31 March 2011

Review: The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert

Professor Bowell, world-renown Egyptologist, is very protective of his daughter, Lillian. Left on her own one day, Lillian dresses her father's mummy in proper Victorian tailcoat and top hat and asks him to escort her for the day. Imhotep IV is hesitant but agrees, and the two explore London.

Little did they know that the day would end in murder, kidnapping, family reunions, and even love. Will the three-thousand-year age difference, jail, and disgruntled fathers get in the way of the couple's happiness?

Joann Sfar's The Professor's Daughter is a delightful romp through Victorian London that is beautifully brought to life through Emmanuel Guibert's drawings. Sfar's sense of humor is evident throughout, from Imhotep III's ploy to talk to Queen Victoria about the fate of his son to the judge's preferred verdict ("The noose for Miss Bowell and the museum display case for her associate.")

Here are two pages to give you a sense of the fun and the artwork (click to enlarge).

This is the third Sfar graphic novel I've read, and I will be on the look-out for more.

Published by Roaring Brook Press / First Second, 1997
ISBN-13: 9780156031080
YTD: 33
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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30 March 2011

Wordless Wednesday 123

Copenhagen Doorway

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29 March 2011

Today's Read & Giveaway: One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde

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.

We walked up the drive and across the drawbridge into the courtyard. Notices were posted everywhere that contained useful directions such as THIS WAY TO THE DENOUEMENT or NO BOOTS TO BE WORN IN THE BACKSTORY and even DO NOT FEED THE AMBIGUITY. The contractors were making last-minute adjustments. Six were arranging the clouds, two were wiring the punctuation to the main distribution board, three were trying to round up a glottal stop that wasn't meant to be there, and two others had just slit a barrage balloon full of atmosphere. The ambiance escaped like a swarm of tiny midges and settled upon the fabric of the book, adding texture and style.

"Hello!" I said to the cast, who were standing around looking bewildered, their heads stuffed unrealistically full of Best Newcomer prizes and a permanent place in every reader's heart. They were about to be published and read for the first time. They would be confused, apprehensive and in need of guidance. I was so glad I wasn't them.

"My name's Thursday Next, and I just dropped in to welcome you to the neighborhood." (pages 30–31)
—From One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde (Penguin / Viking, 2011)

I love the idea of BookWorld, and it's fun to think about what all our favorite characters are doing when we're not reading their books. Fforde's Thursday Next series gives us a hint of what really goes on between the lines and pages of our beloved novels.

In celebration of the release month of One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, the publisher has generously given me an extra finished hardcover copy of the novel to offer to one of my readers. This giveaway is open internationally, and all you have to do to be entered in the drawing is fill out the form. I'll pick one winner via random number generator on April 10. After I notify the winner, all personal data will be deleted from my computer.

You might recall that I spotlighted this fun mystery as a don't-miss read for March, and I want to thank Viking (an imprint of Penguin USA) for sponsoring this giveaway.

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28 March 2011

Review: Heart Earth by Ivan Doig

Ivan Doig's mother died on his sixth birthday, just as World War II was ending. His vague memories of her play out to the sound of coughing and wheezing, a result of her life-threatening bouts of asthma. About forty years after Berneta's death, Ivan was surprised to receive a small box of letters she had written to her brother during the last months of both the war and her life.

Doig's Heart Earth is based on those letters, a tremendous gift from his late maternal uncle. The short book also serves as a prequel to Doig's longer memoir, House of Sky.

Through his mother's letters, Ivan is reminded of how she never let her serious asthma take away from her enjoyment and participation in life and work. She didn't back down from whatever needed to be done: from single-handedly moving sheep to better pasture to pushing the truck out of deep mud, from working a sewing machine to cooking for a crew of ranch hands.

The Doigs were dangerously close to being anachronistic for their time: They were generally more comfortable on a horse herding sheep in the Montana mountains than they were with small-town life in industrializing Arizona. Prompted by Berneta's letters, Ivan recalls the family's trek from Montana to the Southwest in hope of finding a lung-friendly environment. This move from rancher to Defense Department worker was a loving sacrifice made by Ivan's father and no mean feat in the days of gas and food rationing.

Through his mother's own words, Ivan is able to recall with bittersweet fondness some of the golden moments of his fifth year: riding horses, following his uncle's progress across the Pacific, spending a day in town with his dad, and listening in while his mother gossiped with her friends. He also finds an unexpected kinship with his mother as wordsmith.

