31 May 2011

BEA: Adult Book and Author Breakfasts

As many of you know, I was in New York last week for Book Expo America (BEA), the major annual trade show for the U.S. publishing industry.

One great result of BEA deciding to return to a three-day conference is that there were two adult book and author breakfasts. Both were absolutely fabulous and I am thankful for the opportunity to hear these authors speak and to be introduced to eight great titles.

Wednesday Morning (no cover image for one of the books)

The emcee for Wednesday morning was actress Mindy Kaling from The Office. Her book of personal essays--Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (Crown Archtype)--covers a little bit of everything: humor, advice, and Hollywood stories.
Comedy's fastest-rising star takes to the page in a book of essays, personal anecdotes, and impassioned pleas. Multi-hyphenate Mindy Kaling is an Emmy-nominated writer, the actress famous for playing the beloved Kelly Kapoor on The Office, and the author of one of Twitter's most popular and quoted feeds. She is a keen and witty observer of life, romance, and pop culture, whom the New York Times recently called "an entirely original and of-the-moment" performer and Entertainment Weekly deemed “one of the ten funniest actresses in Hollywood.”

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy shares her observations, fears, and opinions about a wide-ranging list of the topics she thinks about the most: from her favorite types of guys (including Sherlock Holmes, NBA players, Aaron Sorkin characters, and 19th-century fictional hunks) to life in the Office writers' room to her leisure pursuit of dieting (“I don’t travel, speak other languages, do crafts, or enjoy sports, but I love reading about new diets”) and how much she loves romantic comedies. Loaded with personal stories and laugh-out-loud philosophies, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a must-read by one of the most original comedic voices working today.
Diane Keaton's moving tribute to her mother, Then Again (Random House), seems like a must read. Keaton was blessed to have a mother with whom she could be best friends, and she wrote about their relationship in a loving memoir. At the breakfast, Keaton read from the book--the entire audience was crying, including the author.
This is not an autobiography about the film sets and awards shows and celebrity friends, but about an American family and their shared and individual dreams. To write about herself, Diane realized that she had to write about her mother, too, and how their bond came to define both of their lives. In a remarkable act of creation, Diane not only reveals herself to us, she also lets us meet, in intimate detail, her mother. Throughout her life, Dorothy kept eight-five journals--literally thousands of pages--writing about her marriage, her children, and most probingly, about herself. In her journals Dorothy reveals herself to be a woman restless with intellectual and creative energy struggling to find an outlet for her talents and thwarted by society's expectations of what it means to be a good wife and mother. Dorothy also records memorable stories about Diane's grandparents. Diane has sorted through all these pages to write an unflinching portrait of her mother as well as her entire family--a story that spans four generations and nearly a hundred years.

Although the autobiography of a legendary actress, this is a book about a very American family with very American dreams. Diane will remind you of yourself, and her bonds with her family will remind you of your own relationships with those you love the most.
Jefferey Eugenides's newest book, The Marriage Plot (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), doesn't yet have a cover image, but don't let that stop you from adding this to your wish list. The novel, out in the fall, looks like another fantastic character study set in a fascinating time.
Madeleine Hanna was the dutiful English major who didn't get the memo. While everyone else in the early 1980s was reading Derrida, she was happily absorbed with Jane Austen and George Eliot: purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. Madeleine was the girl who dressed a little too nicely for the taste of her more bohemian friends, the perfect girlfriend whose college love life, despite her good looks, hadn't lived up to expectations.

But now, in the spring of her senior year, Madeleine has enrolled in a semiotics course "to see what all the fuss is about," and, for reasons that have nothing to do with school, life and literature will never be the same. Not after she falls in love with Leonard Morten--charismatic loner, college Darwinist and lost Oregon boy--who is possessed of seemingly inexhaustible energy and introduces her to the ecstasies of immediate experience. And certainly not after Mitchell Grammaticus--devotee of Patti Smith and Thomas Merton--resurfaces in her life, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

The triangle in this amazing and delicious novel about a generation beginning to grow up is age old, and completely fresh and surprising. With devastating wit, irony and an abiding understanding and love for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides resuscitates the original energies of the novel while creating a story so contemporary that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.
What can I say about Charlaine Harris? You all know how much I love Sookie and the Southern Vampire series. I was thrilled to get a chance to hear Harris talk about Sookie, the novels, and the HBO show True Blood. Her newest novel, Dead Reckoning (Ace/Penguin Group USA) will not disappoint.
With her knack for being in trouble's way, Sookie witnesses the firebombing of Merlotte's, the bar where she works. Since Sam Merlotte is now known to be two-natured, suspicion falls immediately on the anti-shifters in the area. Sookie suspects otherwise, but her attention is divided when she realizes that her lover Eric Northman and his "child" Pam are plotting to kill the vampire who is now their master. Gradually, Sookie is drawn into the plot--which is much more complicated than she knows. . . .
What a way to start out the day! My pick for the day is Then Again.

