30 April 2010

Review: A Gift from Brittany by Marjorie Price

In 1960, Marjorie Price left her comfortable life in the Chicago suburbs to spend some time in Paris sketching and immersing herself in the French art world. She was twenty-eight, unmarried, and traveled alone, making her either brave or foolhardy, depending on what you thought about independent women in the days before the modern feminist movement.

What Marjorie didn't expect to find was love and a new home. From the moment she first saw Yves and his paintings, she was smitten. Other girls may have dreamed of a knight in shinning armor, but she wanted an artist with a studio.

The early years of their relationship--when Marjorie was still learning French and Yves was building his portfolio--were almost perfect: They had a beautiful daughter, discussed art, socialized with gallery owners and painters, and were very much in love. But when Yves decided to buy half a hamlet in Brittany, their lives changed in profound ways.

In A Gift from Brittany, Marjorie Price shares not only the sadness of her crumbling marriage and of personal betrayals but also the unexpected friendships, peace, and self-awareness she gained from her years in the village of La Salle. Throughout, Marjorie found her anchor in her nearest neighbor, Jeanne.

Although Jeanne was old enough to be her mother, could not read, and had never traveled farther than she could walk, the two women were true soul mates. The love and support between them grew strong, enriching both their lives. As Marjorie said:

My life is divided in two: before I knew [Jeanne], and after. Before I met her, I didn't know that women like her existed. Before I knew her, I had no idea how hard a woman's life could be or how brave and resilient a woman had to be to survive. Or how someone so intertwined with nature and centuries past could show me the kind of love for which I had always yearned. (p. 242)
I too have been touched by the story of Jeanne and Marjorie.

To see some of Marjorie paintings and to see photographs of Jeanne and of La Salle, visit her website.

Please be sure to come back tomorrow for a guest post from Marjorie Price that includes one of Jeanne's traditional recipes. I am so excited to be able to share this with you.

A Gift from Brittany at Powell's
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Published by Penguin Group/Gotham Books, 2009
ISBN-13: 9781592404346
Challenges: Women Unbound, New Author, 100+
YTD: 38
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B

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Featuring . . . The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

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 by year.

In The Postmistress, Sarah Blake takes us to the year before Pearl Harbor. A time when the American public still thought that their boys would never have to fight, despite daily reports of the bombings of London. Here's the publisher's summary:

On the eve of the United States's entrance into World War II in 1940, Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod, does the unthinkable: She doesn't deliver a letter.

In London, American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting on the Blitz. One night in a bomb shelter, she meets a doctor from Cape Cod with a letter in his pocket, a letter Frankie vows to deliver when she returns from Germany and France, where she is to record the stories of war refugees desperately trying to escape.

The residents of Franklin think the war can't touch them--but as Frankie's radio broadcasts air, some know that the war is indeed coming. And when Frankie arrives at their doorstep, the two stories collide in a way no one could have foreseen.

The Postmistress is an unforgettable tale of the secrets we must bear, or bury. It is about what happens to love during war­time, when those we cherish leave. And how every story--of love or war--is about looking left when we should have been looking right.
I wanted to read this novel from the moment I first heard about it because it touches on many themes that interest me, especially how our perceptions of reality depend on the knowledge we have. I was not disappointed, noting in my review of The Postmistress that "The writing is beautiful, the characters are approachable, and the story will stick with you."

Nicole from Linus's Blanket was struck by the ethical dilemmas presented in the novel: "
The Postmistress . . . is a beautiful tale that examines the weighty and confusing issue of truth--when it needs to be told, under what circumstances, and who deserves to hear it."

Julie from Booking Mama had mixed reactions but noted, "I was extremely impressed with Ms. Blake's writing. I thought she told a beautiful story, and there were so many times that a passage really stood out to me."

Almost every review I've read has recommended The Postmistress for book clubs; there is a lot to discuss.

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 Postmistress at Powell's
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, April 2010
ISBN-13: 9780399156199

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29 April 2010

Thursday Tea: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

This week I am delighted to be listening to Beth Hoffman's Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (read by Jenna Lamia). I have had a print copy of the book for a couple of months now, but I just couldn't find a spot in my reading schedule. When my library offered the audio as a digital download, I jumped on it!

I am totally enchanted by the story of the young CeeCee Honeycutt who learned to cope with a difficult mother and an absent father. Although she's a tough kid and a true survivor, the twelve-year-old is not sure about leaving Ohio to live with her great-aunt Tootie in Georgia. CeeCee has no idea that she's about to be saved.

The Tea. This week I tried Harney & Son's Indian Spice tea. The evenings are still quite chilly here, and hot spicy tea is a great treat. The company describes the tea like this: "Assam tea, freshly ground cardamom, and spices combined together create this hauntingly subtle spice tea blend.'' Sadly, the spiciness is a bit too subtle for me. The tea has a lovely aroma and a nice flavor, but I like my chai to have more of zing.

The Assessment. It's 1967, and CeeCee is living in Savannah. I'd make a guess that neither Aunt Tootie nor Oletta (the housekeeper) has even heard of chai. They do drink tea: hot and cold and sweetened nicely. CeeCee would definitely give spiced tea a try, but the older women would likely opt for a more traditional brew.

What about you? What are reading or listening to this week? And what's in that cup or glass as this transitional season winds it way down to summer or winter?