Doig wrote Heart Earth more than decade after he wrote his first memoir, and if the book has a flaw it's that his loving story of Berneta's final months starts off assuming that you've already read House of Sky. Fortunately, the reader quickly feels up to speed and is easily transported to 1945 America and the world of this close family. Although you know Berneta's fate from the beginning, the memoir is a celebration of a life rather than a sad reflection on what could have been.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Recorded Books, 4 h, 36 min) read by Tom Stechschulte. Stechschulte is a veteran narrator who on many levels should have been a good match for Doig's memoir. Unfortunately, his steady intonations had a tendency to drag, and his Scottish accent was disturbingly close to Irish. Although I would not hesitate to listen to another book read by Stechschulte, I do recommend reading Heart Earth in print. My full audio review will be published by AudioFile Magazine in the near future.

For more about Ivan Doig, visit his website, where you'll find information about his memoirs and novels, reading guides, and photographs of his mother.

Heart Earth at Powell's
Heart Earth at Book Depository
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Published by Mariner Books, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780156031080
YTD: 32
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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26 March 2011

Weekend Cooking: Do You Feel the Pressure?

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


Although I've never met her in person, Lorna Sass has been one of my best friends for over a decade. When I got my pressure cooker in the late 1990s, my life changed for the better. Modern pressure cookers are safe and easy to use, with no worries about explosions of food all over the kitchen. There are even electric models, but I've never used one.

I own close to a dozen pressure cooker cookbooks, but the only ones I turn to again and again for the best recipes, tips, charts, and advice are those written by Sass. I own five of her nine cookbooks. The covers of her pressure cooker books I use are shown here. Sass also has a vegan cookbook, a soy cookbook, another vegetarian cookbook, and two grain cookbooks (not all of these are for the pressure cooker).

I know many of you are vegetarians or vegans or have gluten problems, and Sass's cookbooks have lots of recipes for you, from soups to salads. Even many of the meat recipes have vegetarian variations, so you'll be able to adapt.

Even better, Sass doesn't forget the less confident cook and new cooks. For example, my sixteen-year-old niece is not yet very familiar with herbs, so she appreciates knowing that the Tuscan White Beans with Sage recipe can also be made with either basil or herbes de provence.

Each one of Sass's pressure cooker books comes with great charts and tips, so you are guaranteed success the first time, whether you are cooking beans or grains, chicken or beef. The recipes themselves are appetizing and easy, and her directions are very well written.

Busy cooks will wonder how they ever got along without a pressure cooker and reliable recipes. I can't tell you how many times I've worked late and had very little motivation to start fussing. That's the perfect time to pull out the pressure cooker. In about a half an hour I can have from scratch split pea soup, risotto, cabbage with potatoes and kielbasa, or Mexican beans. In 45 minutes to an hour, I can even have pulled pork, beef chili, or Sass's Armenian Vegetable Stew.

Here are my favorite types of dishes to make in the pressure cooker:
  • Soups and stews of all kinds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Risotto
  • Pot roast and pulled pork
  • Stocks (vegetarian, chicken, beef)
I bought my pressure cooker a while back, and I'm sure there are fancier ones on the market these days. My 7-L Kuhn Rikon, however, has been a workhorse, and I've never had any problems, despite almost weekly use.

If you are planning on buying a cooker, be sure to read reviews and do your research, but don't skimp on size. Note that pressure cookers are not filled to the top because space is needed for the pressure to build. You fill the pot halfway for beans and two thirds for other foods, so bigger is definitely better. You'll also want a quick-release valve so you don't have to take the pot to the sink and run cold water over it.

Instead of copying out a recipe, because I'm not sure how many of you own a pressure cooker, I'm going to direct you to Lorna Sass's website and pressure cooker blog, where you'll find some sample recipes, complete with pretty photographs. Don't miss the great video in which Sass talks about her surprising background.

There is a MR LINKY associated with this feature; if you can't see it, please click on the title of this post to find everyone's links.

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25 March 2011

Imprint Friday: The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

In The Watery Part of the World, Michael Parker connects two factual events separated by some 150 years into a tale of survival and community on a small barrier island off the east coast of the United States.

Here's the publisher's summary:

Michael Parker has created a wholly original world from two known facts: (1) Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of the controversial vice president Aaron Burr, disappeared in 1813 while en route by schooner from South Carolina to New York; and (2) in 1970, two elderly white women and one black man were the last townspeople to leave a small barrier island off the coast of North Carolina.

In this fiction based on historical fact, Parker weaves a tale of adventure and longing as he charts one hundred and fifty years in the life and death of an island and its inhabitants— the descendants of Theodosia Burr Alston and those of the freed man whose family would be forever tethered to hers.

