31 October 2011

Review: The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

Although not a retelling of either Jane Eyre or Rebecca, Deborah Lawrenson's The Lantern is reminiscent of the two classics. Lawrenson's novel is set in Les Genévriers, the manor house of the Lincel lands in Provence, and asks, What do we really know about the people we love?

The Lantern has two narrators: Bénédicte, who was born and will die in the house, and Eve whose lover, Dom, later bought the property. Bénédicte's story reveals secrets of Les Genévriers that begin during the Nazi occupation. In Eve's tale, Les Genévriers is the catalyst for a twenty-first-century mystery.

The novel has all the elements of a good Gothic tale: love, loss, and betrayal; misunderstandings and meddling neighbors; and hauntings. Although you'll figure out some of the mysteries fairly early on, there are still surprises near the end. Despite a number of beautiful passages--especially descriptions of the food and countryside--the novel ultimately is unremarkable. The biggest problem is in the characters. Bénédicte and Eve have distinct personalities, but they often seem one-dimensional and easily manipulated. In addition, all the men tend to be duplicitous and are either weak, mean, or cold.

Regardless of The Lantern's flaws, Lawrenson is a master at creating a mood and a setting, and thus I'm curious about her backlist. Note too, that I'm likely in the minority; the novel was an Indie Next pick for September 2011 and seems to be a favorite among my fellow bloggers.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition of The Lantern (Harper Audio, 10 hr, 36 min), read by Gerrianne Raphael, as Bénédicte and Kristine Ryan as Eve. Their accents and vocalizations fit the characters and the novel perfectly. My full audio review will be available on the AudioFile website and/or in the magazine.

The Lantern at Powell's
The Lantern at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Harper, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062049698
Source: Review (audio) (see review policy)
Rating: C+

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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29 October 2011

Weekend Cooking: Year of the Comet (Film)

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


I don't know about you, but I've been a Tim Daly fan for years. Do you remember him in the television show Wings? When I learned he had the starring role in the 1992 movie Year of the Comet, I knew I had to see it.

I've watched this film a few times over the years, and the pairing of Daly with Penelope Ann Miller doesn't disappoint. It's a fun romantic comedy centered around a gigantic bottle of wine produced over a hundred years ago. Here's the summary from IMDb:
An extremely rare bottle of wine (bottled during the appearance of the Great Comet of 1811) is discovered. Margaret Harwood is sent to retrieve it so it can be sold at auction. Oliver Plexico is assigned as her travel guide/bodyguard for the trip. However, other people desperately want the bottle and will stop at nothing to get it. A simple little trip becomes an international chase.
The screenplay was written by none other than William Goldman (Stepford Wives; Misery). It was no accident that Goldman picked 1811 as the vintage for wine that stars in the movie; apparently it was considered perhaps the greatest year ever for European wines. Yes The Year of the Comet is predictable, but it's also funny and perfect for escape viewing while drinking your own $9 bargain wine at home.

I had a surprisingly difficult time tracking down an embeddable trailer. If you get an ad, don't hesitate to click "skip this ad" and get right to the movie clip. I don't know if it's just my computer, but the sound seems to be a bit unsynched.

YEAR OF THE COMET: Movie Trailer. Watch more top selected videos about: Louis Jourdan, Tim Daly

Unfortunately, I didn't find a copy on Netflix, so I hope it's still available for rental. I wonder why this movie seems to have fallen off the radar--have you seen it?

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28 October 2011

Imprint Friday: Deliriously Happy by Larry Doyle

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Ecco 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.

If you've ever watched American television then you know Larry Doyle. You may not recognize his name, but you certainly know one of the shows he wrote for: The Simpsons. Doyle's latest book--Deliriously Happy and Other Bad Thoughts--is a collection of his short humorous pieces. Some have appeared in magazines (such as The New Yorker), and others are new.

Here is the publisher's summary:

Do you like dogs? Babies? Baby dogs? Have you ever eaten ice cream or had love troubles? Wish there were dirty parts in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this is the book for you.