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt at Powell's
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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.

FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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Review: Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

When I decided to read Marjane Satrapi's Embroideries, I had no idea what it was about. I chose it simply because I am a fan of the author's Persepolis books.

Satrapi invites us to share an afternoon with several Iranian women as they drink tea and talk about their sexual experiences with lovers and husbands. Although there are many laugh-out-loud moments, the humor is underlain with the realities of what it's like for women who do not have true freedom and independence.

Some were able to escape their arranged marriages to men who were thirty or forty years their senior. Some had the hope of life in West, only to be left with no choice but to return to Iran. One woman managed to have four daughters with her husband but has never seen a man or boy naked. Others discuss the joys and heartache of having a lover who is married.

As three generations of women share their laughter and tears, they also share their love and support for each other. They show that no matter how repressive a culture, women find a means to have at least some control over their destinies. The inherent strength of these women and their ability to cope give hope that changes will continue to be made in Iran and throughout the world for women who are still at the mercies of the men in their lives.

Embroideries at Powell's
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Published by Pantheon Books, 2005
ISBN-13: 9780375714672
Challenges: Graphic Novels, Graphic Novel Mini-Challenge, Women Unbound, Buy One and Read, 100+
YTD: 37
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: A

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28 April 2010

Wordless Wednesday #76

Water Tower (Schoonhoven, The Netherlands)

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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27 April 2010

Today's Read: A Gift from Brittany by Marjorie Price

The artist in me was in love with Paris. Never mind that in 1960 nice Midwestern young ladies did not travel third class across an ocean—alone!—to visit art galleries and sketch. What's more, at twenty-eight years old, I should have already been married and living in the suburbs. The evening I met Yves, I still believed that if I had a fabulous studio in France, my life would be perfect.

—For more Where Are You? answers, visit Raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading. (Text by me, based on today's read.)

MizB at Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Here's how it works: Grab your current read; let the book fall open to a random page; and share two "teaser" sentences from that page. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

It was the most exquisite painting I had every seen. In all Yves' work, the paint was thick and tactile, without detectable signs of brushwork or palette knife. It was as if paint had fallen by its own power onto the canvas without calculation or design and had magically twisted and intertwined to become these objects of beauty. I was transfixed. (p. 24)
—From A Gift from Brittany by Marjorie Price (Source: Review copy, see review policy)

A Gift from Brittany at Powell's
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26 April 2010

Beth Fish Laces

You may or may not have noticed that I was a bit absent from blogging and tweeting the last few days. I was co-hosting a lace workshop, where I finished a piece of lace that I've been working on for quite a while.

This is an example of Withof lace, a Dutch lace very much influenced by the art deco movement. (Click the image to see a large version of the scan.) This piece is 2¾ inches across and took about 55 hours of workshop time to complete.

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Giveaway: The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha

Last month I featured Neil Pashricha's The Book of Awesome as part of the Amy Einhorn Challenge. Neil has a wonderful knack of noticing the little things that make life so great. I loved The Book of Awesome and have had a lot of fun sharing some of Neil's awesome moments with Mr. BFR, family, and friends. You might also remember that I mentioned I was going to hold a giveaway for signed copy of the book.

Neil came up with the great idea of for the contest: Each person who enters the giveaway must share one awesome moment because that's what The Book of Awesome is all about.

I'm excited to share with you Neil's awesome introduction to the giveaway:

Hi everybody,

Wow, thanks so much for featuring The Book of Awesome on Beth Fish Reads!

It's been a completely surreal dream for me to write about free, universal little things for the past two years. I am very honored that you've included me on your site and in the Amy Einhorn Challenge and I'd love to start the conversation here about awesome things! What's awesome to you in your life? What simple pleasures make you smile? Here are a few from the book!
  • When the cashier opens up a new lane at the grocery store. (Take about a major mood change in that lineup!)
  • Getting called up to the dinner buffet first at a wedding.
  • Fixing electronics by smacking them. (This works great on the CD player in my car. Smack, smack, smack away.)
  • Waking up and realizing it's Saturday.
  • The last day of school. (Is it just me or did it always seem like the teachers were even more excited?)
I also want to add a new one: "Being featured on Beth Fish Reads!" Thanks so much, everybody. Hope you all have a very AWESOME day!

Awwwww! Thanks Neil! Here are two of mine:
  • Hearing the UPS truck coming down the street and realizing it's stopping in front of your house.
  • Going to the office supply store for printer paper and coming home with a pack of cool pens in fun colors.
Here's all you have to do to enter this fun giveaway: Tell us one awesome thing and leave your email address. I'll use a random number generator to pick the winner when I turn on my computer on May 7 (say, 5:30 AM EDT).

For more on The Book of Awesome, see my earlier feature post and visit Neil Pasricha's award-winning blog 1000 Awesome Things. (As I said in March: once you start reading Neil's blog, you'll be there for hours.)

I'll leave with just one more: Hosting an international giveaway for a signed book: AWESOME!

The Book of Awesome at Powell's
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Thanks to Putnam / Amy Einhorn Books and Neil for providing the book for the giveaway.

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25 April 2010

Challenge: 2010 EW Summer Books

It'll soon be summer, which means evenings on the deck reading and looking up every once in a while to watch the birds at the feeder. Julie at Booking Mama has an idea to make warm-weather reading a bit more fun: Her EW Summer Books Challenge! The idea is to read from Entertainment Weekly's summer reading list.