It’s a tale of pirates and slaves, treason and treasures, madness and devotion, that takes place on a tiny island battered by storms, infested with mosquitoes, and cut off from the world—as difficult to get to as it is impossible to leave for those who call it home. From Theodosia’s capture at sea to the passionate lives of her great-great-great-granddaughters to the tender story of the black man who cares for them all his days, this is an inspired novel about love, trust, and the often tortuous bonds of family and community.
No one really knows what happened to Theodosia Burr. She set sail on December 30, 1812, and was never seen again. Rumors and scattered reports of pirates and murders were commonly told, but there were also stories that Theodosia's belongings had been found on the Outer Banks.

Parker's novel relates another version, one in which Theodosia survives and leaves descendants who are so tied to their island home, they do not leave even when the mainland has abandoned them:
Late that night moonlight came striping the middle pews through the stained glass and that the only light they had now: moon, sun, lantern, candle. The power and the light were gone for good then. What use was there in turning it back on for only three people? No one figured on anyone staying on that island with no power and no light. Woodrow himself didn't think whether he'd stay or not at first. (30)
I like the way Parker has mixed truth and fiction in telling the island's history, and I've always liked a southern setting. However, I credit Kirkus Reviews with sealing the deal for me with these sentences: "Parker invokes magic as well as mystery in exploring the ways the past not only haunts the present but in some ways anticipates it. Like Faulkner and O'Connor, Parker creates a place of beauty and complexity which, in the end, one is reluctant to leave."

To learn more about the novel and Michael Parker, be sure to visit his website. I also encourage you to read his "Modern Love" essay, which was published in the New York Times, last week. The Watery Part of the World will be released next month.

This book was spotlighted as part of both my Imprint Fridays feature and my Get to know Algonquin Books feature. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.

The Watery Part of the World at Powell's
The Watery Part of the World at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Algonquin Books, April 2011
ISBN-13: 9781565126824
Image of
Theodosia Burr: in the public domain.

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24 March 2011

Review: The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber

When Rachel Reeves DuPree was born in Louisiana, her parents—freed slaves—could not have imagined that she would one day marry an ex-Buffalo soldier and own a ranch in the Badlands. After the Reeveses moved to Chicago to work in the slaughter houses and hotels, the family got a taste for city life and the children went to school.

Rachel, outspoken and independent, became the cook in Mrs. DuPree's boardinghouse for black laborers. She was friendly to the men but kept her distance; she was not looking for a husband in the likes of them. When Isaac DuPree showed up to visit his mother after being mustered out of the army, Rachel admired his ambition. He talked of nothing but Indian Territory and the opportunities available to black men who took advantage of the Homestead Act.

Rachel was getting past marrying age, and Isaac wanted as much land as he could acquire. Before he returned West to stake his claim, the two struck a bargain. Isaac would come back to wed her, giving her married-lady status, if she would stake her own claim and live with him for the required year.

Fourteen years later, Rachel was pregnant for the eighth time, and the DuPrees owned one of the biggest ranches in their part of the Badlands. The couple worked well together, and Rachel rarely questioned Isaac, trusting that he knew best. But that summer was rainless, and the grit and dust and dying livestock were hard to bear. By fall, most of their neighbors had pulled stakes and given up; Isaac DuPree, however, was wondering about how many abandoned homesteads he could afford to buy.

For the sake of her family and unborn child, Rachel kept up with her duties and supported her husband. However, the day Isaac lowered their six-year-old daughter to the bottom of the well in hopes of filling the water bucket, was the day Rachel began to truly think about her married life. As she mulled over the past, she made plans for her future.

I still see her, our Liz, sitting on a plank, dangling over that well. She held on to the rope that hung from the pulley, her bare feet pressed together so tight that the points on her ankle bones were nearly white. She was six. She had on her brother's castoff pants and earlier, when I'd given them to her, she'd asked if wearing pants made her a boy. I'd told her we'd wait and see, and that had made her giggle. (opening paragraph)
In The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, Ann Weisgarber tells us about a different kind of settler of the American West. First, the DuPrees stand out because they began homesteading fairly late. In 1904, they were able to take a train from Chicago almost the whole way to their claim. Second, because Isaac had soldiered in Indian Territory and at Wounded Knee, he already knew what to expect from the upper Midwest. And finally, the DuPrees are black, but although they are just one generation away from slavery, they are educated and comfortable in both city and country.

At the same time, Rachel's story is universal. She paid a steep price for owning all that free land: two dead children, isolation, never-ending labor, dependency on the weather, and lack of electricity and indoor plumbing. As the drought continues, she cannot help but think about her family in Chicago, who have the luxury of turning on a tap and having enough water to fill a tub. She worries about her children growing up as the only blacks for miles around. She feels the loneliness as her friends move on looking for greener pastures.

