31 August 2010

Thoughts: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Spoilers)

*~*~*~*~*~Spoilers Abound~*~*~*~*~*

I am going to make the assumption that anyone reading this post has already read Mockingjay or doesn't mind spoilers. This is not a review but a compilation of my thoughts about the last in a much-loved trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Let me start this post off by saying that that I loved much in the first, say, 85 percent of the novel. I had some issues (outlined below), but I was going with the story and Collins's choices. Until we started closing in on the end. Then, well, I had problems. So many problems that I ended feeling disappointed in the book.

Let me also say that my own anticipation and personal expectations for the novel were high. Perhaps too high. Maybe I would have had an easier time with the book if I hadn't eagerly awaited my copy and then zipped through it in one day. Maybe I'm a bit outside the demographic for this novel.

Finally, any book and trilogy that creates so much discussion among bloggers and readers is a hit with me. And almost everyone else loved Mockingjay and loved the ending. I absolutely enjoyed the series and still recommend the books.

But enough of the disclaimers. Let me tell you what I really thought.

Katniss: I know that Katniss had been through a lot. She was plucked out of the arena and whisked off to District 13 and was mentally and physically battered. On the other hand, I felt that she spent most of the book either drugged up / sedated or acting like a spoiled brat. She certainly didn't act like much of leader and was often missing the solid strength we saw in her in the earlier books.

Peeta: First, what could have been a great story line--Peeta's mental highjacking--just seemed to fizzle out. Second, his relationship with Katniss was not strengthened in the novel, making the ending (more on that later) weaker. Third, one baffling question is why he was allowed to go to the Capitol at the end. Surely there was at least one other person who knew the ins and outs of the place. It was unclear how Peeta suddenly became trustworthy or cured.

Gale: I was confused about Gale's transformation from a rebel hero into a government-loving, weapons-producing soldier. It bothered me so much when he was mean to Katniss that I was pulled right out of the story. After all, he was the guy who taught her how to hunt, who was her and her family's salvation for almost a decade, who saved her family from the destruction of District 12, who was the one person Katniss could trust, and the one who always had her back. I didn't think Katniss had to end up with Gale, but I can't understand why his personality had to be changed.

Prim: Yes, of course, there is collateral damage in any war. But there was no reason to kill Prim. With her death came the end of hope for the future, but this was not carried through in the novel because Katniss finds a fairy tale way out of that hopelessness (more on that later). I think Prim should have been allowed to live and become a doctor. I wonder if she was killed to try to make us hate Gale.

Gaps: Because the story is told through Katniss's eyes and because she is sedated and in the hospital most of the time, we are left with many gaps in the story line. I was disappointed and felt there were too many solutions that happened off the pages.

Ending: There were several things I didn't like about the ending, but I'll mention only a few issues here. First, I should comment that my dissatisfaction does not have anything to do with Katniss not ending up with Gale.
  • Gale getting captured: An awesomely dramatic and fully believable and stunning scene would have been for Katniss to have shot Gale with an arrow when he got caught. They promised each other to do that, and she should have done it. Oh wow, would that have been heartbreaking and so emotional.
  • Gale ending up in District 2 working for the government and appearing on television. This was hard for me to understand. He was absolutely not a city person. The Gale we used to know, the one who defied the government since he was quite young, the one who wanted to take his chances in the wilderness or in District 13, the great hunter--he was unlikely to end up in a city. If Collins didn't want to kill him or let him be with Katniss, she should have had him disappear into the woods. Then Katniss could visit their rock every once in a while to look for signs of her oldest and closest and most trusted friend.
  • Gale and his (non)part in Prim's death: I find it hard to believe that Katniss would turn her back on everything that Gale ever did for her and her family because one of his ideas was used in a battle and Prim died. Did the wives and girlfriends (husbands and boyfriends) of every physicist whose work helped create the atom bomb reject their spouses? Or did they help their mates and friends get over their distress and guilt that they may have caused innocent deaths? Is Katniss that incapable of seeing the situation from Gale's point of view?
  • Peeta: When Peeta was brought back from the Capitol and tried to murder Katniss (making it so she had to be drugged up yet again), all the medical and psychological experts expressed the belief that he would never truly be cured. After he bakes a cake, however, everyone suddenly thinks he is safe. I must have missed something.
  • Katniss: It is totally unrealistic that Katniss didn't leave her kitchen for months on end. I find it hard to accept that no one would have coaxed her outside or to her bedroom. I don't think she would have slept in the kitchen. If she was that bad off, someone should have given her drugs or counseling.
  • Katniss in solitude: I totally understand that Katniss went home and did not want to be in the limelight to be used as the mockingjay anymore. But it is hard to believe that not one single person, not one television reporter sought her out. I doubt she would have been immediately forgotten and the whole mockingjay icon would have just vanished. It is difficult for me to accept that the public, the other winners, and even her own mother would reject her and forget about her.
But it is the very end, the epilogue, that I really dislike. Here's the message the book sends to young girls (as I see it):
A guy can almost kill you, say he's sorry, claim he's cured (despite the doubts of the experts), and declare his love for you, and you should welcome him into your house and into your bed. Because he's acted romantic and loving in the past, what's a little strangulation if he says he's sorry and won't do it again? You can be adamant about not wanting to have children, but if that same guy wants kids, you naturally do what he wants, never mind what you think is right for you. And you obey because there are only two futures: (1) spending your life hidden in your house, alone and in despair, or (2) getting married and having kids. Yes, it's only by sleeping next to a person who tried to kill you and who talked you into having children that you will find true and lasting peace.
Not the message I would want my daughter to have. I will be having serious discussions with my fifteen-year-old niece when she finishes the book. I do not want her to think that is okay to be manipulated and cowed by a man who claims to love you.