Pretty much all of the books look good; however, I'm joining up at the Polliwog level, which means I agree to read just 1 to 3 books. The challenge runs from May 1 to September 6.

Check out Julie's post for the complete list of 18 books, but here are few that caught my eye:

  • The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin
  • The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Click through to the challenge post for the complete rules and the rest of EW's summer picks. Now I just need the weather to cooperate!

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24 April 2010

Weekend Cooking: Pecan Crisps

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.


Today's Weekend Cooking is bought to you by popular demand. These cookies are wheat-free, gluten-free, wonderfully delicious, delicately light, and amazingly easy to make. They are also perfect for Passover. Not gluten intolerant? Don't celebrate Passover? No matter—I suggest you try them anyway.

The recipe was given to me by a friend. If you know the source, please tell me and I'll edit this post as soon as possible. The measures are American.

Pecan Crisps

Makes about 32
  • 6 ounces pecan halves (about 1½ cups)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup potato starch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 large egg whites, lightly beaten with a fork
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, put the oven rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F.

Coarsely chop 1 cup of the pecans.

Place the remaining pecans, the sugar, potato starch, salt, and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until finely ground (but don't let it form a paste).

Stir in the egg whites and add the chopped pecans.

Drop the batter onto the prepared pan using ½ tablespoon of batter per cookie and placing them about 2 inches apart. Bake 15 to 17 minutes until slightly puffy and light brown. Then take the cookies off the parchment and let cool completely on a rack.

Repeat with the remaining batter.

Store in an airtight container.

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23 April 2010

Featuring . . . My Wife's Affair by Nancy Woodruff

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 by year.

Publisher's Weekly
's starred review of My Wife's Affair opens by telling us that Nancy Woodruff "leaves not a dry eye in the house in this gripping ode to theater and the love it can command—and crush." The publisher summarizes the novel like this:

Georgie and Peter, very much in love, move to London with their three children. Once there, Georgie's dormant acting career takes off and she wins the role of Dora Jordan in a one-woman show. Dora Jordan was the most famous comic actress of the eighteenth century (she had thirteen illegitimate children, including ten by the future king of England).

As Georgie rehearses for her part, she becomes increasingly drawn to Dora Jordan, who she sees as a working mother with struggles exactly like her own. And when Georgie can no longer fight her attraction to the playwright, she begins an affair with tragic results.

Narrated by Peter, a failed-writer-turned-businessman, My Wife's Affair is about infidelity, passion, duty, and about finally getting what you want and then wanting still more.
I was initially attracted to My Wife's Affair for a number of reasons, including that it is set in London, it involves the theater, and it explores a marriage. But then I went to Nancy Woodruff's website and read the excerpt, and I was taken in by the prose. I wanted to read more . . . immediately.

After I saw what
Kelly of KellyVision had to say, I ordered a copy of the book. I can't wait for it to get here. Kelly's review ends with: "Books like this one are why I read so much—because every so often, you find one that just grabs you and won't let you go and is dangerously close to perfection."

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.

My Wife's Affair at Powell's
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, April 2010
ISBN-13: 9780399156298

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22 April 2010

Review: Flash Point by Sneed B. Collard III

At the start of his sophomore year in high school, Luther Wright is beginning to feel out of place among his friends. Instead of hitting the practice field, the ex-football player and wrestler has decided to help out the local veterinarian, Kay, rehabilitate her raptors, or birds of prey, such as eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls. Luther struggles with his decisions: Of course he wants his friends to still like him, but at the same time, he wants to explore his new interests. One of those interests just happens to be Alex, the daughter of the Fish and Wildlife warden.

Meanwhile, all around Luther's small town of Heartwood, Montana, the forests are burning after one of the driest summers on record. Vic, Luther's stepfather, a logger for the local mill, is hired by the Forest Service to help fight the fires. When more fires start under suspicious circumstances, local politics turn nasty. With Alex's help, Luther decides to take sides, but can he stick to his beliefs in the face of peer pressure?

It is no wonder that Sneed B. Collard III's Flash Point has won multiple awards. This is a complex and action-packed story that would appeal to many middle school readers, both boys and girls. On one level, the novel explores Luther's dilemma of being torn between a newfound passion (working with the birds) and wanting to fit in with the high school crowd. Although Luther is a good kid, he is by no means perfect. He makes poor choices, is awkward with Alex, and waivers in his commitment to being outspoken about protecting wildlife.

What make this book unique in terms of environmental issues is that it is not one-sided and does not preach a particular viewpoint. As Luther learns about forest management, he discovers that real-life concerns do not have easy answers. Loggers, mill owners, forestry officials, environmentalists, local businesses, and recreationalists all have a different perspective on how we should treat our wild areas. Although Sneed makes a case for the protection of nature, he presents the arguments sympathetically and avoids labeling any one group as being all evil.

Flash Point brings up several other themes that make good talking points: how the media can manipulate attitudes toward local events, facing the consequences of one's actions, the problems with making quick judgments about others, the difficulties of not going along with the crowd, and how teens can help make a difference. There is also a good bit of information about the care and feeding of raptors. This novel would make an excellent book club selection, parent-child readalong, or classroom assignment.