Many women marry ambitious young men with the hopes of escaping their current circumstances. They get caught up in the dreams, and they want to be part of them. Rachel was no different. And like those women, Rachel eventually opened her eyes and saw her husband for what he was, noticing the flaws behind the charming, capable facade. And like those women, Rachel was forced to decide what do once she'd been awakened.

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree would make an excellent book club selection, even for those who generally do not read historical fiction. Topics for discussion include early-twentieth-century race relations, marriage, motherhood, civil rights, women's rights, and the plight of the American Indian.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Recorded Books, 10 hr, 12 min), read by Myra Lucretia Taylor. Taylor's emotionally charged narration brings the book to life, helping listeners connect to Rachel on a personal level. My full audio review will be published by AudioFile Magazine.

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree was an Indie Next Pick for August 2010. For more on Ann Weisgarber and the story behind her novel, be sure to visit her website, where you will also find an excerpt, interview, and reading guide.

Published by Viking, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780670022014
YTD: 31
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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23 March 2011

Wordless Wednesday 122

Super Moon, March 2011

(click for better view)

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22 March 2011

Today's Read: Blind Your Ponies by Stanley Gordon West

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.

When the sadness erupted over his happy life, the abyss opened beneath him and he fell. In this headlong plunge he instinctively reached out and grabbed hold of something, he didn't know who or what. He hung there, trying to catch his breath, trying to restore his heartbeat, dangling over the darkness.

. . . At present, he was hanging on, but he knew he had to identify what it was he clung to, and he knew he had to find some reason to continue to hang on or he would give in to it, let go, and fall into the great dark void and be lost. (p. 5)
—From Blind Your Ponies by Stanley Gordon West (Algonquin Books, 2011)

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21 March 2011

Review: Hereville by Barry Deutsch

Mirka Hirschberg lives in the Orthodox community of Hereville with her many sisters, younger brother, stepmother, and father. Mirka dreams of being a dragonslayer and is frustrated by her knitting lessons and her sisters' worries about finding the right husband.

One day on the way to school, Mirka tries to defend her brother from some bullies and ends up running through the woods, only to discover a witch's house. After she shows the house to some of her sisters, Mirka takes a grape from the witch's vine. That theft changes Mirka's life in some surprising ways.

Barry Deutsch's Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, introduces us to the feisty eleven-year-old Mirka. She is a good girl, but she doesn't really want to learn the "womanly arts" that her stepmother insists on teaching her. Who wants to knit when you could be fighting dragons?

Deutsch's story of "yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl" is a fast read with plenty of action and a great leading lady. Whether she is being harassed by the monster pig, saving her brother from bullies, or helping her family get ready for the Sabbath, Mirka is a girl that everyone can relate to. She is both brave and afraid, both obedient and willful; in other words, she's a completely normal preteen. Her spunk and sense of humor are endearing, and we hope they'll be enough to make her wishes come true.

The drawings are sparsely done but full of expression, making it easy to sense each character's mood. The scarier sections are rendered in darker colors, and the physicality of the action scenes is clearly sensed.

Here is a sample spread from the novel (click to see it full size). In it, Mirka is solving a math problem. She has just cut a cake into three equal portions. Before she and her two friends can start eating, another girl shows up at the door. What's a hostess to do?

The novel exposes readers to some Yiddish words and to some Orthodox Jewish customs. This is not, however, a religious book. Mirka just happens to be Jewish, in the same way most characters in most books just happen to be Christians. The description of the Sabbath is no more detailed or preachy than are descriptions of Christmas traditions in other novels. And that's the way it should be.

A fun story for all readers of any age and a good conversation starter for families or book clubs who have little knowledge of modern Orthodox life.

Thanks to Vasilly (Natasha) at 1330v for bringing Hereville to my attention. For more on the graphic novel and its author, visit the Hereville website, where you can read the first few pages of the book.

Hereville at Powell's
Hereville at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs

Published by Abrams / Amulet Books, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780810984226
YTD: 30
Source: Borrowed (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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19 March 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger

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.

Last year, I reviewed Ellie Krieger's So Easy, a cookbook I loved so much I went out and bought a second cookbook by Krieger.

Krieger's The Food You Crave focuses on mouth-watering, eye-catching dishes that don't skimp on health and nutrition. The subtitle is Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life, and the cookbook absolutely delivers.