If any of you are still talking to me, let me know what you think.

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30 August 2010

Mockingjay Tour: What's Up with District 13?

It's hard to believe that the wait is over and Mockingjay is finally here. Just in case you've been vacationing on another planet, I'll let you in on a little secret: Mockingjay was released last week--on August 24.

Today is the final stop on the month-long 13-District tour. The posts on this tour have been fabulous, and if you've missed any, you should go back and take a look. Information can be found on the official Hunger Games Facebook page.

For those of you who have not yet read Mockingjay this post is spoiler free for the third book, but not necessarily so for the first two.

The Mysterious District 13

When I was asked to be the District 13 representative, I was wondering what I could reveal about my district. As you know, we got tired of being controlled by the Capitol and openly rebelled. Yay for us for being brave, but perhaps we weren't so smart.

We were known for our nuclear power technology, graphite mining, and well . . . um, you see, after our rebellion, the Capitol destroyed our entire district. Really. If you don't believe that, just take a look at that footage of the barren wasteland that they're always showing on the screens. (Just ignore that mockingjay that flies by in the corner. Nothing for you to be concerned with.)

The real question is whether any of us still exist. Okay, so maybe that's not a huge question because, after all, I'm here, aren't I? Of course, I'm hiding in an undisclosed location, so maybe I'm not in District 13 at all.

Gale and Katniss are always trying to get around the Capitol's rules, although Peeta is more obedient and perhaps even a bit of a goody-goody. When Katniss meets Bonnie and Twill in the woods by the lake in District 12, she and Gale begin to think the unthinkable. If Bonnie and Twill are correct, then District 13 survived the bombing seventy-five years ago, and it is now harboring rebels from around the country.

Twill insists that we in District 13 were clever enough to hide underground. And the mere thought that people can escape the Capitol and live free intrigues Katniss and Gale. Unfortunately, when Katniss finds herself in the arena again, she must put aside her dreams of District 13 and concentrate on surviving.

Katniss, however, is always a step ahead of the Capitol--the living embodiment of the mockingjay. When she, wearing her famous gold pin, finds a way to breach the arena's outer defenses, a hovercraft, with Gale and Haymitch onboard, plucks her out of danger. And just who owns that hovercraft? District 13!

So now what do you think about the situation in my district?

For all you anti-establishment folks out there, show your defiance and your love of freedom and independence by wearing your very own gold metallic mockingjay button. Yes! Like Katniss, you can let others know just where you stand. Are you with the Capitol or against it? The gold-colored mockingjay pin will make your allegiance shine forth.

The particulars: There will be 50 lucky winners of these exclusive gold metallic mockingjay buttons. All you have to do to be entered in the giveaway is to fill out the following form.

This giveaway is available to U.S. mailing addresses only (P.O. boxes are just fine). Multiple entries will be discarded. Winners will be contacted via email on Wednesday, September 8. Because there will be 50 winners, I will not post the names.

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28 August 2010

Weekend Cooking: Review: The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook by Jaden Hair

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.


If you have ever explored the cooking blogs, then I'm sure you've come across The Steamy Kitchen, the blog and website written by Jaden Hair. The tag line for Jaden's blog is "Fast, Fresh, and Simple," which is what most of us are looking for.

When I learned Jaden had written a cookbook, I knew I had to have it. As the subtitle for The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook proclaims, the recipes are indeed "simple enough for tonight's dinner." As one comes to expect from Tuttle Publishing, the book is absolutely beautifully put together: stunning photographs of every main dish, and chapters that explain all the ingredients, basic sauces, and spice mixtures.

One of the things I really love about The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook is the step-by-step photographs of special techniques, such as how to make a summer roll, how to shape dumplings for potstickers, and how to devein shrimp. Throughout you'll also find great tips for substituting ingredients, buying Asian vegetables, and determining cooking times.

Although Jaden emphasizes Asian flavors, many of the dishes are based on familiar standbys: Baked Crispy Chicken with Citrus Teriyaki Sauce, Korean BBQ-Style Burgers, Beer Steamed Shrimp with Garlic, and Hoisin, and Honey Glazed Baby Back Ribs. At the end of each recipe introduction, you'll find suggestions for accompanying dishes, which is great for cooks who are just learning about some of these flavors and ingredients.

I made the Shrimp Pad Thai (the dish shown on the book cover), and it was easy, fast, beautiful, and delicious. I also made Grilled Lamb Chops with Asian Pesto (yum!). Instead of sharing a recipe with you, I'm posting a short video of the Betty Crocker Test Kitchen trying out a steak recipe that you'll find on page 90 of Jaden's book.

Looks delicious and not at all difficult. Jaden's easygoing personality comes out in her writing and on her blog.