Flash Point won the 2006 ASPCA Henry Bergh Children's Book Award (honor winner, Young Adult category), the 2007 Green Earth Book Award from the Newton Marasco Foundation, and the 2007 Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year (Today category).

For more on author Sneed, see the fabulous guest post he wrote for Beth Fish Reads earlier this year, my review of his novel Double Eagle, and his website.

Flash Point at Powell's
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Published by Peachtree Publishers, 2006
ISBN-13: 9781561453856
Challenges: Young Adult, 100+
YTD: 36
Source: Review copy (see review policy)
Rating: A

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21 April 2010

Wordless Wednesday 75

Pennsylvania Outbuildings

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20 April 2010

Review: A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole

Celeste is a mouse who used live under the sideboard in the dinning room of a plantation house outside of New Orleans. When she is bullied one night by the two resident rats, Celeste ventures too far into the house and must race upstairs to avoid the cat.

Fortunately, she is discovered by Joseph, a young teenager who is apprenticed to John Audubon, the famous artist. Both Celeste and the boy are lonely, and they strike up a sort of friendship. Joseph feeds the mouse and lets her sleep in his shirt pocket.

Joesph takes Celeste with him when he goes on exploring trips into the surrounding countryside and lets her sit on the desk when he draws. While Celeste is with the teenager, she has the chance to meet and make friends with several different kinds of birds, including ospreys, swallows, and wrens.

Eventually, she finds the perfect house for herself up in the attic, safe from the cat. She is worried about being lonely again, but thanks to a broken window, her bird friends can come visiting.

Henry Cole's A Nest for Celeste is fiction, but according to the author's afterword, it is true that Audubon and his assistant lived on a Louisiana plantation for several months in 1821. Some of the methods Audobon used to create his famous paintings were less than kind to the birds he immortalized.

A Nest for Celeste provides parents and middle-grade readers with a basis for discussing issues involving friendship, kindness to animals, and the meaning of home. Although the novel is illustrated on almost every page, this is not a picture book or a book for only the very young.

The black and white pencil (or are they charcoal?) drawings are lovely and are in the style shown on the cover. I was unable to find any drawings to share, and the book wouldn't sit flat on my scanner, but the book trailer includes some of the artwork.

A Nest for Celeste was a spring 2010 Indie Next pick for kids. Henry Cole has a website where you can view a different book trailer and see a variety of his illustrations for other children's books. The HarperCollins website allows you to take a peek inside the novel.

A Nest for Celeste at Powell's
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Published by HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061704109

Challenges: Young Adult, New Author, 100+
YTD: 35
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B

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19 April 2010

Giveaway: Harry Potter and Gift Card

Scholastic is celebrating all things Harry Potter in their The Real Magic of Harry Potter campaign. Now is the perfect time to find out all about these wonderful books or to spend some time revisiting Harry and his friends.

As part of the festivities, Scholastic has a new website that will draw you and your kids into the magical world of Harry. There are games and other activities as well as information about each book.

But Scholastic hasn't stopped at just a website, they are also offering a trip to Universal Orlando Resort's new theme park called the Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- four lucky families will a trip to the park, which is scheduled to open June 8, 2010. From now to June 1, kids ages 7 to 14 who are U.S. residents can enter to win one of those trips for their family. Visit the Scholastic Sweepstakes site to get all the details. Who wouldn't want that trip?

Don't forget to visit Scholastic's Facebook page for all things Harry. If you're on Twitter, you can follow there too.

Now what's a promotional without a giveaway! Scholastic is offering a fabulous prize to one of the readers of Beth Fish Reads. One person will win both of these:

  • A $50 Visa gift card
  • One boxed set of the seven Harry Potter books (valued at $89.99)
This contest is being sponsored by Scholastic and is open to readers with a U.S. mailing address (no post office boxes).

All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment with your email address and tell me one of things you love about the Harry Potter books or why you are excited to finally read them. Comments must have both of these to be entered into the contest. The giveaway is open until I turn my computer on Tuesday, May 4 (about 5:00 am EDT). I will pick the winner later that day using a random-number generator.

Here's the new Harry Potter trailer to whet your appetite.

I read each Harry Potter book as it was released. Oh the agony of waiting for the next book! One the best thing about this series is that everyone loves them and I remember talking about the books with my entire family -- from the preschoolers to the grandparents. If you haven't yet taken the plunge, now's the perfect time to join the fun and enter the magical world of Harry Potter.

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18 April 2010

Readalong 2: The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

Here is what is likely my last post for the Lord of the Rings readalong. I've finished the final book in the trilogy, The Return of the King (by J. R. R. Tolkien), and I'm ready to answer the mid-month questions. April's host is Maree at Just Add Books.

The last I discussed Return of the King, I was on the battlefield near Gondor and had not yet revisited Sam and Frodo. Sam becomes such a hero during the march through Mordor that you have to admire him for his strength of character. Even as Frodo says himself early on after they leave the others, he wouldn't have gone far without Sam.

  • If you're a repeat offender reader, like me, how are you finding the return journey? Are you loving it just as much as ever? What little treasures have you found in ROTK that you never noticed before?
I really like all the parts at the end of the book that the movie left out: from the final skirmishes to the preparations of the crowning to the return to the Shire. The ending is one part of the movie that I really dislike. In the film, even after having been in battle and faced the terror of Mordor, the Hobbits are still treated like children who have just won the spelling bee. People bow down to them, but the four Hobbits project no sense of their strength and maturity.