Thursday Morning

The final breakfast was hosted by the wonderful Jim Lehrer. Lehrer introduced us to his memoir Tension City (Random House) which offers an insider's view of televised presidential candidate debates. I can't wait to read about what happened when the cameras were turned off or turned away. Lehrer also discusses the purposes of these debates and how they affect voters.
From the man widely hailed as “the Dean of Moderators” comes a lively and revealing book that pulls back the curtain on more than forty years of televised political debate in America. A veteran newsman who has presided over eleven presidential and vice-presidential debates, Jim Lehrer gives readers a ringside seat for some of the epic political battles of our time, shedding light on all of the critical turning points and rhetorical faux pas that helped determine the outcome of America’s presidential elections—and with them the course of history. Drawing on his own experiences as “the man in the middle seat,” in-depth interviews with the candidates and his fellow moderators, and transcripts of key exchanges, Lehrer isolates and illuminates what he calls the “Major Moments” and “killer questions” that defined the debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain.

Oftentimes these moments involve the candidates themselves and are seared into our collective political memory. Michael Dukakis stumbles badly over a question about the death penalty. Dan Quayle compares himself to John F. Kennedy once too often. Barack Obama and John McCain barely make eye contact over the course of a ninety-minute discussion. At other times, the debate moderators themselves become part of the story—and Lehrer is there to give us a backstage look at the drama. Peter Jennings suggests surprising the candidates by suspending the carefully negotiated rules minutes before the 1988 presidential debate—to the consternation of his fellow panelists. Lehrer himself weathers a firestorm of criticism over his performance as moderator of the 2000 Bush-Gore debate. And then there are the excruciating moments when audio lines go dead and TelePrompTers stay dark just seconds before going on the air live in front of a worldwide television audience of millions.
Although I watch a ton of movies, I can't really call myself a movie buff. I know very little of the ins and outs of film, actors, and critics. That's why I turn to people like Roger Ebert, whose memoir, Life Itself (Grand Central), gives us a look at the life of true movie expert. Using computer-generated speech and with the help of his wife, Ebert entertained us with stories of Letterman, Siskel, and other people he has been fortunate enough to have met.
Roger Ebert has been reviewing films for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967. The first film critic ever to win a Pulitzer Prize, he has been a fixture on television for over 30 years, co-hosting Siskel & Ebert at the Movies until Gene Siskel's death in 1999, and then with Richard Roper until 2006. Then, complications from thyroid-cancer treatment resulted in the loss of his ability to eat, drink, or speak. But with the loss of his voice, Ebert has only become a more prolific and influential writer. And now, for the first time, he tells the full, dramatic story of his life and career. He chronicles his loves, losses, and obsessions; his recovery from alcoholism, his marriage, his politics, and his spiritual beliefs. He also provides details about his years at the Sun-Times, his colorful newspaper friends, his friendships with Oprah Winfrey, Studs Terkel, and others, insights into stars like John Wayne, Lee Marvin, and Robert Mitchum, and his perspective on such influential directors as Ingmar Bergman, Martin Scorsese, and Werner Herzog.
Anne Enright's latest novel, The Forgotten Waltz (Norton), sounds like another winner from one of my favorite authors. Set in Dublin in modern times, Enright explores the far-reaching after effects of a love affair.
The Forgotten Waltz is a memory of desire: a recollection of the bewildering speed of attraction, the irreparable slip into longing. In Terenure, a pleasant suburb of Dublin, in the winter of 2009, it has snowed. Gina Moynihan, girl about town, recalls the trail of lust and happenstance that brought her to fall for ‘the love of her life,’ Seán Vallely. As the city outside comes to a halt, Gina remembers the days of their affair in one hotel room or another: long afternoons made blank by bliss and denial. Now, as the silent streets and the stillness and vertigo of the falling snow make the day luminous and full of possibility, Gina waits the arrival on her doorstep of Seán’s fragile, twelve-year-old daughter, Evie--the complication, and gravity, of this second life.