Published by Tuttle Publishing, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780804840286
YTD: 76
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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27 August 2010

Featuring . . . In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke

This Friday and every Friday for the next several months I'll be featuring a book in the Harper Perennial Imprint. Some were recently published, some will be released later this year, all are worth a closer look.

This is the perfect week to introduce you to Laura Kasischke's In a Perfect World. Why? Because hers is an adult novel in the dystopian style. No, you won't find televised hunger games in this book; instead you'll find a fairly ordinary thirty-two-year-old newlywed with new stepchildren trying to stay alive after the pandemic outbreak of the Phoenix flu has brought the world to a halt.

Here's the publisher's summary:

This is the way the world ends . . .

It was a fairy tale come true when Mark Dorn—handsome pilot, widower, tragic father of three—chose Jiselle to be his wife. The other flight attendants were jealous: She could quit now, leaving behind the million daily irritations of the job. (Since the outbreak of the Phoenix flu, passengers had become even more difficult and nervous, and a life of constant travel had grown harder.) She could move into Mark Dorn's precious log cabin and help him raise his three beautiful children.

But fairy tales aren't like marriage. Or motherhood. With Mark almost always gone, Jiselle finds herself alone, and lonely. She suspects that Mark's daughters hate her. And the Phoenix flu, which Jiselle had thought of as a passing hysteria (when she had thought of it at all), well . . . it turns out that the Phoenix flu will change everything for Jiselle, for her new family, and for the life she thought she had chosen.

From critically acclaimed author Laura Kasischke comes a novel of married life, motherhood, and the choices we must make when we have no choices left.
One of the interesting things about the novel is that Kasischke researched the effects of the plague (the Black Death) on society and allowed those studies to inform her modern story. It's a scary concept and one that doesn't seem too far out of the realm of possibilities.

I normally entice you into a featured novel by sharing reviews, the book trailer, or part of an author reading. Today, I'm going to share the opening paragraphs, to give you a sample of Kasischke's writing:
If you are READING this you are going to DIE!

Jiselle put the diary back on the couch where she found it and went outside with the watering can. It was already eighty-five degrees, but a morning breeze was blowing out of the west, shifting fragrantly through the ravine. She breathed it in, knelt down, and peered beneath the stones that separated the garden from the lawn. . . .

A bit of shade there, a tangled circle of violets was hidden—pale blue and purple. Small, tender, silky, blinking. If they had voices, she thought, they would be giggling.
I hope these lines caught your attention as much as they did mine.

This book was featured as part of my Spotlight on the Harper Perennial imprint. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. See the alphabetized review index to see what others are saying. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

In a Perfect World at Powell's
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Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, June 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061766114

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26 August 2010

Spotlight On . . . Lori Tharps

Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight On . . . Lori Tharps. Lori is not a native Pennsylvanian, but I am happy to welcome her to both my blog and my state. Her debut novel, Substitute Me, was published by Atria Books just this month.

Lori's novel deals with several complex and intertwining issues concerning women's roles, race relationships, self-esteem, and the conflict of wanting both children and a career. These are universal themes that almost all of us can relate to.

Writers have their own list of hurdles to overcome. Let's learn about some of Lori's.

Philadelphia: The City of Writerly Love

When I left my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for college in a small town in New England, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Unfortunately, when I got to college, my English professor gave me a C on my first short story and I immediately decided my literary dreams would be just that, dreams. But four years later, having spent a reflective year abroad in Europe, I was ready to pursue that dream again. I moved to New York City convinced that just by living in the Big Apple, I would magically transform into a great novelist.

But that didn’t happen. I did however manage to get a graduate degree in journalism while I was there and over a decade of experience working at a variety of different popular magazines. I was well paid, led an exciting life, but still stumbled and mumbled when I tried to claim the title of “writer” when people asked me what I did for a living. Even after I published my first book in 2001, I still felt like a fraud calling myself a writer. Real writers in New York didn’t still work as fact-checkers so they could pay the bills. Real writers could afford luxurious brownstones in Brooklyn and their publishers sent them on 10-city book tours. That wasn’t me.

And then I moved to Philadelphia. By then I had a husband and two young children. Our move was completely based on the fact that we wanted a simpler, less hectic, and less expensive lifestyle. And we wanted a home where our guests didn’t have to sleep in the kitchen and our children didn’t have to tiptoe in their socks whenever they were indoors. Philadelphia was a move of convenience, but I worried that when I left New York City, I might be leaving my chance at a real literary life behind.

But I was wrong.

Being a writer in Philadelphia has been one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever given to myself. Philadelphia is home to so many great writers; after almost five years here, I’m still amazed to discover the literary talents living in my own backyard. (Sonia Sanchez lives across the street from my hair salon!) Seriously, I started my own writers group with just women in my neighborhood and within our ranks we have two New York Times best-selling authors, a Nautilus Award finalist, and two nationally recognized poets.

Moreover, beyond the density of great writers here in the City of Brotherly Love, there is a supportive community among literary types. It’s really easy to meet a writer you’ve admired from afar simply by telling someone of your desire. I mentioned to my next-door neighbor in passing that I’d always been a huge fan of the writer Lorene Cary. The next week I got to meet her when my neighbor introduced us at a high school function. Now we’re friends. It was that easy.