I am not going to recap the entire end of the book, but there was lots to do between the time the eagles find Sam and Frodo and the time the Hobbits start out for the Shire. The countryside is cleansed of the remaining evil, new kings and princes are given their lands, the dead are honored and properly buried, Aragorn is crowned, and at least two weddings take place.

When the Hobbits leave Gondor to return to the Shire, the fellowship starts out together and then slowly dwindles as Aragorn leaves to take care of his duties and Legolas and Gimili visit Fangorn Forest. Once back in Rivendell, the Hobbits meet up with Bilbo and finally take their leave and head for Bree. After Bree, it is just the four Hobbits, dressed for battle, who arrive back home. There they must rally the Hobbits to throw out Saruman and Wormtongue and then set the land right again.
  • How do you feel, when you close the end of the last part; after Sam's words on the last page? Are you sad it's over, nostalgic? Looking for your next read already?
I was sorry it was over, and the parting of the ship from the Gray Havens is always so sad. The times of the elves and wizards are over, and now begins the time of men. The ending is fitting for all the characters, and Sam will certainly find his peace at last. I am also sad because I won't likely read the book again for another five years or so.

If you haven't read the book, then you probably don't know that the trilogy ends with extensive appendices. These tell you a bit of what happens to the remaining fellowship as well as some history and other information. Much of this material is included in the unabridged audio edition. I have read the appendices several times, but I chose not to this month.
  • What's your favourite scene in ROTK?
Are you kidding? This is as bad as asking me to name my favorite book or author. I just can't do it. So there!
Thanks to all the hosts for The Lord of the Rings readalong. I'm so glad I decided to participate.

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17 April 2010

Weekend Cooking: Better Burgers

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.


Those of you who read my blog during the week, know that I featured William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor mystery books for the Detectives Around the World theme week brought to us by Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts. Ex-Sheriff O'Connor runs a burger and fry shack that serves the fishermen and boaters who frequent Iron Lake near his northern Minnesota home.

In honor of Cork, I'm featuring a burger recipe today. I realize that there is no way one could order these awesome sandwiches at his burger joint, but I doubt you need a recipe for grilling up a premade beef patty.

This recipe comes from Ellie Krieger's So Easy, which I reviewed earlier this year. We really loved the flavor, but I made our burgers with ground lamb (because that's what I had in the freezer).

Better Burger with Green Olives

Makes 4 burgers
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • Tomatoes, lettuce, onion, condiments as desired
Combine the beef, olives, parsley, cumin, and pepper in a medium bowl until well mixed. Shape into 4 burgers. Cook over medium high heat in a sprayed grill pan or on an outdoor grill for about 4 minutes per side.

Beth Fish's notes: As I said, I used ground lamb for the meat. I also added an egg to the mixture. We are thinking of topping them with feta cheese next time.

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16 April 2010

Featuring . . . The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

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 by year.

Today's novel is for all fans of Little Women. In The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O'Connor McNees imagines the budding author in love and embracing life while trying to do her best for her family. Here's the publisher's summary:

In the bestselling tradition of Loving Frank and March comes a novel for anyone who loves Little Women.

Millions of readers have fallen in love with Little Women. But how could Louisa May Alcott--who never had a romance--write so convincingly of love and heartbreak without experiencing it herself?

Deftly mixing fact and fiction, Kelly O'Connor McNees imagines a love affair that would threaten Louisa's writing career--and inspire the story of Jo and Laurie in Little Women. Stuck in small-town New Hampshire in 1855, Louisa finds herself torn between a love that takes her by surprise and her dream of independence as a writer in Boston. The choice she must make comes with a steep price that she will pay for the rest of her life.
Who didn't love Little Women, especially if you were young before the current abundance of young adult fiction. Jo was smart, strong, and independent, and so was Louisa. There are so many reasons to read McNees's novel: great historical fiction, insight into a favorite author, an examination of dreams versus duty, a study of family dynamics, and a look at young love. (My own review will be up soon.)

For a wonderful conversation with McNees, don't miss the TLC tour blog chat hosted by Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading? (Warning: there are spoilers in that conversation.) It shows just how thought-provoking the book is. The novel would be a great book club choice.

No overview of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott can be complete without this very fun book trailer:

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 Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott at Powell's
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, April 2010
ISBN-13: 9780399156526

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15 April 2010

Detectives Around the World: Cork O'Connor's Minnesota

Welcome back to Detectives Around the World, a theme week brought to us by Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts. Be sure to check out the other reviews and essays and recipes that are being shared all week. And be sure to join in the scavenger hunt.

On Tuesday, I gave you an overview of Cork O'Connor and a short review of Purgatory Ridge by William Kent Krueger. Today I want to give you a feel for northern Minnesota. Cork O'Connor's town of Aurora is not far from the Boundary Waters, the tip of Lake Superior, and the Superior National Forest--all three of which play a part in Krueger's series.

The photo at the top the left was taken in the Boundary Waters (USFS, in the public domain), which is a popular area for canoeists. The photo at the top right is of the shores of Lake Superior (Douglas Adams, in the public domain). Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world and is deep and cold. The photo on the bottom is of a lake in the Chippewa National Forest (public domain). From these photos (click on them for full size), you might be getting a clear idea of why Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The Upper Midwest was a destination for Scandinavian immigrants, and their foods and traditions have made a strong mark in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Although Cork O'Connor is not Norwegian, it is completely appropriate to share a Norwegian recipe to represent his region of the United States. (For some Ojibwe recipes in honor of his American Indian ancestry, try the food page of Native American online.)