In this extraordinary novel, this opening book of secrets, Anne Enright speaks directly to the readers she won with the success of The Gathering. Here, again, is the sudden, momentous drama of everyday life, the volatile connections between people; that fresh eye for each flinch and gesture; the wry, accurate take on families, marriage, brittle middle age. The same verve and humor and breathtaking control are evident; the ability to merge the ordinary and the beautiful. With The Forgotten Waltz Enright turns her attention fully to love--you might even call it romance--as she follows another flawed and unforgettable heroine on a journey of the heart. Writing at the height of her powers, this is Anne Enright’s tour de force, a novel of intelligence, passion and real distinction.
Another favorite author in my house is Erik Larson, and his forthcoming book, In the Garden of Beasts (Crown), looks at an American family and their life in Berlin during the 1930s, when Hitler was gaining political strength.
The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the "New Germany," she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance--and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler's true character and ruthless ambition.

Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Goring and the expectedly charming--yet wholly sinister--Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.
Really? You expect me to have a pick of the day? Okay: my pick of the day is Life Itself.

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30 May 2011

BEA: Children's Book and Author Breakfast

As many of you know, I was in New York last week for Book Expo America (BEA), the major annual trade show for the U.S. publishing industry.

One of my favorite parts about BEA is the author breakfasts. Today I'll tell you about the children's book and author breakfast and tomorrow I'll write about the two adult events.

Here are the covers of the four books introduced at the children's breakfast:

The emcee for the children's breakfast, which was held on Tuesday morning, was the actress Julianne Moore, who writes illustrated children's books starring Freckleface Strawberry and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Her newest book, Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever, will be published in September by Bloomsbury Kids.
Freckleface Strawberry and Windy Pants Patrick are as different as can be--but that doesn't stop them from being the best of friends. After all, they have a lot of important things in common, like having families and liking recess and loving books. But the rest of the kids don't see it that way. They think that girls and boys are just too different to be friends. So one day, Freckleface decides not to play with Windy Pants Patrick. And he decides not to play with her. And nothing really changes . . . or does it? She still eats lunch and plays and reads books--and so does he. So why don't those things feel fun anymore?

Witty, warmhearted, and brought to life with LeUyen Pham's gentle hilarity, Julianne Moore's latest book celebrates the importance of recognizing--and keeping--a true friend.
Brian Selznick's newest illustrated book is Wonderstruck, coming out from Scholastic later this summer.
Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.

Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories--Ben’s told in words, Rose’s in pictures--weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder. Rich, complex, affecting, and beautiful--with over 460 pages of original artwork--Wonderstruck is a stunning achievement from a uniquely gifted artist and visionary.
Sarah Dressen's latest is What Happened to Goodbye, published by Viking and is out now.
Since her parents' bitter divorce, McLean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move-four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother's new family, McLean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, McLean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.

Combing Sarah Dessen's trademark graceful writing, great characters, and compelling storytelling, What Happened to Goodbye is irresistible reading.
Kevin Henkes's picture book Little White Rabbit was published by Greenwillow Books earlier this spring.
One bright spring day a little white rabbit sets out from home on an adventure. What does he find? Look! Everything is new. Anything is possible . . .
The four books are very different and appeal to very different age groups and readers. My pick of the day is Wonderstruck.

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28 May 2011

Weekend Cooking: Bottle Shock

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're of a certain age then you remember the days when people shunned California wines and the world looked to France for the best of the best. Then in 1976 things changed. Bottle Shock tells the story of how Montelena Winery challenged common knowledge and wine snobs across the globe. A fun and informative film featuring one of my favorite actors, Alan Rickman.

The acting is great, the scenery of Napa Valley is beautiful, and the Barrett family's ups and downs and uncertainty about their wine is a lesson in perseverance. The icing on the cake, however, is Rickman, who plays a wonderfully snobby British wine expert who encourages the Barretts to enter a competition in France with the idea that the upstart Americans will be put in their place once and for all.

Whether you consider yourself a wine person or not, this film, based on the real-life story of how California vineyards gained serious attention, is well worth watching.

These days, American wines hold their own quite well throughout the world.

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27 May 2011

Imprint Friday: The Space between Us by Thrity Umrigar

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.

Many of you may be very familiar with author Thrity Umrigar. Her novel The Space between Us won critical acclaim both on blogs and in the international press. If you haven't yet read this beautiful story of two women and the seemingly insurmountable class differences that separate them, you might want to pick up the new deluxe edition that Harper Perennial recently released as part of their modern classics series.

Here is the summary:

Poignant, evocative, and unforgettable, The Space Between Us is an intimate portrait of a distant yet familiar world. Set in modern-day India, it is the story of two compelling and achingly real women: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, who has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years. A powerful and perceptive literary masterwork, author Thrity Umrigar's extraordinary novel demonstrates how the lives of the rich and poor are intrinsically connected yet vastly removed from each other, and how the strong bonds of womanhood are eternally opposed by the divisions of class and culture.
Westerners have been fascinated with India for centuries: exotic spices, bright colors, ancient religions, and beautiful architecture. Today, we think of India as a modern country that has embraced technology and has a global vision. But what may be little know outside the subcontinent is that the caste system, although outlawed, still has a strong hold on some twenty-first-century Indians. Umrigar takes that as a principal theme in her beautifully written novel.