So with this amazing support and inspiration, and the tranquility of life outside of the big city, I finally wrote my first novel. It’s called Substitute Me and it takes place . . . in New York City. I know, it feels a little traitorous to claim to love my new city and then set my novel in New York, but that’s what the story called for. Substitute Me explores the relationship between a highly motivated White career woman and the Black woman she hires to be her son’s nanny. Park Slope Brooklyn pre- 9/11 had to be the backdrop for the story. It’s where the inspiration for Substitute Me was born. But, and I’m making this a big BUT, both of my main characters are from Philly. And proud of it.

Thank you so much, Lori, for sharing this story of how you ended up in Pennsylvania. I can certainly understand your motivations for moving out of the city. But I can't even imagine what it would be like to be a member of such a fabulous neighborhood writing group. And I can't help but wonder what that college professor is thinking this month with the release of your first novel.
Substitute Me at Powell's
Substitute Me at Book Depository
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Lori Tharps is an assistant professor of Journalism at Temple University. She is the the author of two critically acclaimed non-fiction books, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America (St. Martin's) and Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain (Atria). Substitute Me (Atria) is her first novel. Tharps lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two children.

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25 August 2010

Audiobook Review Database: Audiobook Jukebox

Announcing the brand new audiobook review database / index.

Due to popular demand, @AudiobookDJ (Susan) and I have started the blog Audiobook Jukebox, which is the place to link all your audiobook reviews and to find audiobook reviews.

It is still a bit of a work in progress, but please don't be shy: Link up any and all of your audiobook reviews. We will add them to the database. It will take us while to catch up initially, but we will get there. All submitted review links will become part of the permanent audiobook database. Hope to see your links there!

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Wordless Wednesday 92

Queen Anne's Lace

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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24 August 2010

Today's Read: Posed for Murder by Meredith Cole

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 2 “teaser” sentences from that page. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

She had never killed so many people in so many ways.

Lydia McKenzie stepped back and surveyed her work. Each corpse had been laid out gently and artistically, and if it weren't for their wounds or twisted limbs, they would look as if they were peacefully asleep. (p. 1)
—From Posed for Murder by Meredith Cole (Source: Bought, see review policy)

Posed for Murder at Powell's
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23 August 2010

Review: In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck

Just after the turn of the twentieth century, not long after the San Francisco earthquake, the Chinese community near Monterey Bay burned to the ground. Miraculously no one was killed in the fire, which was rumored to have been set by an arson. These facts form the basis for In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck (yes, one of those Steinbecks).

The novel begins with the 1906 journals of Charles Gilbert, a research biologist at Hopkins Marine Station not far from Monterey. Gilbert records meeting and hiring Red Billy O'Flynn, an Irishman of uncertain background and reputation and how the two became involved in a discovery that could change the way we understand history. When the major Chinese Tong families take an interest in the artifacts, O'Flynn disappears and Gilbert is shut out of the circle of information.

About a hundred years later, Charles Lucas, a graduate student, comes across some of Gilbert's papers at the marine institute. And it is only through his research and contacts that we finally learn the truth behind O'Flynn's discoveries and the inner workings of the old Tong network.

In the Shadow of the Cypress is told in three parts, each in a different style and from a different perspective. The story is intriguing enough to carry you through these changes and is so nicely based in fact that you sometimes forget you're reading a novel. The characters and descriptive scenes will stick with you and the mystery surrounding the artifacts holds your attention, but the ending of the novel could have been a bit stronger.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Brilliance Audio) read by Jeff Harding. Harding did a great job switching between view points, accents, and time periods, and his reading added greatly to my enjoyment of the novel. Look for the full audio review on AudioFile magazine's website.

In the Shadow of the Cypress at Powell's
In the Shadow of the Cypress at Book Depository
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Published by Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781439168257

Challenges: Historical Fiction, 100+
YTD: 75
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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Winner of For the King

The winner of a copy of For the King by Catherine Delors is

Bookalicious Pam!

Congratulations, Pam. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. And thank you to the publicist for sponsoring this giveaway.

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21 August 2010

Weekend Cooking: Fast, Fresh & Green by Susie Middleton

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.


I have a terrific vegetable cookbook to share with you this week. And there's good news for the vegetarians out there: Very few recipes call for meat or chicken broth, and those that do can be easily transformed into a fully vegetarian dish.

Okay, so what's so special about this cookbook? First, it is everything the title--Fast, Fresh & Green--promises: These recipes use fresh vegetables and are quick enough to put together at the end of a workday.

Second, this is a great technique book. I know that many of you wish you could free yourselves from recipes, and author Susie Middleton has come to your aid. Each chapter covers a different technique from stir-frying to sauteing, grilling, roasting, and more.

All the chapters are set up in a similar manner. Let's look at the braising chapter. The first page lists the required equipment and heat levels plus the recipes found within. Next, Middleton provides an explanation of braising and how it works. She includes plenty of tips to guarantee your success. Then you'll find a chart of the vegetables that are particularly suited to braising along with how to prepare them for this cooking method. Before you get to the chapter's recipes, Middleton presents a basic quick braising method that you can master and then use to create your own dishes based on the vegetable you have on hand.

