Erie, and the area around Cheri-Anne's family estate--all places that I am very familiar with. I know that made the book extra fun for me. But you don't have to be from Ohio to find something to connect to in this debut novel.

Matthew Flaming was a website, where you can find a short bio and a few other bits of information. But if you go to the book's website, you'll find some great photographs of the turn-of the-century New York and an excerpt from the novel.

This book was featured as part of the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge (click to join the fun). For information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010.

The Kingdom of Ohio at Powell's
The Kingdom of Ohio at Amazon
These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780399155604

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18 February 2010

Challenge: Ireland Reading Challenge

I used to like Carrie from Books and Movies. I would go to her blog and read great reviews and interviews and guest posts. It was a safe and happy place.

I say was because then I saw this challenge. Sigh. Have I ever mentioned that I like an Irish setting? Have I told you that I have several Ireland-type books in my TBR pile? Did you know that I like reading challenges?

Yeah, well . . . I'm joining up on the Shamrock level. That's two books from now until November 30. Here's what counts for the challenge: "Any book written by an Irish author, set in Ireland, or involving Irish history or Irish characters, counts for the challenge – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, audiobooks, children’s books – all of these apply."

The challenge announcement has been up on Books and Movies since February 1. I saw that Robin of My Two Blessing joined. I finally caved.

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Review / Thursday Tea: Where Is Catkin? by Janet Lord, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Amy and Catkin are sitting on the garden wall one summer's day when Catkin decides it's time to hunt. He jumps out of Amy's arms and looks for and listens to all the animals.

Poor Catkin is not a very good hunter, and just when he pounces, the animal runs into hiding. Where did the animal go? Finally, Catkin hears a bird--Chereep. Chereeep--and climbs a tree.

Poor Catkin can't get down. Amy hears, Meeeow! Where is Catkin? She searches high and low and finally finds her cat. Amy climbs the tree and rescues Catkin, who takes a nap while she hugs him: Purrrrrrrrrr.

Both you and your little one will have fun looking for all the animals and bugs and birds hidden in Julie Paschkis's fabulous folk art drawings. The text of Where Is Catkin? is written by her sister, Janet Lord. Here is a spread from just before Catkin takes to the tree:

Click on the image to enlarge it. Can you find all the animals?

For more on Julie Paschkis, see the interview by Seven Impossible Things. For more on Janet Lord, see my review of Albert the Fix-It Man and my interview with her.

The Tea. I'm drinking Adagio's Gingerbread Tea. It's a nice-quality black tea with a very nice aroma, but I don't taste much ginger or spices. This is a seasonal tea that I probably won't be buying next year.

The Assessment. What little girl or boy wouldn't want to drink a tea called gingerbread? Make a medium-strong brew, add milk and honey, bring out some gingerbread men, and enjoy Where Is Catkin? with the child in your life. Sounds like a lovely afternoon to me.

What are you reading or listening to this week? What do you serve when settling in to read to a youngster?

Where Is Catkin? at Powell's
Where Is Catkin? at Amazon
These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

Thursday Tea is hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. Here's how it works: Tell us what tea you are drinking (and if you like it). And then tell us what book are you reading (and if you like it). Finally, tell us if they go together.

Published by Peachtree Publishers, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781561455232
Challenges: 100+
Ages: 2-6
Source: Review copy (
see review policy).
Rating: B+
FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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17 February 2010

Wordless Wednesday 66

Pew Detail: St. Saviour's Cathedral (Brugge)

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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16 February 2010

Review: Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

Evangeline Jenner is getting desperate: her aunt and uncle, with whom she lives, are about to force her to marry her cousin so they can control her substantial inheritance. Viscount St. Vincent is the quintessential lady's man, but he's starting to run out of money. He needs to find a rich innocent--and fast.

The book opens with Evie making a business proposition to the viscount: If they get married, both of their problems will be solved. Sebastian (the viscount) agrees and they escape to Gretna Green. Will they grow to love each other? Can Evie shed her wallflower persona? Will Sebastian become monogamous?

When my Skype book club decided to read a romance, I was game. After all, one good reason to be in a book club is to expand your horizons. Unfortunately, Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas was not really for me, and I can't quite pin down the problem.

First, I have nothing against a bit of romance and some sex scenes--I've read and loved all the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon, for example. Perhaps it was because Sebastian changed his ways so quickly. Does marriage immediately turn a womanizer into a faithful mate? And would a man who had never worked a day in his life suddenly become fairly adroit at running a business?

Second, I really love historical fiction, and, in my mind anyway, a historical novel should give me a feel for the time period. The story takes place in 1843 in England. Unfortunately, I didn't get a strong sense of the era; Evie and Sebastian could have lived anytime from, say, 1750 to 1850. I think this was a matter of misplaced expectations on my part.