It’s all here: This impressively consecutive collection of funny writing by Larry Doyle, the winner of the 2008 Thurber Prize for American Humor, a former writer for The Simpsons, and the author of I Love You, Beth Cooper, brings together an astonishing range of subjects under the umbrella of hilarious—an umbrella that is your free gift if you order right now. . . .
Although I've never been a regular watcher of The Simpsons, Doyle's connection with the show was a draw for me. I also liked the fact that Deliriously Happy is a collection of essays, which means I can pick it up and read a piece as the mood strikes, thus drawing out my enjoyment.

The topics Doyle covers include love and dating, family life, work life, popular culture, and restaurants and food. Nothing is sacred, and humor can be found in almost everything. I haven't read every essay yet, but what I've seen is fun. I like that Doyle has presented the pieces in a variety of formats, such as outlines, quizzes, lists, and Twitter entries. These design decisions are an added bonus.

The essay "My Heart: My Rules" is written in outline form:
2. As the result of years of painstaking trial and error, the television, stereo, thermostat, refrigerator, toaster, and furniture in this apartment are all set at their optimal levels in every regard. Any attempt to adjust any appliance or object in my apartment will only
  1. result in them having to be reset, and
  2. introduce passive-aggressiveness into the relationship, which, as any book on the subject will tell you, is bad.
"Local Wag" is written in the style of a gossip column:
Waggings: Ben Finestein, Manhattan's own Jew, denies rumors that his deli, or Jewish-style restaurant, serves moth balls. He says they're called matzoh balls (pronounced "Mott's-O," like the applesauce) and are harmless boiled balls of dough. Jews consider them a delicacy, Ben says. . . . And that wasn't Erma Bombeck spotted signing books at Kym's Kards and Gyfts, Etc. last Saturday. She's dead. It was Michael Moore. Kym apologizes for any misunderstanding.
Any one who likes The Simpsons and appreciates an irreverent look at life will like Doyle. I'm looking forward to reading his version of Huckleberry Finn, his take on actors' strikes, and more.

The promotional materials for the book include the following quotations. I share them here because the full reviews capture the heart of Deliriously Happy better than I could (click the links to read more):
  • Kirkus Reviews concludes: "An unpredictable, unfailingly intelligent demonstration of a unique wit given free reign."
  • Publisher Weekly says: "No matter the subject, Doyle can be trenchant, funny, esoteric, and unpredictable."
For more on Larry Doyle, visit his Facebook page, his website, or his blog or follow him on Twitter.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rachel Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

Deliriously Happy at Powell's
Deliriously Happy at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, November 8, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780061966835

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27 October 2011

Thursday Tea: All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris

The Book: I recently finished listening to Book 7 in Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series (aka the Sookie Stackhouse books). All Together Dead was a bit different from the others because a lot of it took place not only outside of Louisiana but outside of the South. Quite the adventure for Sookie, who had never been that far away from home before.

In this outing, Queen Sophie-Anne hires Sookie to accompany her to a meeting of the major vampire bigwigs who have two principal items to discuss: How to deal with the anti-vampire Fellowship of the Sun group and what to do about all the vampires displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Sookie's job is to probe the humans' minds and inform the Louisiana vampires of any foul play.

On the personal front, Sookie is forced to see the vampire who shall not be named (Bill) and must pretend she doesn't care about Eric. At the same time she is determined to convince the shape-shifting Quinn--and herself--that their relationship is ready for the next step. Between murders, bombings, and mixed-up love, Sookie has her hands full. This was one of the better novels in the series, and I can't wait to see how Sookie is going to resolve her inner conflicts.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Recorded Books; 9 hr, 48 min) read by Johanna Parker. Parker did her usual great job of portraying the spunky Sookie Stackhouse. Audio is a great way to read this series.