All this information is presented in an easy-to-read and friendly manner:
You will feel like Houdini once you learn to improvise braised vegetables on a weeknight because they deliver such amazing flavor in less than 30 minutes. (p. 58)
The chapter ends with about a dozen step-by-step braising recipes that use fresh vegetables and herbs, such as Quick Braised Asparagus with Dijon, White Wine, and Fresh Thyme Pan Sauce. Or maybe you'd prefer the Cider-Braised Baby Bok Choy and Golden Apples.

This is truly a cookbook for everyone: vegetarians, new cooks, experienced cooks, adventurous cooks, and timid cooks. The recipes span the seasons, so you'll use this in the winter for roasted turnips or butternut squash gratin and in the summer for an heirloom tomato, peach, and herb salad.

Published by Chronicle Books / April 2010
ISBN-13: 9780811865661
YTD: 74
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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20 August 2010

Featuring . . . If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous

This Friday and every Friday for the next several months I'll be featuring a book in the Harper Perennial Imprint. Some were recently published, some will be released later this year, all are worth a closer look.

I can thank my friends in the book blog community for alerting me to Malena Watrous's If You Follow Me. Although it is a novel, the story is informed by the author's personal experiences in Japan.

Here's the summary:

Hoping to outpace her grief in the wake of her father's suicide, Marina has come to the small, rural Japanese town of Shika to teach English for a year. But in Japan, as she soon discovers, you can never really throw away your past . . . or anything else, for that matter.

If You Follow Me is at once a fish-out-of-water tale, a dark comedy of manners, and a strange kind of love story. Alive with vibrant and unforgettable characters—from an ambitious town matchmaker to a high school student-cum-rap artist wannabe with an addiction to self-tanning lotion—it guides readers over cultural bridges even as it celebrates the awkward, unlikely triumph of the human spirit.
Probably because my graduate research gave me the opportunity to live (however briefly) in two countries not my own, I have always liked books that center on people adjusting to life in a foreign culture. Visiting a community as a tourist is one thing, but learning how to live there—setting up bank accounts, mastering the social customs, and figuring out the laws—is a completely different experience.

As many of you know, Amy from My Friend Amy lived in Japan for a while, and when I read her review, I was convinced that If You Follow Me was something I wanted to read. She wrote: "I have to give kudos to Watrous for capturing the American in Japan experience very well. . . . I felt so much of the book was authentic . . . from Marina's frustration with her repetitive conversations about weather and all of the language used."

Several other reviews caught my attention as well. For example, Kristen from BookNAround noted: "More than the story of a young woman traveling part way around the world to find herself amidst a completely different culture, this plumbs the depths of love, life, and community." And Carrie from Books and Movies said: "While I had a mixed reaction to the main character, I did enjoy Ms. Watrous’s writing style, and she did a wonderful job of describing the characters and places that Marina encounters. I will definitely be looking forward to more of her work."

For more about Malena Watrous, visit her blog. In the following video, Watrous talks about her novel:

This book was featured as part of my Spotlight on the Harper Perennial imprint. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. You might also want to visit the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

If You Follow Me at Powell's
If You Follow Me at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, June 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061732850

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19 August 2010

Review: The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause

Simon is a 300-year-old vampire trapped in a 19-year-old body. He is mostly alone and lonely, having been betrayed by someone he loved into immortality. Zoë, just 16 years old, is facing very human problems: Her mother is dying of cancer, her best friend is moving away, and her father barely talks to her.

The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause and the two short stories included in the volume--"The Summer of Love" and "The Christmas Cat"--explore loss, loneliness, and death. Zoë and Simon are drawn together, each seeking support and friendship. In the end, however, they realize the resolution to their personal troubles comes with a heavy price.

The Silver Kiss is a very dark and depressing book, and neither Zoë nor Simon finds much joy or hope in the world. The majority of the book is introspective, and by the time the principal action takes place, it's too late to save the novel. The final story is somewhat magical and is likely meant to be a peaceful and uplifting conclusion to the teens' tale.

The book was not improved by the audio edition (Recorded Books), which was read by Ali Ahn. Her voice was too feminine for Simon, and I had a hard time remembering I was supposed to be listening to a boy. Ahn seemed to become locked into a steady rhythm and inflection pattern that soon became tedious. The full audio review is available on the AudioFile magazine website.

If you decide to pick up The Silver Kiss, I recommend the print edition. It is possible that this YA novel will appeal more strongly to a younger audience. For more on Annette Curtis Klause, visit her blog.

The Silver Kiss at Powell's
The Silver Kiss at Book Depository
For Audible, click the button in the sidebar.
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Published by Random House / Delacorte for Young Readers, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780375857829

Challenges: 100+
YTD: 73
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: C
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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18 August 2010

Beth Fish on Scene of the Blog

Guess who's being featured over at Kittling: Books today for Scene of the Blog? Pop on over to Cathy's to find out where I blog in the summer . . . when the weather cooperates.

See you there, I'll be pouring iced tea!

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Wordless Wednesday 91

At the Pennsylvania Military Museum

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17 August 2010

Today's Read: Mr. Darcy's Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson

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 2 “teaser” sentences from that page. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

During the week that her brother and his wife were gone, Georgiana was again prey to her nervous fears that Elizabeth would be disappointed in her and that she would be a dismal failure during her coming-out Season. The day of their expected return found her chewing her lip pensively and staring out of the drawing-room window into the private little walled garden of Ashbourne House. (p. 65)
—From Mr. Darcy's Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson (Source: Review copy, see review policy; quotation is from an uncorrected advance copy)

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16 August 2010

Review: Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

Sister Evangeline has lived in St. Rose Convent with the Franciscan sisters of Perpetual Adoration since she was about twelve. Born in Europe, she and her father emigrated to New York after her mother was murdered. She is content in her routine of prayer and then work in the convent's library.