Finally, Devil in Winter is the third book in Kleypas's Wallflower series. I freely admit that it might have helped to have read the first two novels. Perhaps if I had a better sense of the characters and their situations, I would have been more caught up in the story.

On the other hand, the plot, although predictable, didn't follow the usual romance formula. It is Evie (right on page 1) who proposes the marriage, and she does not enter into the relationship with any expectations of falling in love. After one night of consummating their union, they must hurry back to London to help out Evie's father. The next few weeks are not sweetness and light, and they both behave in mature and responsible ways. They are likable characters, and I couldn't help but root for them.

After I finished the novel, I was wondering what we would talk about at our book club meeting. I was surprised that Devil in Winter generated some interesting conversation about relationships, reading habits of women, and the romance genre in general.

If you are fan of romances, you will like this novel; although you might want to start with the first in the series. If you are looking for complex relationships, fascinating historical detail, and unexpected plot lines, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Lest you think I'm a hopeless unromantic, I've asked a fellow book club member to suggest a contemporary romance for one of our summer meetings. See, I'm willing to give the genre another chance.

Lisa Kleypas has a website where you can learn more about the Wallflower series, watch book trailers, and subscribe to her newsletter.

Devil in Winter at Powell's
Devil in Winter at Amazon
These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Avon Books, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780060562519
Challenges: New Author, Historical Fiction, eBook, 100+
YTD: 12
Source: Borrowed (see review policy)
Rating: C-

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15 February 2010

Spotlight On . . . Judith Moffett

Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight on . . . Judy Moffett. I'm so happy to introduce you to Judy today. One of my favorite things about this feature is expanding my horizons and being exposed to new-to-me authors. Judy is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction and of science fiction, literary criticism, and poetry. Talk about diversity!

Judy is non-specialist in other areas too; for example, she lives in two states and speaks at least two languages. The critical question, though, is this: Is she really a Pennsylvania author? Let's find out. [Note: Judy was in the process of moving and graciously scrambled to find some photos to share; these are non-digital.]

Pennsylvania Writer: Credentials

I’m not a birthright Pennsylvanian; I was born in Louisville and have moved around a lot. But I’ve done quite a bit of time in the Keystone State. After completing a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, I taught for two years at Penn State’s Behrend College in Erie. Later I came back to teach creative writing at Penn from 1978 to 1993, and since 2005 have been spending the fall and winter in Swarthmore. I was surprised, when I’d added all this up, to discover that I’ve actually lived in Pennsylvania longer than anyplace else.

But all by itself that wouldn’t, to my mind, necessarily qualify me to be considered a Pennsylvania writer. Or a Penntucky or Kensylvania writer either (my runner-up state, of birth as of residency, turns to be Kentucky). It seems to me an equally critical requirement that the place itself be enough of a presence in enough of the writing. A hypothetical science-fiction writer, born and bred in Pennsylvania, who located all her books off-world, might even so be considered a PA writer; the question would get murkier for an import like me. And conversely, though I grew up in Cincinnati from age three to college, Ohio has left only the occasional clear footprint in my work.

But Pennsylvania!

I was a poet long before I wrote any fiction. A number of pieces in my first poetry collection, Keeping Time (LSU, 1976), were nature poems, written in Erie and set in the landscape south of town—was so happy to be out of West Philadelphia that it seemed I had never appreciated cornfields, cow pastures, even autumn foliage so intensely. And when Penn hired me back, to teach the reading and writing of poetry, I was pleased at the job offer but my heart sank at the thought of returning to city living. I looked for a house as far from West Philadelphia as I could get, and still be on a train line within a reasonable commute.

So it was that in the early eighties, when I starting writing science fiction, I was living, with the husband I had met on my first day back at Penn, in a woodsy Delaware County subdivision, fifteen miles from Center City and a twelve-minute drive from Ridley Creek State Park.

Though I hadn’t even known the park was there when I bought the house, I discovered it almost right away. The place had been a private estate, with 2,600 acres of fields and pastures, a mature beech forest, small stone mill workers’ houses, and running through it all the beautiful signature creek which had formerly turned the mill wheels. This spectacular unlooked-for resource single-handedly reconciled me to my new urban commitment. I drove out there as often as I could, memorized the maze of marked trails and hiked them through every season and kind of weather. My husband and I jogged there for a time; some of the paths are paved. We picked blackberries and made jam; we gathered wineberri
es, fragile and sweet, and piled them on top of cream cheese pies. The park, more than the university, was the center of my personal life, and when I came to write science fiction I located the events of my first two stories there.