The first chapters cover ingredients and nutritional information. Krieger takes a sane and doable approach to healthy eating, concentrating on providing flavorful, vitamin-rich meals without altogether giving up what she calls "sinful food." She understands that jambalaya requires white rice and that a little bacon or a bit of full-fat cheese can be used
strategically in small amounts for maximum impact, so they add loads of flavor and appeal without upsetting the healthful balance. (p. 8)
You'll find a lot of satisfaction from this cookbook: tasty meals that are easy to prepare and that are good for you. Throughout the book you'll find tips on nutrition, portion sizes, snacks, and ingredients. Each recipe is also accompanied by a nutritional analysis, and most are beautifully photographed.

The book is divided into breakfasts (Peach French Toast Bake), appetizers (White Bean and Roasted Garlic Dip), soups (Tuscan Vegetable Soup), salads (Grilled Thai Beef Salad), pastas and grains (Macaroni and Four Cheeses), meats (Sweet-and-Sour Brisket), side dishes (Jewel Roasted Vegetables), and desserts (Dark Chocolate Mousse).

Many recipes are quick enough for a weekday evening. All are easy to make, have clear directions, and use ingredients that are generally available at any large grocery store.

I had a very hard time picking a recipe to share. Jerk Chicken with Cool Pineapple Salsa, Broccoli with Toasted Garlic, and Savory Chinese Chicken Salad lost out to the lamb. Enjoy!

Lemon-Garlic Marinated Lamb Chops

Serves 4
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Eight 4-ounce lamb loin chops, trimmed of fat
Preheat the broiler, grill, or grill pan over medium heat.

In a small bowl stir together all the ingredients except the lamb. Put the chops in a sealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Move the chops around in the bag so the marinade coats them well. Seal the bag and marinate for 20 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature. Remove the chops from the marinade and discard the marinade. Grill or broil the chops for 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium rare or your desired degree of doneness.

Published by Taunton Press, 2008
ISBN-13: 9781600850219
YTD: 29
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

(Click the link below to find Mr. Linky)

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18 March 2011

Imprint Friday: Remembering the U.S. Civil War

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Harper Perennial. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

This week I'm going to do something a little bit different. As many of you know, 2011 marks the 150 anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. In recognition of this, Harper Perennial and its sister imprints at HarperCollins are publishing several new titles on the war and are reissuing some books that were published previously. This Imprint Friday is all about the American Civil War in books at Harper Perennial.

First up is Howard Zinn's The Other Civil War: Slavery and Struggle in Civil War America. This compilation "of essays recounts the history of American labor, free and not free, in the years leading up to and during the Civil War. [Zinn] offers an alternative yet necessary account of that terrible nation-defining epoch."

The pieces in The Other Civil War were originally published in Zinn's best-selling A People's History of the United States, which is available as an audiobook. (ISBN: 9780062079008)

Paul Johnson's Civil War America: 1850-1870 is another compilation drawn from a larger work, this time Johnson's A History of the American People. (ISBN: 9780062076250) Here's part of the publisher's summary:

Enlivened with the author's trademark scholarship, verve, and intelligence, this vivid, concise history revisits the conflict that tore a nation asunder and provides portraits of the people who played essential roles in the bloody drama. [It] examines the factors that led to the devastating rift in the years before the fighting—and recounts the troubled healing a wounded nation underwent in the years after the final shot was fired.
For lighter but fact-filled look at the war, you might want to try Bill Fawcett's How to Lose the Civil War: Military Mistakes of the War Between the States. Fawcett exposes the errors and blunders made by both North and South, from Lincoln's inability to find a general who would engage the enemy to Lee's ordering of Pickett's charge.

Through Fawcett, we learn that the heroes and respected leaders of the American Civil War were far from infallible. (ISBN: 9780061807275)

On sale this week is an updated edition of Emory M. Thomas's Confederate Nation: 1861-1865. This study, now with a new introduction, is considered one of the best examinations of the South during the Civil War years. (ISBN: 9780062061027) According to the publisher's summary,
Thomas's masterful account delivers a clear analysis of the origins of secession, a gripping narrative of the military campaigns that shaped the Civil War, and a compelling portrait of the Southern people during the country's most turbulent era.
For biography fans and those particularly interested in Lincoln, Harper Perennial is reissuing two works by Stephen B. Oates: With Malice Toward None: A Biography of Abraham Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln: The Man behind the Myths. Together, these biographies offer the definitive picture of our sixteenth president from his humble beginnings to his rise to the White House and from his personal life to his struggles to keep the nation whole.