In late December 1999, Evangeline opens a letter from a V. A. Verlaine, a researcher from Columbia University who is interested in a puzzling link between Abigail Rockefeller and the late mother superior of the convent. The two meet, and so begins their immersion into the complex story of Evangeline's family, the field of angelology, and human history itself.

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni is a fascinating examination of the struggle between angels and humankind from both Catholic and scholarly points of view. These are not the angels of little girls' dreams, but the nephilim and gibborum who resent humans for supplanting them as God's chosen.

The foundation of Trussoni's novel may be in the church and in the writings of the saints, but it is not religious in the traditional sense; it is a literary and intelligent tale of good and evil. The book also sits comfortably next to historical thrillers, modern paranormals, and theological mysteries.

If Angelology has a flaw, it is in the last fifty pages or so when, in the race to the end, the novel sheds its academic coat and fully embraces its adventure persona. It is not that the final pages are poorly written or unexciting but that the ending lacks the freshness of the rest of the book. The last scene sets the stage for a sequel.

The audio edition (Penguin Audibooks) of Angelology was read by Susan Denaker, who pulls the listener into the novel and makes it difficult to turn off the mp3 player. Her skillful handling of the range of accents and characters enhanced the enjoyment of the novel. Denaker's talent was especially evident as she read the letters and documents that are at the core of the book.

Angelology at Powell's
Angelology at Book Depository
For Audible, click the button in the sidebar.
These links lead to affiliate programs

Published by Penguin / Viking, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780670021475

Challenges: 100+
YTD: 72
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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14 August 2010

Weekend Cooking: Peach Rum Sauce

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.


Peaches are in season so I'm sharing another favorite peach recipe today. This is fast, easy, and delicious. It is an August tradition in my house.

The recipe comes from the August 2003 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Enjoy!

Peaches in Brown Sugar and Rum Sauce with Ice Cream

You could also dress up breakfast by spooning these peaches over waffles.

6 Servings
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 ripe peaches, peeled, halved, pitted, each cut into 8 wedges
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • Vanilla or peach ice cream
Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add sugar and cinnamon and cook, stirring often, until sugar begins to dissolve (mixture may clump together). Add peaches and vanilla. Sauté until peaches are tender, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in rum. Return skillet to heat and cook until sauce thickens, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Spoon peaches and sauce over ice cream.

We had coconut chip ice cream last night from one of our local dairies. Yummmmm. The finished photo is not very good because the warm peaches were melting my ice cream and I was in a hurry to eat!

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13 August 2010

Featuring . . . The Great Lover by Jill Dawson

This Friday and every Friday for the next several months I'll be featuring a book in the Harper Perennial Imprint. Some were recently published, some will be released later this year, all are worth a closer look.

Let me admit right off that if I hadn't read a number of positive reviews on book blogs that I trust, I might have passed this novel by. But The Great Lover by Jill Dawson turns out to combine several elements that usually appeal to me.

First let's take a look at the publisher's summary:

In 1909, sixteen-year-old Nell Golightly is a housemaid at a popular tea garden near Cambridge University, and Rupert Brooke, a new tenant, is already causing a stir with his boyish good looks and habit of swimming naked in nearby Byron's Pool. Despite her good sense, Nell seems to be falling under the radical young poet's spell, even though Brooke apparently adores no one but himself. Could he ever love a housemaid? Is he, in fact, capable of love at all?

Jill Dawson's The Great Lover imaginatively and playfully gives new voice to Rupert Brooke through the poet's own words and through the remembrances of the spirited Nell. An extraordinary novel, it powerfully conveys the allure of charisma as it captures the mysterious and often perverse workings of the human heart.
So what is it that attracts me to this novel? First it is based on real people, making the novel seem to cross the line into biography (a genre I love). Next, Brook knew the Bloomsbury Group and lived during a time when thoughts on sexuality, the British class system, and women's rights were changing. Finally, the poet lived a scandalous existence, traveled the world, and died very young, all of which add to his legend.

Here some book blogger reviews that caught my attention:
  • Vasilly from 1330V: "One of the things I love about The Great Lover is all the historical facts that the author gives reader."
  • Elizabeth from As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves: "I found Dawson's portrayal of two colliding worlds - Rupert's one of education and privilege, and Nell's one of hard work and struggle - to be quite compelling."
  • Robin from My Two Blessings: "The book is historical fiction and was eye opening and educational to say the least. It's one of those books that had me running to look things up on the internet, to find out more."
The Great Lover was a June 2010 Indie Next pick. Learn more about Jill Dawson by visiting her website or by watching this short interview with her from her May 2010 visit to New Zealand:

This book was featured as part of my Spotlight on the Harper Perennial imprint. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. You might also want to visit the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

The Great Lover at Powell's
The Great Lover at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, June 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061924361

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12 August 2010

Guest Post and Giveaway: For the King by Catherine Delors

Yesterday, in my review of For the King by Catherine Delors, I mentioned that police investigations in the 1800s were not technologically advanced affairs. True enough, but the same cannot be said for military weaponry.