The Tea: This year's cool, damp fall is perfect for tea. And I was fortunate to taste a completely new-to-me tea this week, thanks to the generosity and kindness of Heather from Raging Bibliomania. I was so excited when she offered to pick up some teas for me at an organic cafe and teashop called Infusion Tea. Heather turned to the clerks for help and asked them to recommend one of their favorite teas and "an unusual tea."

I decided to start with the staff favorite. As soon as I opened the bag, I had a feeling that Almond Amaretto was going to be a winner. I just loved the aroma. Here's the shop's description: "Combining savory almond slices with the bright, full taste of Ceylon black tea, this tea is a great stand alone drink as well as the perfect dessert complement." The almond is subtle enough to not be overwhelming, but the flavor is easy to pick up on. I drank it black, and I plan to order more when the bag is empty. Thank you, Heather!

The Assessment: First off, we know the vampires aren't drinking any tea. Body-temperature blood or True Blood is all they care about. Sookie definitely drinks tea, but her choice is likely grocery store brand with lots of ice and sugar. On the other hand, Sookie spent some time in a fancy hotel north of the Mason-Dixon line. I'd like to think she may have been exposed to luscious Almond Amaretto. If so, I bet she liked it as a treat, but I don't see her buying any to take home.

What About You? Almost everyone in the Northern Hemisphere is starting to feel the cooler weather and perhaps considering a hot cuppa once in a while. Those of you on the other side of equator might be thinking more along the lines of something cool and refreshing. Either way, let me know what's in your mug or glass, and I'd love to know what you're reading.

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

Published by Penguin USA/ Ace, 2008
ISBN-13: 9780441015818
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B

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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26 October 2011

Literary-Inspired Travels: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

Back in June 2009 I reviewed Gary D. Schmidt's prize-winning Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. I would have missed this beautifully written novel if it weren' t for the review I read by Kathy on BermudaOnion's Weblog. This photo-ladden post assumes you are familiar with the novel or have read either my review or Kathy's.

Before I read Lizzie Bright I had never heard of Malaga Island. I had, however, heard of Phippsburg, Maine, where the story takes place. In fact, I had been there several times. This past summer, Mr. BFR and I revisited Phippsburg and tracked down both Malaga Island and the church at which Turner Buckminster's father was minister.

To get in the mood for our Phippsburg adventure, we listened to the audiobook on the drive up from Pennsylvania. It was Mr. BFR's first time reading about Lizzie and Turner, and he loved the book. I was just as engrossed the second time through as I had been the first.

On our second day in Maine we drove over to Phippsburg. The first thing we looked for was Malaga Island. This was no easy job because much of the land on the coast across from the island is privately owned. We persevered and, after running into a few dead-end roads, finally found a spot where we could get photos from the mainland. From the left, you'll see the southern end of the island, the middle of the island, and the north end (click to enlarge).

Although the island is open to visitors, there is no access, except via boat. Unfortunately, the day we were there was quite windy, and neither Mr. BFR nor I was up for a cold and difficult trip in a rowboat or canoe. The good news is that we just so happened to be parked next to a small cafe. We went inside to warm up and eat some fabulous lobster rolls. Our table was next to a window overlooking the island.

Once fortified, we were ready to see if we could find the Phippsburg Congregational Church. The church, it turns out, is on the other side of the peninsula. So we set off to explore. Although we could have asked directions or looked up an address in a phone book, we opted to drive down many a small unmarked road, stopping to take pictures, until we finally found the church. (One of the joys of not having GPS.)

It was pretty clear after we discovered the church that Schmidt had combined a number of locations in and around Phippsburg when he created the town for his novel. We didn't find Mrs. Cobb's house but we did note this tree in the churchyard. The second sign gave us a little thrill.

I'll leave you with a shot of the graveyard fence and the seaside just across the street from the church.

We had a great day in Phippsburg and hope to return on a warmer, calmer day so we can row across the channel and hike around Malaga Island itself.