Can you tell the difference in the women's lives right from our introduction to them?

Chapter 1:
Although it is dawn, inside Bhima's heart it is dusk.

Rolling onto her left side on the thin cotton mattress on the floor, she sits up abruptly, as she does every morning. . . . For an idle moment she sits at the edge of the mattress with her calloused feet flat on the mud floor, her knees bent and her head resting on her folded arms. In that time she is almost at rest, her mind thankfully blank and empty of the trials that await her today and the next day and the next.
Chapter 2:
Sera Dubash glances at the basket of onions hanging near the window and then at the large kitchen clock. Late again. Bhima is late again. She really needs to talk to Bhima about this daily tardiness. After all, she, Sera, is responsible for packing [her children's] lunches on time each morning, and she needs Bhima here to help her. Yesterday, both children left for work ten minutes later than they should have because their lunches were not ready.
The socioeconomic divide separating these women is instantaneously recognizable, and we wonder if it is possible for them to have a personal relationship. The novel looks at prejudices, friendship, and families through the interwoven stories of Bhima and Sera. As a backdrop, sits India, complete with the sights and smells and sounds of Bombay.

Umrigar shows us her personal India: both more beautiful and more disturbing than we have likely imagined. If you are interested in women's stories, in social inequality, and in learning more about modern Indian life, add The Space between Us to your reading list.

Here are some other thoughts; click the links for the complete reviews:
  • Swapna from S. Krisha's Books: "Umrigar’s fully realized characters, beautiful writing, and vivid descriptions make India come to life for the reader. Though this book is gutwrenching and heartbreaking, it also leaves the reader with some semblance of hope."
  • Shona from Shona's Book Shelves: "Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us was one book at the end of which I was left speechless, not because of any ground shattering discovery or any revealed mystery but for the honesty with which it was told."
  • Kirkus Reviews: "A subtle, elegant analysis of class and power. Umrigar transcends the specifics of two Bombay women and creates a novel that quietly roars against tyranny."
For more about Thrity Umrigar and her work, visit her website. Book clubs will find the detailed Reading Guide to be useful.

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.

The Space between Us at an Indie
The Space between Us at Powell's
The Space between Us at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial (deluxe edition), 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062067890

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26 May 2011

Thursday Tea: Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

The Book: On Friday and Saturday as I was getting ready for BEA, I knew I had to listen to something light and fun. I also knew that I was going to have a chance to see Charlaine Harris in New York, so I thought it was time to get back to her Southern Vampire series. Furthermore, I was feeling the pressure because HBO's True Blood is coming back in just a week or so.

In Definitely Dead, the sixth book in the series, Sookie is forced to face some hard truths about her life and family. The action is as good as always and the mystery this time entangles fairies, witches, daemons, weres, and vampires. What's poor Sookie to do? I plan to finish listening while on the train.

The Tea: There were a couple of sunny days this week, so my mind began to turn to iced tea. One of my go-to comfort teas--and a great tea iced--is good ole Constant Comment by Bigalow. According to the company, "This original blend of the finest mountain-grown tea is deliciously flavored with rind of oranges and sweet spice." When I was growing up, Constant Comment was always in the house, and I learned to drink it hot or cold.

The Assessment: Sookie is a born and bred Louisianan. She drinks coffee in the morning, but iced tea is in her glass during hot summer days. Would she drink Constant Comment? I'm not quite sure; she may think it's a bit fancy for her tastes.

What About You? I want to know what you're reading or listening to this week. Is that wine or coffee or tea in your glass/mug?

Definitely Dead at Powell's
Definitely Dead at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Thursday Tea was the brainchild of Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.

Published by Penguin USA / Ace Hardcover, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780441014002
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)
FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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25 May 2011

Wordless Wednesday 131

Garden Gate, 2010

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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24 May 2011

Today's Read: The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene

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.

The wind clawed at Claire's face as she trudged through the frozen slush coating the sidewalk. The sky was murky, the faint sun shrouded by writhing pewter clouds. A storm brewed sullenly overhead, but it was too cold for snow. Claire felt the bite despite the long wool overcoat, two sweaters, and yesterday's issue of Le Temps stuffed between each layer of fabric.