In fact, the late eighteenth century and its revolutions saw a number of advances in weaponry and in execution methods. I'm not sure it was a particularly safe period of history to be alive.

Today, Catherine Delors talks a little bit about cutting-edge technology and what it had to do with Napoléon and the events she wrote about in For the King.

Air Guns: The Automatic Weapons of the Eighteenth Century

While researching For the King, I met air guns (fusils à vent) on several occasions. But I had long been familiar with these weapons as a reader of fiction—Conan Doyle’s novels, more precisely. Remember The Adventure of the Empty House? In this tale, Colonel Sebastian Moran uses an air rifle to murder his victim. It was still a rather exotic weapon in the first years of the twentieth century.

But air guns predate Sherlock Holmes by more than a century. They were invented in the 1780s by an Italian engineer, Girandoni. The same size as the regular muskets of the time, they used a completely different technology.

They were revolutionary weapons, powerful, noiseless, and smokeless, for the bullets were propelled not by the explosion of gunpowder, as in a musket, but by a removable compressed-air reservoir that gave the rifles their distinctive club-shaped butts. An automatic magazine, loaded from the breech, could shoot twenty bullets a minute.

They were extremely expensive, rather fragile, and not widely used by regular armies, except for the Austrians. However, they were certainly available—for the right amount of money—to anyone determined enough to acquire them. The Lewis and Clark Expedition may have been equipped with one such air rifle, in addition to muskets. Air guns were also much sought after by those bent on assassinating Napoléon Bonaparte, in particular the Chouans.

Napoléon traveled accompanied by a military escort, but he did not give much thought to his personal safety. He was, for one thing, a firm believer in his own lucky star and was used to facing death at close range on the battlefield. It is also possible that he, as an artillery specialist, was unconvinced of the threat of air gun technology.

Thus he apparently never considered equipping his guards with air guns, though he was well aware of the fact that his most determined enemies were purchasing these weapons. It turned out he was right: Air guns were never actually used in any assassination attempt, though they were purchased for that purpose.

I was so fascinated by these rifles that I could not resist giving them a part in the plot of For the King, both as a testimony to the ingenuity of eighteenth-century inventors and as a modest tribute to Conan Doyle.

Thank you so much, Catherine, for this great post. It was just this kind of attention to detail that I loved in your novel For the King. It's always interesting to see who adopts the new technology of the age, who doesn't, and why. (Be sure to click on the photo to see the beautiful details of the air rifle.)

To learn more about Catherine Delors and her work, be sure to visit her website. A book club guide is available, as is a book trailer.

I am so pleased to be able to offer a reader in the United States or Canada a copy of For the King. To enter the giveaway, fill out the following form. All information will be kept private and deleted once the winner has been announced.

A winner will be picked using a random number generator on August 23 when I turn my computer on in the morning.

For the King at Powell's
For the King at Book Depository
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11 August 2010

Review: For the King by Catherine Delors

When an assassination attempt on Napoleon Bonaparte goes horribly wrong, leaving the First Consul alive and many innocent citizens wounded or dead, it's up to Chief Inspector Roch Miquel to discover who was responsible and then to capture them.

In 1800, the police did not have access to international electronic files, fingerprints, or forensic medicine. What they did have were politics, payoffs, bribes, and other forms of corruption. By the time the investigation and trial are over, Roch would come to see his own naivete as he witnessed executions, deportations, and the true nature of the women in his life.

Catherine Delors's For the King has all the elements that make historical fiction compelling and then goes even further. The novel is a little bit history, a little bit mystery, and a little bit love story, and the mix works beautifully.

Several elements make this story come alive. First, the novel is based on real events and real people, and Delors's research and careful re-creation of the original investigation and her descriptions of 1800 Paris pull the reader into the setting. Second, the fleshing out of the individuals and the sequence of events along with the thoughtful embellishing of the facts build interest in the mystery and keep the reader invested.

For the King will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction and/or historical mysteries and thrillers. I'm looking forward to reading more by Delors.

Stop back tomorrow when I'll be hosting Catherine Delors here on Beth Fish Reads. I'm pleased to be able to share her post with you and to offer a copy of For the King to one of you.

For the King at Powell's
For the King at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs

Published by Penguin / Dutton, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780525951742

Challenges: Historical Fiction, 100+
YTD: 71
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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Wordless Wednesday 90

Late Summer, 2010

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10 August 2010

Today's Read: Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee

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 2 “teaser” sentences from that page. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

At farmers’ markets, avoid vegetables and herbs that have been
sitting in full sun and are hot to the touch.
Frozen vegetables can equal or better the quality of fresh,
especially vegetables that lose flavor and tenderness rapidly after
harvest. These include green peas, Lima beans, and sweet corn.
—From Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee (Source: Review copy, see review policy)

I am a huge fan of Harold McGee, who is well known for his On Food and Cooking, an awesome resource of kitchen science. I cannot wait for his new book to be published (October), and if you come back here on October 16, you'll get the full review.

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09 August 2010

Got Links? Or Where to Share

Where do you turn when you are tracking down reviews for a particular book, are trying to figure out what to read next, are looking for suggestions in a particular genre, or are interested in a specific imprint?