Thanks again to Kathy for introducing me to such a wonderful novel. Mr. BFR and I had a great time imagining Turner and Lizzie running down the beaches and enjoying the same sights we did.

Have you ever taken a literary-inspired adventure?

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25 October 2011

Wordless Wednesday 153

Graveyard, 2011

For full effect, click to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click the link.

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Today's Read & Giveaway: Death by the Dozen by Jenn McKinley

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.

This week I'm teasing another fun October mystery. I introduced you to this cozy a couple of weeks ago on Weekend Cooking (click for more information)

She gestured back to the trailer, and they watched as Daniel got a crowbar from a nearby truck and wedged it into the door. Both he and Peter pushed on the crowbar, and with a loud crack, the door popped open and out came a tumble of ice and a body.

Pete shrieked like a girly-girl, while Dan let loose a string of curses that could have barbequed meat without flame. (p. 79)
—From Death by the Dozen by Jenn McKinlay (Penguin USA / Berkley Prime Crime, 2011)

The Giveaway: Thanks to the great people at Berkley Prime Crime, I have an extra copy of Death by the Dozen to share with one of you. Because I'm doing the mailing myself, I can send the book anywhere in the world. To enter for a chance to win a copy of this fun cozy, just fill out the form. I'll pick the winner via random number generator on November 3. Good luck!

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24 October 2011

Review: The Garner Files by James Garner

I don't normally read celebrity news, and I don't subscribe to any of the weekly Hollywood-type magazines. Regardless, I'm a fan of a handful of actors, and one them is James Garner.

In his upcoming memoir, The Garner Files (publishing next week), Garner talks about his childhood, his service in Korea, and his fifty-some years on the small and large screen. I'll tell you right from the start, if you're interested in gossip and major dishing, you won't find it here. Garner tells it like it is; he certainly doesn't like everyone, but he's a gentleman. He's honest in his opinions without being mean.

Garner was born in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1928, the youngest of three boys. His mother died when he was only four, and although his father tried his best to take care of his sons, he eventually left them with relatives and moved to California. By the time Garner was fourteen, he was pretty much on his own.

Several things stand out in Garner's journey from hired hand on a dairy farm to millionaire actor in Hollywood. I was surprised to learn that Garner didn't become an actor to fulfill a childhood dream. Instead, he found his career because he happened to know an agent and needed a steady income to support his bride and young stepdaughter. He learned acting in the same manner he learned almost everything else, by being observant and accepting advice from those with more experience.

Garner is humble and seems to be a genuinely nice guy, but he's no Caspar Milquetoast. As he says,

In my life, I've been on the wrong end of violence, and I've done violence myself. I'm not temperamental, but I have a temper. (p. 12)
Sometimes when he's pushed too far he strikes back in other ways. He's sued studios for money he legitimately earned, he was active in the civil rights movement, and he's involved in environmental issues.

Other topics include studio contracts, the physical hardships of acting, and Garner's love of golf. And, of course, he shares behind-the-scenes stories of his television shows and movies and talks about many of the people he's worked with over the years, from Henry Fonda to Sally Fields. The book ends with anecdotes from his friends and family and a list of his work. The finished book will contain twenty-some pages of photos, which unfortunately were not included in the advanced readers copy I read.

Garner's memoir is interesting because it is not a Hollywood tell-all. His story is common to many Americans who grew up in the Depression and did what was needed to make a living and support their families. Garner comes across as a regular guy; he's not perfect and he's made some mistakes, but he's tried to stay true to his principles.

His personality and sense of humor are evident throughout. Here are a few passages that I particularly like:
  • I'm tired of hearing that actors shouldn't take positions on public issues. We're citizens, and I think it's our obligation to take a stand. (p. 98)
  • A reporter once asked me if I would ever do a nude scene. I told him I don't do horror films. (p. 179)
  • Success doesn't change people. If they get difficult and arrogant, they were that way before and just weren't in a position to show it. (p. 215)
If you are fan of James Garner, you'll enjoy getting to know him better through The Garner Files. Garner's memoir will also appeal to anyone interested in what it was like to grow up during the 1930s and 1940s and/or in Hollywood in the early days of television.