Winter had come early and with malice. It was as if Paris closed the door and shut off the lights. Go home, the city told the occupiers. But Nazis weren't the ones freezing in their beds. (p. 57)
—From The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene (Penguin USA / Berkley Books, 2011)

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23 May 2011

Double Giveaway: First Daughter & Blood Trust by Eric Van Lustbrader

Welcome to the first day of Armchair BEA 2011. I know this is going to be a fabulous week for those of us in New York and for those of us at home having our own party.

So when Tor/Forge Books and Zeitghost Media offered me a chance to give away a two-book set, I immediately thought of Armchair BEA! Here are the details.

Eric Van Lustbrader's exciting thriller series begins with First Daughter and introduces readers to Jack McClure, a dyslectic special agent for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Take a look at part of the book summary:

When a terrible accident takes the life of his only daughter, Emma, and his marriage falls apart, Jack blames himself, numbing the pain by submerging himself in work. Then he receives a call from his old friend Edward Carson. Carson is just weeks from taking the reins as President of the United States when his daughter, Alli, is kidnapped. Because Emma McClure was once Alli’s best friend, Carson turns to Jack, the one man he can trust to go to any lengths to find his daughter and bring her home safely.
Here's what Ann from Booklorn Is a State of Mind said "I enjoyed First Daughter (in fact, I read the whole book in 24 hours). It is intricate enough to keep you guessing with enough action and intrigue to keep you from thinking too much."

In the latest book in the series (the third one), Van Lustbrader Jack McClure once again comes to the aid of Alli Carson. Although she is now an FBI agent, Alli is accused of a murder and turns to Jack to help her find the real killer.

What follows is a treacherous journey that leads Jack and Alli into a complex web of lies and deceit. Using Jack’s unique gifts to see the through the labyrinth of manipulation, their investigation leads them into the dark heart of the international slave trade, tied to a powerful Albanian crime lord whose ability and influence in global terrorism grows with each day.

The two find themselves in the crosshairs of vast global enterprise, one that lurks in the shadows of power and has infiltrated Washington and their lives in ways neither of them could ever have imagined. And hidden deep among it all sits a terrifying criminal mastermind, someone fueled by a hatred that can never be quenched, and a mind that knows neither feeling nor mercy.
Guest reviewer Booking Pap Pap writing on Julie's Booking Mama blog said this about Blood Trust: "Van Lustbader does a superb job of taking the reader through a complex entanglement of lies and deceit always leaving the reader unsure of where the clues will lead until the very end."

Because the books are being sent directly from the publicist, this giveaway is open only to those with a U.S. or Canada mailing address. To enter, fill out the form. I'll pick a winner next Monday morning. Good luck and enjoy!

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21 May 2011

Weekend Cooking: Cooking from Man with a Pan by John Donohue

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.


Yesterday's Imprint Friday introduced you to the literary side of John Donohue's Man with a Pan. Today it's all about the recipes. For more detailed information about the book, see yesterday's post.

Each of the men featured in Man with a Pan contributed at least one tried-and-true recipe from his own files. The mix of dishes included in the book runs from musician Michael Ruhlman's Roast Chicken for Two to lawyer/author Adam Bonin's Duck Breasts with Five-Spice Glaze. The bulk of the recipes, however, are family friendly and look fairly easy to put together. A few of the recipes use ingredients that may be difficult to find in a small town.

The recipes are printed in the style of the contributor. In other words, some are written out just as you might get a recipe from a friend, whereas others are more formally presented. Each recipe title is included in the table of contents, and there is no index. But as I implied yesterday, Man with a Pan is much more than cookbook; in fact the essays and stories are the true heart of the book.

The dishes that appeal to me most are the easy pastas, soups, and chili. As you might imagine, several of the men rely on their grills, and Mr. BFR will be trying some of those dishes over the summer.

My only complaint is that some of the recipes could have used a recipe editor. I understand that Donohue wanted to preserve the voice and personality of the featured men and that this is not a primarily a cookbook, but I found a few inconsistencies. The solution is to be sure to read the directions carefully before you begin to cook.

I tried two recipes that I served together: author Sean Wilsey's Fagioli all'Uccelletto and professor Henry Schenck's Broccoli Rabe. (I cheated for the bean dish and used my pressure cooker.) Both dishes were excellent and I will be making them again.

Fagioli all'Uccelletto
  • 1 pound dry white beans, large or small
  • 1 28-ounce can of peeled plum tomatoes
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed plum tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh sage leaves
Rinse and soak the beans for at least 10 hours. Drain and rinse. [I used a quick-soak method that took 1 hour.]

Put the beans into a stockpot. Add both cans of tomatoes, breaking up the whole tomatoes with a spoon. Bring to a boil and then turn the flame down really low, cover the pot and leave it simmering.