On the flip side, where do you link up your reviews so that you can share your thoughts with a wide audience?

I am a big fan of sites that let me link my reviews so interested readers can click on through to see what I have to say. I also use review databases to help me decide about buying and reading particular titles and to guide me when it comes to gift giving.

NOTE: I have added this post's button to my sidebar so you can easily find this resource in the future.

Here are some of the databases, features, open challenges, and other places where you can share reviews. If you know of other sites, please tell me in a comment or email, and I'll add them to this post.

General Sites and Book Blogger Search Engine

Semicolon--Saturday Review of Books: Every Saturday book bloggers around the globe share the links to their reviews on Sherry's site. Each week you can find close to 100 links.

Firefly--Book Blogs Search Engine: This is the place to track down reviews, author interviews, and other book blogging content. If your blog is not in in the database, click on over and get added. You can even embed the book blog search engine on your site.

Best Posts of the Week
: Although this site is not specifically for reviews, it is a place to link your best post from the week and to discover new blogs and content.

Reader Advisory Link Farm: This site collects links to professional reviews, reader guides from publishers, bookstores, book clubs, and websites that focus on a large variety of genres. This is a place to find book reviews and resources, not a site for linking your own reviews.

Audiobook Jukebox: This site is owned by @AudiobookDJ (Susan). Anyone who has reviewed any audiobook may link up his or her reviews.

The Sunday Blues: Each Sunday, Kristen from Bookworming in the 21st Century has a Mr. Linky you can use to link up a post you wish had gotten a bit more attention. The post "should have 3 or less comments . . . [and] should be content posts - not giveaway posts." She asks that you commit to reading at least three of the participating bloggers for the week.

Children and Young Adult

Childrens Book Reviews Database: This is a Wiki where you can share your reviews of children's, middle reader, and YA books. The database is sorted by audience, title, author, and genre.

Booking Mama--Kid Konnection: Each Saturday Julie discusses or reviews children's books and provides a Mr. Linky so others can share their posts and reviews concerning these books. The definition of "kids" is up to the blogger, so feel free to share everything from picture books to YA. Note that you do not have to post on Saturday; you can link up content from the previous week.

There's a Book blog: A weekly feature that spotlights new releases in children's, middle grade, and young adult titles. A Mr. Linky is provided for reviews of that week's featured titles. Click on the category "Just Floating In" or "New Releases" on that blog for more information.

Genre and Imprints

Although some of the databases in this section are associated with reading challenges, almost all encourage nonparticipants to share and link up their reviews. Check the link page or email the database owner if you're not sure about linking your reviews. All link pages I own are open to everyone, whether you are in a challenge or not.

Graphic Novels Challenge Blog: This blog, started in late 2008, was set up as a way to share and link reviews for people participating in the Graphic Novels Challenge. The reviews and links offer an amazing resource for GN titles.

Beth Fish Reads--Amy Einhorn Books: Although the database was set up as part of the AE perpetual challenge, it is open to everyone who has reviewed any Amy Einhorn Book. Don't be shy, link up your review. See also the alphabetized review index.

Reagan Arthur Books Blog: This blog started in 2010 as a home to the Reagan Arthur Book challenge. The owners (Bermudaonion and Booking Mama) are collecting RAB reviews from participants. A great resource.

Beth Fish Reads--Harper Perennial Books: This database is for reviews of Harper Perennial books published in any year and in any genre. Anyone can link reviews (older reviews welcome!) or provide short reviews in the comments. See also the alphabetized review index.

S. Krishna's Books--South Asian Review Database: Originally set up as part of the South Asian Author Challenge, the database owner encourages everyone to link up his or her reviews. Please be sure to read the guidelines before linking.

Beth Fish Reads--Weekend Cooking: Every Saturday, this feature offers a place to link up your foodie book reviews. Links cover foodie novels, biographies, culinary cozies, films, restaurants, and cookbooks. Or share a recipe. This is a resource for all things foodie. Post whenever you want; link up over the weekend.

Women Unbound Challenge Blog: This review database was set up for a reading challenge focusing on "nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of ‘women’s studies.' " As of this writing, there are 550 reviews. Check with the blog's owners before linking a review if you aren't participating in the challenge.

War Through the Generations: This blog is collecting reviews from reading challenge participants and others on books focusing a particular war. Currently, the databases encompass fiction and nonfiction relating to World War II and the Vietnam War. Other war literature will be added in the coming years.

Diversify Your Reading: This blog collects "reviews of books by authors underrepresented in English-language publishing today." You'll find authors from diverse cultures, GBLT, and even authors with disabilities. Please read the submission guidlines for how to add your reviews.

Beth Fish Reads--Pamela Dorman Books: Be on the look-out this fall for a Pamela Dorman database. I am working on adding this resource, but it won't be ready until after BBAW.

Classics Blogger Directory hosted by Amanda at The Zen Leaf: If you read classics, review classics, or want to know more about classics, visit the page and start exploring. This isn't a review database but a place to find bloggers who read the classics.


What databases or linking sites have I missed? Let me know in the comments or via email, and I will add the resource to this post. I know that bloggers post their reviews on bookstore sites and on social book sites (like Library Thing), but I'll save those resources for another post.

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2018. All rights reserved.



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