To keep with the literary theme, the following recipe comes from Carrie Young, the author of two wonderful essay collections about the Norwegian immigration experience in the early 1900s. The recipe appeared in a 1983 article Young wrote for Gourmet magazine.

Kjottboller (Norwegian Meatballs)

Serves 4
  • ½ pound lean ground beef
  • ½ pound lean ground pork
  • 1 large egg, beaten lightly
  • 1 tablespoon light cream or half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2½ teaspoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups water
In a bowl combine the beef, pork, egg, cream, 1½ teaspoons of the salt, 1½ teaspoons of the sugar, the nutmeg and pepper. Form the mixture into balls.

In a heavy skillet just large enough to hold the meatballs in one layer, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over moderate heat and add the meatballs. Cook over moderately low heat, turning them, for 20 to 30 minutes or until brown and crusty. Transfer, using a slotted spoon, to a bowl.

Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the fat remaining in the skillet (or add the remaining butter to make 3 tablespoons). Add the flour, and cook the roux over moderately low heat, stirring and scraping up the brown bits clinging to the skillet, for 2 minutes. Add the water in a stream, stirring constantly, bring the sauce to a boil, stirring, and simmer for 3 minutes.

Stir in the remaining salt and sugar, add the meatballs, and simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the meatballs are heated through. Transfer all to a heated tureen and serve with lefser (potato pancakes).

Hope you enjoyed this look into Sheriff O'Connor's world. Come back on Saturday for another recipe.

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14 April 2010

Wordless Wednesday 74

Crab Apple in Bloom

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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13 April 2010

Review: Purgatory Ridge by William Kent Krueger

I am happy to welcome you to my contribution to Detectives Around the World, a theme week brought to us by Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts. Be sure to check out the other reviews and essays and recipes that are being shared all week. There's even a scavenger hunt!

This post offers an overview of the series and then a short review of Purgatory Ridge.

William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor series takes place in northern Minnesota, in the small town of Aurora, which is not far from the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. Cork, now in his late forties, grew up there, son of the local sheriff. Despite his thoroughly Irish name, he is part Ojibwe Anishinaabe and has strong emotional ties to his Native American roots.

Cork was born to be a cop and got his street smarts on the beat in the South Side of Chicago, where he met and married Jo, an attorney. Cork returned to Aurora and became sheriff, adapting easily to his father's old position. Jo, on the other hand, fought hard to establish herself as the first woman lawyer in town. They are raising their three kids with the help of Jo's sister, Rose, who lives with them and keeps the home fires burning.

When one of Cork's closest friends, Sam Winter Moon, was killed in front of him, the sheriff emptied his pistol into the murderer. As the result of a particularly nasty series of local editorials, Cork was relieved of the only job he ever really wanted. After Cork learned he had inherited his friend's burger shack, Sam's Place, he decided to keep the restaurant in operation. Flipping burgers keeps him occupied now that he's a civilian.

Purgatory Ridge is the third in the Cork O'Connor series. Karl Lindstrom, lumber magnate, moves from the big city to the shores of Iron Lake, near Aurora, to better oversee his mill's operation. He has gained permission to log the national forest, which stirs up local and national unrest. Protests are heard from both the Ojibwe, who revere the old-growth trees, and outside environmental groups, who have descended on the town. On the other side of the argument are the loggers and mill workers who rely on Karl to pay their salaries and keep food on their tables.

Meanwhile, Karl's wife, the author Grace Fitzgerald, is unwittingly stirring up resentments of her own.

Although Cork is no longer sheriff, he cannot sit on the sidelines after a series of explosions threaten the mill and then Karl's life. When Jo and their son get caught up in Grace's troubles, Cork is pulled in full-time.

The novels in the Cork O'Connor series have multiple threads. Always there is a Native American element to the plot line--sometimes political, sometimes mystical. Krueger then develops other threads that may address larger issues. For example, Purgatory Ridge focuses on environmental activism and the seedy side of big business. Some of these themes are directly related to the cases that Cork is trying to solve; others serve as red herrings while adding a richness to the overall story.

Krueger's skill as a writer pops out from the pages and grabs your attention, whether it's an action scene or a description, like this:

Moonlight spilled generously out of the sky. It flowed across the lake and dripped white as milk from the trees along the shoreline. (p. 191)
Purgatory Ridge was a finalist for the 2002 Barry Award for Best Novel and a finalist for the 2002 Dilys Award. The tenth Cork O'Connor book will come out in September 2010. I recommend the series either in audio or in print, and I suggest that the books be read in order.

Purgatory Ridge at Powell's
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Published by Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2001
ISBN-13: 9781439157787

Challenges: Cozy Mystery, Buy & Read, 2010, 100+
YTD: 33
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+

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12 April 2010

Review: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake examines one year in the lives of three women who unexpectedly share an intertwined world in the early days of World War II. The story moves from Franklin, Massachusetts, on the tip of Cape Cod, to bomb-weary London in the year before Pearl Harbor.