In a frying pan, saute the garlic in the olive oil for 1 minutes. Add half the sage leaves [I chopped them] to the pan and saute for another minute. Add the garlic and sage to the simmering stockpot with the beans and the tomatoes.

Simmer for about 2 hours, or until the beans are soft as desired, which, depending on the size of the beans, could be twice as long. There is really no formula here--just keep checking. When they're done, they're done. [I used a pressure cooker, so my beans were done in under a half hour.]

When the beans are cooked, remove the cover, increase the heat, and reduce.

Fry the remaining sage [I left the leaves whole] in a frying pan (careful--don't burn it!) and toss this in. Serve in bowls with the freshly fried sage on top.

Broccoli Rabe

  • Olive oil
  • 2 large heads of broccoli rabe, washed and diced [I used a rough chop instead]
  • 1 head of garlic, chopped
  • Lemon juice and salt to taste [I also used pepper]
Saute the garlic in a little oil in a large pan. Add the rabe and cook until the stems are tender (usually about 5 to 10 minutes--pull one out and take a bite to see how they are doing).

Add salt and lemon juice to taste.

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20 May 2011

Imprint Friday: Man with a Pan by John Donohue

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.

Hey, keep your finger off that mouse—I mean it. I know what you're thinking: "I don't cook, the men I know don't cook, I'm not a foodie, how did this book make it to Imprint Friday?" Well give me a moment to explain. John Donohue's Man with a Pan is a whole lot more than recipes and a bunch of guys talking about their love of cooking. I'll tell you all about the book, but first take a second to read the publisher's summary . . . then stick with me to learn some more.

Look who’s making dinner! Twenty-one of our favorite writers and chefs expound upon the joys—and perils—of feeding their families.

Mario Batali’s kids gobble up monkfish liver and foie gras. Peter Kaminsky’s youngest daughter won’t eat anything at all. Mark Bittman reveals the four stages of learning to cook. Stephen King offers tips about what to cook when you don’t feel like cooking. And Jim Harrison shows how good food and wine trump expensive cars and houses.

This book celebrates those who toil behind the stove, trying to nourish and please. Their tales are accompanied by more than sixty family-tested recipes, time-saving tips, and cookbook recommendations, as well as New Yorker cartoons. Plus there are interviews with homestyle heroes from all across America—a fireman in Brooklyn, a football coach in Atlanta, and a bond trader in Los Angeles, among others.

What emerges is a book not just about food but about our changing families. It offers a newfound community for any man who proudly dons an apron and inspiration for those who have yet to pick up the spatula.
What you might miss from the publisher's summary is that there is more than just foodie content here. For example, Matt Greenberg contributes an autobiographical screenplay on writing and grilling, complete with a not-so-subtle nod to The Shining ("Honey I think it's just great you decided to take this job as a winter caretaker for an isolated hotel resort with a questionable history") and sharp comments from his seven-year-old son ("Maybe you should stick to microwaving").

One feature I really like is "On the Shelf," in which the men featured in Man with a Pan reveal what's on their kitchen bookshelves. I'll let you in on a couple of sneak peeks: I was thrilled to see that Mario Batali and I have some of the same books, including "anything and everything by Paula Wolfert." And who couldn't love the fact that author Sean Wilsey places The Hobbit right next to Jamie Oliver's The Return of the Naked Chef? This makes sense because, let's face it, Hobbits are pretty much always dreaming of their next meal.

Of course, each contributor includes one or several recipes, and it's fun to see what, say, the editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary cooks. Let me simply note that I'm a lazy bum compared to Jesse Scheidlower.

The heart of the book, though, are the essays and stories. And the writing is at once personal, funny, thoughtful, and unputdownable. Here is a sampling of opening lines:
  • Jack Hitt: "I became a man, one might argue, the night I was completely unmanned by a cup of celery leaves."
  • Manny Howard: "To secure the love of a beautiful woman, I loaded a dead pig into the back of my late-model Chevy Blazer."
  • Mohammed Naseehu: "Until recently, most Ghanaian houses were built without a kitchen."
  • Josh Lomask: "Cooking is like building a house."
Have I hooked you yet? If not, I'm going to have to pull out my last two tricks. First, is the book trailer (come on, take the time to watch it!), and second is my post tomorrow, which will focus primarily on the food and recipes found in Man with a Pan. Oh and remember that throughout the book are New Yorker foodie cartoons—a fabulous bonus.

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.

Man with a Pan at Powell's
Man with a Pan at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Algonquin Books, May 2011
ISBN-13: 9781565129856

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19 May 2011

Thursday Tea: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

The Book: A few weeks ago I listened to George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings, the second in his Song of Ice and Fire series. If you read my review of A Game of Thrones, you know how much I love these books.