The publisher notes that in the "award-winning" With Malice Toward None, "Lincoln steps forward out of the shadow of myth as a recognizable, fully drawn American whose remarkable life continues to inspire and inform us today." (ISBN: 9780060924713)

In Abraham Lincoln (ISBN: 9780060924720), Oates
exposes the human side of the great and tragic president—including his depression, his difficulties with love, and his troubled and troubling attitudes about slavery—while also confronting the many legends that have arisen around "Honest Abe." Oates throughout raises timely questions about what the Lincoln mythos reveals about the American people.
Other titles coming out this month are
Harper Perennial's remembrance of the American Civil War offers something for everyone, from the history buff and to the biography fan. Readers who are participating in the War through the Generations: Civil War Challenge will surely find something of interest here. And for readers outside the United States and for those who don't really remember their history classes, here's your chance to learn about one of the pivotal events in U.S. history.

Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. 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. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

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17 March 2011

Beth Fish Does Book Tournaments, Awards, and Events

As many of you know, the late winter into early spring is my busiest time of the year. For almost two months, I work seven days a week, ten hours a day editing manuscripts for the fall book season. I have almost four weeks more, and then I can be a regular person again.

And when I have some free time, I'll be back reading blogs and participating in the following events.

Nerds Heart YA

I am thrilled to have again been chosen as one of the judges for the Nerds Heart YA tournament. This "bracket style competition" was developed to "showcas[e] books that had not received as much publicity as the big hitter books" of 2010, providing "more visibility for fantastic, under represented books."

The books were nominated by public, were published in 2010, and "[f]eature characters, or are penned by authors" that fit one or more of the following categories: POC, GLBT, disability, mental illness, religious lifestyle, lower socioeconomic status, and plus size.

The tournament begins in April, and I'm looking forward to learning which books made the cut and which ones I get to read. Visit the Nerds Heart YA blog for more information.

Indie Lit Awards

As you know, I read a wide a wide variety of books, and I'm happy to be participating in a different kind of book event: the second annual Indie Lit Awards. I will be a voting member in the category of memoir and biography.

Here's information about the awards: "The Independent Literary Awards are book awards given by literary bloggers. Lit bloggers write about books and literary related items. They are the fastest growing form of publicity in the literary world, though most are still independently run and do not receive compensation for their reviews or recommendations."

Nominations for the next awards will not be open until September, but I encourage you to become familiar with and subscribe to the LLA blog so you'll be ready to nominate your favorite title in each of this year's categories: literary fiction, GLBTQ, nonfiction, speculative fiction, memoir/biography, poetry, and mystery.

Book Bloggers Convention

And finally, because clearly I do not have enough to do, I am more than honored to have been asked to serve on panel at second annual Book Bloggers Convention to be held in New York on May 27, the Friday after Book Expo America (BEA) closes.

The session I'll be participating in is called "Navigating the Gray Areas of Book Blogging" and will be moderated by Heather from Age 30+ . . . A Lifetime of Books. The panel is made up of industry professionals and book bloggers: Bethanne from The Book Studio, Kathleen from Bookish Broad, Pam from Mother Reader, and Amy from Amy Reads.

For more information about the convention and to learn how you can register to attend, please visit the dedicated blog.

I'm looking forward to all these events (and BEA). I'm also counting the weeks until I can once again visit your blogs on a regular basis.

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16 March 2011

Wordless Wednesday 121

Ice, 2011

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15 March 2011

Lost & Found Giveaway: Winners

I'm pleased to announce the winners of the Lost & Found giveaway, sponsored by the publisher. The winners will receive a copy of this beautiful Shaun Tan book. Congratulations to

Elyse from Pop Culture Nerd
Leslie from Regular Rumination

I hope you enjoy the book.

Thanks to Scholastic Books for sponsoring this giveaway.

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Today's Read: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

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.

His smile was gentle. "You listen to too many of Old Nan's stories. The Others are as dead as the children of the forest, gone eight thousand years. Maester Luwin will tell you they never lived at all. No living man has ever seen one."

"Until this morning, no living man had ever seen a direwolf, either" Catelyn reminded him. (p. 25)
—From A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (Bantam edition, 2002)

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14 March 2011

Review: Rescue by Anita Shreve

Peter Webster, senior emergency medical technician (EMT) in his Vermont community, is a long-time single parent. When he discovers his seventeen-year-old daughter, Rowan, has started to drink, memories of his ex-wife come flooding back. No matter how skilled Peter is at rescuing strangers, he feels unsure about his ability to help those he loves the most.

Anita Shreve's Rescue focuses on steady, safe Peter Webster and his lightening-fast relationship with Sheila Arsenault. Peter's introduction to her occurs early in his EMT career when he is called to the scene of a one-car accident. Sheila, who had been drinking, is lucky to have survived, and Peter cannot stop thinking about her, quickly falling in love. Sheila has a complicated past, but she likes Peter and agrees to marry him when she learns she's pregnant, just a couple months after they've met.