Iris James, postmaster; Emma Fitch, the doctor's bride; and Frankie Bard, broadcast journalist, hold only one thing in common: Will Fitch. His agreement with Iris, his love for Emma, and his serendipitous connection with Frankie bring the three together, allowing them to find solidity at a moment when each life has been shattered.

In The Postmistress, Blake explores how people can appear to live in the same place and time and yet not share the same reality. Knowledge changes one's existence, thus those who know live in a different world side by side with their less-informed neighbors. At what point, if ever, do you share the facts, forever altering another's memories?

A second strong theme is the idea of fate. Some, like Emma, struggle with the concept:

Life seemed to her like a city hotel with many floors. She did not like to think of all the hallways she'd never seen, nor all the hallways that she might have walked along if she had gotten off at a different floor. She didn't like to think that there was more than one hallway than the one she was in--one in which she hadn't met Will. (pp. 68-69)
Others, like Will, accept it:
"And one day, I got it. I lifted my head from the child's chest I was listening to and realized, with a shock of relief: whatever is coming, comes. That's what holds it all together. We are all of us here in the mess. There's no way around it." (p. 159)
Additional threads include the nature of broadcast journalism, attitudes about the war before December 1941, and whether love is ever enough. This multilayered novel is a recommended choice for book clubs.

Note that the book is not without a few flaws. The frame story of The Postmistress does not come full circle, which was a bit of a disappointment, although it did not detract from the core of the novel. At least one event near the end came suddenly and had little followup, which leaves the reader wondering whether it added to the story.

These are, however, minor issues. The writing is beautiful, the characters are approachable, and the story will stick with you.

The Postmistress at Powell's
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780399156199

Challenges: New Author, What's in a Name, Historical Fiction, Amy Einhorn, 100+
YTD: 32
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A−

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11 April 2010

Read-a-Thon: Poetry Month Style

The spring Readathon is nearly over. It'll be six months until I can cheer again (sob!). I'm packing up my pompoms and folding up my uniform for another day.

Although I spent some time on the blogs assigned to the Keats Cheerleading Squad, I really mostly hung out on Twitter. One of the best parts of Read-a-thon is getting to meet new bloggers.

This year, inspired by Dawn from She Is Too Fond of Books, I went crazy cheering in haiku. In honor of the readers and of poetry month, I present some of my silly creations:

Take twenty-four hours
And read and read all that day
Savor the moments

Enjoy your book now.
Don’t forget to rest your eyes.
Look to next novel.

Keep with the reading
You will go far on this day
Take time to enjoy

What are you reading?
Quiet hours pass on by
Lovely Saturday

Spring Readathon go
Great way to spend the minutes
Lost in your novel

Is it dark or light?
Reading through all the hours
Be sure to have fun

How do your eyes feel?
Scanning words on the pages
Close them to get rest.

Around the world, yes!
International event
Everyone go read

Reading takes a toll
Stand and stretch and eat
Settle back with book

Are you still awake?
We are cheering you today
Hope you love your book

Sun or rain or snow
Both sides of the equator
All are lost in books

What's there to read?
Piles of books are everywhere
Can't chose the next one.

And a couple of cheers:

Books, books
They're everywhere
How you read them
We don't care!

Eyes are tired
Eyes are itching
Time to switch to audio edition

Good night to all the participants and great job to everyone: cheerleaders and readers alike.

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10 April 2010

Weekend Cooking: Brownies from the Rich and Famous

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.


Katharine Hepburn BrowniesAll you book bloggers know that today is the spring Readathon. For those of you who are not book bloggers, the Readathon is a day when readers all around the world commit to spending 24 hours to reading and then blogging and tweeting about it. It's loads of fun and a great community builder.

This is my third Readathon, and I have made these brownies for each one. This is my go-to recipe when it's after dinner and we feel like something sweet. I always have the ingredients, and it takes less than 10 minutes to get these in the oven. I have no source for the recipe, but the friend who gave it to me, called them Katharine Hepburn's brownies! True or not, you won't be disappointed when you need a fast dessert.

Katharine Hepburn's Brownies

Makes 16
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 squares (1 ounce) unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of an 8-inch square pan.

Melt the butter and chocolate.

Beat the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a mixer or with a whisk until very light. Beat in the melted chocolate and butter. Blend in the flour. Stir in the nuts.

Spread batter in the pan and bake 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool pan on a rack and cut into 16 squares.

To the best of my knowledge the Hepburn photo is in the public domain.

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09 April 2010

Featuring . . . The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni

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 by year.

The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni takes us away from the ordinary and into the quirky. Here's the publisher's summary:

On the outskirts of a small town in Iowa, Sebastian Prendergast lives in a geodesic dome with his eccentric grandmother, who has spent the last eleven years homeschooling him on the teachings of the futurist philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller. But when his grandmother has a stroke, Sebastian is forced to leave the dome and make his own way. He soon discovers punk music, the exquisite torture of first love, and the fact that every family has its secrets.