A Clash of Kings begins just where the first book ended, with families and kingdoms regrouping after losses, betrayals, and new alliances. It's difficult to convey the complexity of Martin's world. The characters are as real as the people you know in your everyday life and cannot be described in simple terms. People regret their decisions and actions, the weak harbor hidden strengths, and the seemingly selfish show surprising generosity.

The novel delivers what the title suggests; this is a story of war, both on the battlefield and through deceit and cunning. Because no one is safe from death, the ultimate winner of the iron throne and the crown of the Seven Kingdoms cannot be predicted.

There are two more books in the series with more in progress. I'll be reading them all.

The Tea: Because of all the chill and rain we've had over the last week, I turned to a great favorite of mine: Harney & Son's Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea. I've said it before, but this tea is fantastic and an true staple in this house. Here's the company's description: "medium-bodied black tea . . . naturally sweetened to perfection by a blend of cinnamons, orange, and sweet cloves. The remarkably assertive tea effuses a hot spicy aroma and sets off miniature fireworks on the tongue that'll have you exclaim WOW!" Just the aroma alone will win you over.

The Assessment: Daenerys Targaryen, the Khaleesi across the sea, would definitely be drinking this tea. She has married into an exotic clan, and the spices would be familiar to her people. In the Seven Kingdoms, the Lannisters, perhaps the richest of the clans vying for control of the throne, might be familiar with Hot Cinnamon Spice tea. Everyone else, however, is probably drinking more ordinary strong black tea. Tea of any sort will soon be welcome to all: Winter is coming to the land, and warmth will be hard to find.

What About You? What are drinking during these days of transition into summer in the north and winter in the south? And what books are you reading or listening to this week?

A Clash of Kings at Powell's
A Clash of Kings at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Thursday Tea was the brainchild of Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.

Published by Random House / Bantam Spectra, 2005 (originally published 1999)
ISBN-13: 9780553381696
YTD: 49
Source: Bought (see review policy).
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)
FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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18 May 2011

Wordless Wednesday 130

Dandelion, 2011

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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17 May 2011

Review: Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum

Dick Slepy's faith fails him. He cannot control his wife, Seena, and he doesn't understand his youngest daughter, Amaryllis. The oldest and third daughters--Mary Grace and Mary Tessa--are usually up to no good, but at least he has Mary Catherine, the good daughter, the God-fearing daughter.

In the summer of 1976, when life at the cottage in northern Michigan should have revolved around sun and fun and berry picking, Dick's women have broken out of his orbit, and he is desperate to draw them them back in. Fearing that his sins are the cause of his misfortunes, Dick turns to the local priest. When Father Amadi suggests that Dick take his family to the Gold Coast "to find peace through giving," the latter senses this is God's will and Africa can offer atonement. That Africa will make his family more dependent on him is a just a bonus.

In Christina Meldrum's Amaryllis in Blueberry, each member of the Slepy family tells part of the family's journey from upper-middle-class Midwesterners to clueless medical missionaries in West Africa. The characters are distinct enough that their individual perspectives bring something different to the family story, but most events are told through the self-centered focus of one of the teenage girls, leaving readers wanting to know more. The defining moments, however, are given a three-dimensional reality, so those scenes are memorable, blurring the rest of the novel into an incohesive fog.

Meldrum reveals the harder lessons of the Slepys' history through Amaryllis's view point. The eleven-year-old is unique in the family, not only because of her name and coloring but also in her ability to see people for what they are. Amaryllis's chapters are introspective rather than plot-driven, and she is given the keys to love, life, and truth:

Love is ugly and full of hate even as it's tender and kind. There is nothing pure about love. It's the impurity that is love. I know that now. (p. 187)

Life is a gift. . . . When it ends, you don't ask, "Why me?" You ask, "Why not me?" (p. 245)

That's the thing Africa taught me about truth. You know it's truth because it's busy. Any seeming truth that's idle? Well, that's just not truth. (p. 359)
Despite providing snippets for discussion and contemplation, the novel falls short. Some plot lines were dead ends or were distracting, and seemingly important characters were introduced but then dropped. The biggest jolt, however, was the swiftness of the African action, which takes place over the course of a few weeks.

While it is certainly true that missionary work in a Third World country, especially in the 1970s, would have a profound effect on a family like the Slepys, it is difficult to believe that those changes would happen in a matter of days. The girls have barely stepped off the plane before they have fallen in love, accepted the traditions of the local peoples, and made friends. The quick adjustment and immersion into the local culture were difficult to believe.