As suddenly as their relationship started, it ends, and Peter moves in with his parents, who help raise Rowan. It isn't until Rowan starts pushing the boundaries that Peter begins to reflect on his marriage and worry about how easily his daughter could follow in the footsteps of a mother she can't remember.

Shreve's talent at creating familiar, believable characters shines in Rescue. Almost all of us have seen a relationship that took off at warp speed. Some of these couples manage to find a comfortable pace at which to cruise through life, but most eventually spin out of control. Peter and Sheila are among the latter. He may not be worldly wise, but he has found his budding maturity; she has big-city street smarts but cannot stand up to her troubles.

Rescue doesn't offer many surprises, but not all examinations of a life need to shock. Peter's story is interesting precisely because it mirrors reality. If you ever found yourself in need of emergency medical help, Peter is the man you'd want to turn to. He was born to do that kind of work. He is careful, precise, calming, and experienced. He knows the protocol. Unfortunately for Peter, there is no checklist for being a husband or father, and your heart goes out to him in his solo, stumbling efforts to deal with his headstrong daughter.

And, in fact, a central theme in the novel is the conflicting needs for independence and assistance. We can require help and we can even be offered help, but the real trick is being ready to accept help. Peter, Sheila, and Rowan must all find a way past this dilemma.

Rescue may not make your top-ten list, but the novel is well worth your time. Book club discussions will likely focus on the EMT scenes, single parenthood, alcoholism, rescue (in all its forms), and the nature of love and relationships.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Hachette Audio; 7 hr, 30 min) read by Dennis Holland. Holland's expressive reading keeps listeners engaged without interfering with their personal reactions. His voice is smooth and easy to listen to. A recommended audio.

Rescue was an Indie Next Pick for December 2010. For more on Anita Shreve, visit her website, where you will also find a reading group guide.

Rescue at Powell's
Rescue at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs

Published by Hachette Group / Little, Brown, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780316020725
YTD: 28
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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12 March 2011

Weekend Cooking: The Kitchen Journal 2

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.


Last week, Rikki over at The Bookkeeper, shared a recipe for Lentil-Vegetable Pie. I loved the sound of the ingredients but because we had omelets for breakfast, I didn't want to use eggs again for dinner, which were required to make the casserole.

So instead I kind of stole the idea and turned the recipe into a Lentil-Vegetable stew. Following Rikki's ingredient list, I used celery, parsnips, 1 white potato, 1 sweet potato, and carrots for my root vegetables. I left out the tomatoes and added a red bell pepper and common white mushrooms. I kept the wine and tomato paste. For seasonings I started with thyme, pepper, lots of garlic, and 2 tablespoons powdered organic vegetarian broth.

I started by washing a pound of green lentils and placing them in a soup pot, along with enough water to cover them by about an inch. I put the pot over medium high heat, and then chopped the veggies, adding them to lentils as I went. I began with the vegetables that take the longest to cook, and held off adding the mushrooms right away.

I let the stew simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the lentils began to soften. Then I stirred in the powdered broth, a bit of wine, a squeeze of tomato paste, pepper, and thyme. I believe I added other spices (I almost always add a few drops of hot sauce or hot red pepper flakes), but failed to keep accurate notes.

After another 5 minutes or so, I stirred in the mushrooms. That's when I decided I wanted some greens, so I added one box of chopped frozen spinach (which I partially thawed in the microwave before I added it to the pot). I let the stew simmer until the spinach was heated through and the lentils were cooked but not mushy.

One of the great things about lentils is that I went from raw vegetables to sit-down dinner in under an hour. Stir the stew every once in a while and watch the liquid level; you don't want it to get too dry. I was happy to discover an easy, delicious, and nutritious dinner.

Thanks to Rikki for the inspiration. I had enough stew for two dinners with some left over to freeze.

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11 March 2011

Imprint Friday: Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Pamela Dorman Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

Start with a little mystery, murder, and forensics. Then add a recluse anatomist and a pushy woman, stir in a bit of humor, and set it all in late-eighteenth-century England. Give the mix to author Imogen Robertson, and you'll end up with a great first in series: Instruments of Darkness.

Here's the publisher's summary:

In the year 1780, Harriet Westerman, the willful mistress of a country manor in Sussex, finds a dead man on her grounds with a ring bearing the crest of Thornleigh Hall in his pocket. Not one to be bound by convention or to shy away from adventure, she recruits a reclusive local anatomist named Gabriel Crowther to help her find the murderer, and historical suspense's newest investigative duo is born.