Funny, heartwarming, and wholly original, The House of Tomorrow is the story of a young man's self-discovery, a dying woman's last wish, and a band of misfits trying desperately to be heard.
In case that summary hasn't grabbed you, perhaps you should take a look at the book trailer (which is one of my favorite trailers):

How about we look at a couple of reviews (click the links for the full reviews)?
  • Kelly from KellyVision says, "It's a book that is pretty far outside of my experience (I could not tell you thing one about anything the characters experience in this novel) and yet, I completely get everything. It's got nothing to do with me, but it's my story."
  • Jen from Devourer of Books says, "Although I’m not a huge punk rock fan, I LOVED the way it interacted with this book. Even for someone who doesn’t care much about music one way or another, the way that Sebastian and Jared discovered the world and their friendship through punk was just absolutely captivating."
For audiobook fans, it is my understanding that the audio edition is excellent. Although I have an ARC of the book, I will likely choose to listen to 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 House of Tomorrow at Powell's
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, March 2010
ISBN-13: 9780399156090

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08 April 2010

Being Extra-Challenged

As you might know, I join Kris's (from Not Enough Books) Cozy Mystery Challenge each year (you can still join, it just started). This time around, Margot from Joyfully Retired decided to double the challenge by reading one book from each of the authors featured on The Cozy Chicks blog. I am going to try to meet her challenge so I can get to know seven new series (you know, I just don't have enough series going).

I am also participating in the 2010 Graphic Novels Challenge. In April, Heather from Tales of a Capricious Reader is hosting a Graphic Nonfiction Mini-Challenge. There is no set number of books to read (well, duh, you have to read at least one!). I happen to have three graphic nonfiction titles in the house and I'm hoping to get to all of them. My titles are Embroideries, Stitches, and Blankets, and I want to know if I get extra points for reading only single-word, plural noun titles.

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Thursday Tea: The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

I am still listening to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King. Right now, everyone is involved in crisis: Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are leading reinforcements to Gondor; Merry is with the Rohirrim on the battlefield; Pippin and Gandolf are in the city fighting and trying to save Faramir from his father's insanity; and Sam is trying to save Frodo from the Orcs. Yeah, Tolkien has us on the edge of our seats wondering who will live and who will die. Okay, so I already know the outcome, but that doesn't make it less exciting.

The Tea. I opened a tin of Harney & Son's Cranberry Autumn, which I bought a few months ago but hadn't yet tried. Here's the description: "Dried cranberry and orange bits are blended with handpicked black teas from China and India producing a full-bodied brew as delicious as its scent.'' The company is correct; the aroma is heavenly, and the taste is not disappointing. I'm going to be trying it iced over the next month or so. I am still drinking hot tea in the afternoon, even though the temperatures have been close to 80°F.

The Assessment. At this point, I don't think the characters would care what tea they were given. Even an elf might be thankful for just a few minutes of quiet time with a warm drink, something sweet to eat, and good company. Unfortunately, no one is going to be enjoying tea for a while yet.

What about you? No matter which hemisphere you're in, the seasons are changing. So tell, me, what are drinking now? And what are reading or listening to this week?

The Return of the King at Powell's
For Audible and Simply Audiobooks see sidebar
These 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.

FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.
The links lead to the Del Rey editions, but there are many available.

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07 April 2010

Review: The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens

I'm thrilled to announce that my review of Lori Lansens's The Wife's Tale: A Novel (audiobook edition) has been published at the WETA Book Studio blog.

Although obesity is common in the twenty-first century, more novels have focused on anorexia and bulimia than on overeating. Mary Gooch, the wife in Lori Lansens's The Wife's Tale, learned she was "obeast" when at nine years old she overheard the doctor whispering the word to her mother. At forty-three, Mary weighs 302, two pounds bigger than she ever thought she'd get.

On the eve of her silver anniversary, Mary walks the familiar trail between the bed and the refrigerator, eating to calm her worries about why her husband has not yet come home. Alone in the dark of night, she measures each heartbreak—her miscarriages, her father's death, her hysterectomy—by the number of pounds she gained. The hum of the Kenmore calls to her like the Sirens, and she is unable to resist its song.

At Jimmy Gooch's sudden disappearance, Mary is at a loss for what to do. Without giving it much thought, she leaves her town and her country for the first time, hoping to find her husband and save her marriage. How will Mary, the obeast, cope in southern California, home of plastic surgery and stick-figure models and actors?

In what could have been yet another story of a deserted wife, Lansens instead focuses on two principal themes. First, the novel takes a frank look at what it means to be morbidly obese, from finding clothes to having no energy, to sneaking food, and to waiting for a heart attack. Mary can read the thoughts in people's eyes as they watch her, so she learns never to look up. The novel helps us understand that, as with anorexia, overeating is related to self-esteem and control issues.

The Wife's Tale is also a story of survival. In her travels, Mary meets and befriends people who have faced different kinds of adversity, such as drug addiction, loss of a spouse, immigration, and loss of wealth. Each person reinforces the deceptively simple key to coping that Mary's father used to recite: Get a drink from the hose and push on. Through reciprocal support and friendship, she finally discovers her own inner strength to do just that. Mary's personal journey is taken one labored step at a time, and even though she's not yet reached her destination, she is surprised to see just how far she's come.

The unabridged audio edition of The Wife's Tale was read by Justin Eyre. Eyre's narration takes us smoothly through the range of Mary Gooch's experiences and emotions. Her rendering of Mary is sympathetic, but the irony and humor of Lansens's writing is not lost. The voices are varied enough to guide the listener without being distracting or intruding.

Thanks to The Book Studio, and especially Bethanne Patrick and Swapna Krisha, for the opportunity.

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