Amaryllis in Blueberry was my book club's selection for May. Several members pointed out that the novel was very similar to The Poisonwood Bible (which I haven't read) and were turned off on that point alone. There was a slight division by age: The older members appreciated the cultural context and references to the 1970s and understood the parenting style of that era. The younger members were less comfortable with those aspects of the novel.

Give it to me quickly: Controlling father takes his family to Africa, looking for redemption; instead of absolving them of their sins, the Dark Continent only intensifies what has been smoldering within, bringing their true natures to full flame.

Published by Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781439156896
YTD: 48
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: C
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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16 May 2011

Double Review: Incurable & Circle of Flight by John Marsden

I finished the final two books in John Marsden's The Ellie Chronicles last week. This short double review assumes you've read the previous books about Ellie Linton but has no spoilers for the two novels discussed here. I reviewed While I Live, the first in the trilogy, a couple of weeks ago. For my reviews of the Tomorrow Series, click on the review tab (above).

Incurable and Circle of Flight finish out the story of Ellie Linton and her involvement with the enemy in postwar Australia. Each book is centered around two primary issues: the ongoing guerrilla war against enemy raids and the changing face of everyday life in rural Australia. When the raids become personal, Ellie has a hard time staying out of the action, but at the same time, she is growing weary of the constant vigilance and is questioning her own acts of violence.

In the months since the war officially ended, Ellie is pulled in many directions: keeping the farm running, caring for Gavin, going to school, and staying alive. She feels the burden of other people's expectations for her and begins to think of her long-term goals. She realizes that something must give, and her story ends with her making the decisions that will color her life perhaps forever.

Although the Ellie Chronicles were not as good as the original Tomorrow Series, Marsden's characterizations never faltered. The mix of action with the personal stories of the characterics keep the plot moving to a satisfying end.

My only true complaint about these books has to do with the audio production. Instead of the fabulous Suzi Dougherty (who is Ellie in my mind), the final two books were read by Mikaela Martin (Bolinda Publishing: 6 hr, 56 min and 9 hr, 12 min). Martin's reading made Ellie seem less self-assured and more angst ridden than she was in the previous books. I realize that no one could measure up to Dougherty for Ellie's voice, but it was disappointing that the audio producers changed narrators at the end of the series.

Give it to me quickly: Satisfying ending to John Marsden's trilogy about Ellie Linton and her struggle to find normalcy and security in a postwar Australia; Marsden is a master at developing believable teens.

Incurable at Powell's
Incurable at Book Depository
Circle of Flight at Powell's
Circle of Flight at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Scholastic, 2008, 2009
ISBN-13: Incurable, 9780439783224; Circle of Flight, 9780439783217
YTD: 46, 47
Source: Bought (see review policy).
Rating: B+, B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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14 May 2011

Weekend Cooking: Ginger Crisps & Hedgehogs

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 rarely roll out cookies (mostly because I'm lazy), but when my friend Dawn from She Is Too Fond of Books told me that she spotted a hedgehog cookie cutter at IKEA, I told her I had to have one. I was thrilled that she was kind enough to buy the set of animal cutters for me and then gave them to me as a present. Why hedgehogs? Because hedgehogs are a classic mascot for bobbin-lace makers. If you look at the photo of a piece of my lace in progress, you'll get the idea.

As you know, I am a huge fan of King Arthur Flour—their flours, their equipment, and their recipes. I subscribe to their Baking Sheet, and I own most of their cookbooks. I turned to their Cookie Companion book for the recipe for these lovely Scandinavian-inspired ginger cookies when it came time to try out my new cookie cutters. These cookies are not too sweet and are nicely spiced. Just the way I like them.

Ginger Snaps
5 dozen
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups (10½ oz) sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange rind (zest)
  • ¼ teaspoon orange oil (optional)
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon ground black pepper (for heat)
  • 2 tablespoons (1½ oz) molasses
  • 1 tablespoon (½ oz) water
  • 3¼ cup (13¾ oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, orange zest, orange oil, and pepper, then the molasses and water.

Add the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Beat until everything is well combined and the mixture has formed a stiff dough. Divide the dough into two pieces, shape each piece into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it rest at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes until it's soft enough to roll easily. Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough into a circle ⅛ inch thick. Use a 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter to cut shapes, close together, getting as many cookies from the first roll-out as you can. Transfer cookies to the baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between them. Gather the scraps together, reroll, and cut again, until you've used up all the dough. Repeat with the other disk.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until they're just beginning to turn golden brown around the edges. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Beth F's notes: I used the full amount of pepper, the orange oil, and the allspice instead of the cloves. Hedgehog photo courtesy of National Geographic and freely available for downloading.

The first three cookies I tried were a squirrel, a heart, and (of course) a hedgehog.

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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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