More stories shortly emerged, clung together, and became the basis of what we in the trade call a “fix-up”: individual pieces arranged chronologically, with bridgework to fill in the narrative gaps. The result was published as my second novel, The Ragged World (St. Martin’s, 1991). The ragged world of the book-in-progress expanded to include more of Philadelphia and the eastern part of the state, including the Poconos, especially the area around the Appalachian Trail where it crosses the Delaware River at the Water Gap, and where Ted and I had a timeshare. Two of my characters attend German
town Friends School; several teach at Penn, and one, a botanist, at what was then called Penn State Delaware County (now Penn State Brandywine). The crisis in The Ragged World is a meltdown of the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant on the Susquehanna River, and the headline of The Philadelphia Inquirer review screamed THIS WOMAN NUKED THE MAIN LINE!

While these stories were multiplying into a book, I was also working on a “real” first
novel, with a story arc that runs unbroken from beginning to end. In it I recount the adventures of a group of space travelers who land their ship on an earthlike planet and found a colony. What could this possibly have to do with Pennsylvania? One, the spacepeople are Quakers, and christen the planet—wait for it—Pennterra. (People spell “Pennterra” with only one “n” so persistently that I wonder whether kids are still being taught in school, as I was, that Penn-sylvania means Penn’s Woods.) Two, and more significantly, the book is a transparent science-fictionalization of the tensions in colonial Pennsylvania between three populations: the Quaker founders, the Delaware Indians, and the non-Quakers who came later and settled the western part of the state.

With the Main Line nuked, my Philadelphia setting had been poisoned and my story needed to move elsewhere. The second and third volumes of the Holy Ground Trilogy, of which The Ragged World turned out to be Volume I, take place outside the radiated zone—in Kentucky, in fact, for nearly all of Volume II (Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream) and much of Volume III (The Bird Shaman).

I respectfully submit the above to establish my credentials as a Pennsylvania writer. Or a Penntucky one.

I'm both convinced and proud to count Judy as a Pennsylvania author. If you haven't been to Pennsylvania, I encourage you to visit some of the places Judy mentions; all beautiful and all worth your while.
Just take a look at her photographs!

Here are the covers of Judy's books mentioned in her post:

For more more on Judy and to learn about her other books, be sure to visit her website.

Judith Moffett is an English professor, a poet, a Swedish translator, and the author of eleven books in five genres, including four science-fiction novels and two collections of poetry. She has received a number of literary awards, including two Fulbright Grants to Sweden, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Translation Grant. Two of her novels were New York Times Notable Books. Moffett divides the year between Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and her hundred-acre ex-farm near Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Widowed in 1998, she lives with her standard poodles, Fleece and Feste.

For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page. Thanks to Michelle of GalleySmith for hosting this fabulous project.

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14 February 2010

Awards: Feeling the Valentine's Day Love

I have been remiss is thanking my wonderful blogging friends for passing along awards to me. I'm truly flattered to be given these awards, and I thought Valentine's Day was a good time to pass along some blogging love. I don't always pass along awards because I'm afraid I'll hurt someone's feelings, but I'm going to give five of these to the ten people in my top commenter list. The other award is going to five other bloggers.

Humane Award: Thanks to Alice from Hello, My Name Is Alice for this one. "This award is to honor certain bloggers that are kindhearted individuals. They regularly take part in my blog and always leave the sweetest comments. If it wasn’t for them, my site would just be an ordinary book review blog. Their blogs are also amazing and are tastefully done on a daily basis. I thank them and look forward to our growing friendship through the blog world." I'd like to pass this award along to
Over the Top Award: Thanks to Amy from My Friend Amy for this one: This comes with a meme in which you have to respond to a list of words and phrases with only one word. I answered this one in December; check out my post for the list and my responses. I'd like to pass this award along to
Honest Scrap Award: Thanks to Nicole of Books, Books Everywhere for this one: This comes with a meme in which you have to list ten honest things about yourself. I answered this one in November and October; check out those posts for some facts about me! I'd like to pass this award along to
Who Loves You Baby Award: Thanks to Alice from Hello, My Name Is Alice for this one. The button for this is so perfect for today. I'd like pass this award along to
Dragon's Loyalty Award: Thanks to Alice from Hello, My Name Is Alice for this one. I love this button!!! I'd like to pass this award along to
Love Your Header Award: Thanks to JoAnn from Lakeside Musing for this one. I love her header, which changes with the seasons. I would love to live along that lakeside! I'm supposed to pass this along to five bloggers. I'd like pass this award along to the following bloggers; if you aren't familiar with their headers, check them out.Phew!!!! Happy Valentine's Day to everyone and thanks to all who were kind enough to think of me when bestowing awards. Please be sure to visit at some of the blogs linked in this post -- it's a great way to make new friends.

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