For years, Mrs. Westerman has sensed the menace of neighboring Thornleigh Hall, seat of the Earl of Sussex. It is the home of a once-great family that has been reduced to an ailing invalid, his whorish wife, and his alcoholic second son, a man haunted by his years spent as a redcoat in the Revolutionary War. The same day, Alexander Adams is slain by an unknown killer in his London music shop, leaving his children orphaned. His death will lead back to Sussex, and to an explosive secret that has already destroyed one family and threatens many others.

Instruments of Darkness combines the brooding atmosphere of Anne Perry with the complex, compelling detail of Tess Gerritsen, moving from drawing room to dissecting room, from coffee house to country inn. Mrs. Westerman and Mr. Crowther are both razor-sharp minds and their personalities breathe spirit into this gripping historical mystery.
Crowther and Westerman are the perfect partners, they just don't know it on the June morning they meet to view a dead body. Crowther is initially put off by Harriet, who tries too hard to prove that she's both smart and no delicate flower. Soon, however, Crowther learns to respect his headstrong neighbor. The murder is well plotted, and once the principal players and victims are introduced, it's an engrossing read. Although the story is fiction, Robertson includes historical figures and details to add a degree of veracity.

Here are some other thoughts:
  • Mary Ann Gwinn, writing for the Seattle Times, says: "A ripping homage to Dickens, Austen and Conan Doyle, 'Instruments of Darkness' will keep you up at night, and then, like me, waiting for the sequel."
  • Bernadette from Reactions to Reading, wrote: "Though the plot is excellent it is the characters that are the real stars of the novel, offering something for everyone's taste."
  • Jason Goodwin, writing for the New York Times, concludes: "Robertson writes very well. There is history here, and repartee, and the shadows of truncated plots left delicately unexplored. And who, as the shadows lengthen on our lawns, could ask for more?"
Instruments of Darkness is an Indie Next Pick for March 2011. Pamela Dorman Books has posted an author interview and reading group guide. Imogen Robertson has both a website and a blog.

Pamela Dorman Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Pamela Dorman's introductory letter, posted here on December 3, 2010.

Instruments of Darkness at Powell's
Instruments of Darkness at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Viking / Pamela Dorman Books, February 2011
ISBN-13: 9780670022427

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10 March 2011

Review: Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

Irene America is a graduate student, wife, mother, and--perhaps most defining--the primary model for her artist husband, Gil. The marriage has always had an undercurrent of distrust and emotional intensity, but when Irene discovers that Gil has been reading her diary, she seizes the opportunity to gain the upper hand.

The red diary becomes Irene's source of power; in it she writes exactly what she knows will pick away at Gil's weaknesses and suspicions. At the same time, she needs to track her truth, and keeps her real story in the blue diary, locked up in a safe deposit box. When the game of manipulation crosses all boundaries, both Gil and Irene fall into darkness.

All the while a third voice fills in the spaces: judging, chronologizing, questioning.

Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag grabs you by the collar and pulls you in close. You are trapped for the duration, but you don't struggle to get away.

In the complicated tapestry of the Americas' family and marriage it is difficult to discern who is victim and who is perpetrator. Irene and Gil, each equipped to devastate the other, seem to act first, think later. They may be evenly matched, but what roles do their children play in this home-front drama?

Here, Irene gives us a hint in her blue notebook:

Why should I tell you where I am going? It is what a person does in a civilized relationship. Ours is not--you have broken the rules. Of course, as soon as I say that, I remember. I have broken other rules and you have broken other rules. We have tried to work out our differences over those violations, or over most of them. The worst things we've done have involved the children. So we have tried to repair our behavior and correct mistakes for them. But this is different. (p. 47)
Shadow Tag catches you off guard but does not toy with your emotions. Irene and Gil are masters of manipulation but they work only on each other, leaving the reader as the guardian of hope. Despite the seemingly inevitable downward spiral of the Americas' marriage, we stick with the family, unsure of the ultimate outcome.

Irene and Gil will live in your head for weeks, making you think about love, jealousy, truth, privacy, relationships, parenting, meanness, depression, alcoholism, independence, and personal boundaries. Book clubs will likely devote quite a bit of time discussing Irene and Gil's children and their reactions to their parents' behavior. Other topics can be found in the Reading Guide.

I talk more about Shadow Tag in a teaser post and an Imprint Friday post that featured this novel.

Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. 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. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Shadow Tag at an Indie
Shadow Tag at Powell's
Shadow Tag at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780061536106
YTD: 27
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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09 March 2011

Wordless Wednesday 120

Winter Warriors, 2011

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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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