The Garner Files at Powell's
The Garner Files at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Simon & Schuster, November 1, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781451642605
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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22 October 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton

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 over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


As many of you know I love to bake bread. And it's through baking that I first became familiar with Nancy Silverton in the mid-1990s. I own both her La Brea Bakery books and have used them many times. Over the years, Silverton has been involved with a number of food ventures, cooked and baked at restaurants, lived in Italy, and written several cookbooks.

Her latest book, out just a few weeks ago, is The Mozza Cookbook, which brings the dishes from her Los Angeles–based restaurants to home cooks everywhere. The restaurants are a collaboration of a small group, including chefs, bakers, and a wine expert. Mario Batali is one of those chefs, though he is not hands-on.

The philosophy and tastes behind the two Mozza restaurants—a pizzeria and a more formal establishment—is traditional Italian cusine, not (as Silverton puts it) " 'Cal-Ital,' or 'Ital-inspired.' " When writing the cookbook, Silverton and her team of cooks and recipe testers worked hard to make sure the recipes "include all the information the reader would need to successfully replicate our food at home." As a consequence, the recipe directions are wordy, making you feel as if Silverton were in your kitchen with you. This style works well, and I particularly like the little hints, tips, and words of encouragement found directly in the directions right when I might need them.

Each recipe is introduced with a bit of history and includes information about how to serve the dish and how to store it. As a sometimes-unsure wine enthusiast, I also appreciate the wine suggestions found with many of the recipes. There are stunning photographs throughout, although not many dishes are shown on the plate.

The chapters are divided into traditional Italian courses, from drinks and starters to dessert and coffee. This is not a cookbook for the rank beginner, but anyone who is confident following a recipe will have no trouble at all. A few ingredients may be exotic to some of you (game, for example), but most are available everywhere, or a good substitution can be found.

As you know, I love to make pizza, so I was immediately drawn to the pizza chapter. Silverton has included a pizza for every taste from the traditional margherita to one with fresh goat cheese, leek, scallions, garlic, and bacon. Yeah. Must make that soon. Her pizza dough is unique and is more complex (not harder to make, more flavors) than mine. I definitely plan to try it.

Here are some other recipes that caught my eye:
  • Nancy's Chopped Salad: I love chopped salad and make it often, but this one is mouth-watering with its Italian meats, chick-peas, and oregano vinaigrette.
  • Meatballs al Forno: This appetizer is easy to make and uses a mix of pork and veal. The dish is topped with a spicy homemade tomato sauce and garnished with Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley.
  • Orecchiette with Fennel Sausage and Swiss Chard: Umm do I need to say more? This is my kind of dish.
  • Garganelli with Ragù Bolognese: This is the familiar tomato and ground meat sauce, cooked with plenty of garlic, white wine, and a little milk.
  • Pumpkin and Date Tart with Bourbon Gelate: Pumpkins, dates, and bourbon says Thanksgiving to me, regardless of its Italian origins.
One of the recipes from The Mozza Cookbook, Ricotta Gnudi with Chantrelles, is available, thanks to the publisher, on the cookbook's website, where you can also see some of the promotional materials.

A couple of other notes: The index is thoughtfully put together. In fact you can look up recipes by herb, so if you come home from the market with a beautiful bunch of rosemary, simply look up rosemary to find five recipes. Vegetarians will find a fair number of dishes to fit their diet; vegans, however, will have a rougher time of it.

For more on Nancy Silverton, including some recipes and a video see The Los Angeles Times site and StarChefs.com. For more on the restaurants, see Mozza's website.

Published by Random House / Knopf / Borzoi Books, September 2011
ISBN-13: 9780307272843
Source: review (see review policy).
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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21 October 2011

Imprint Friday: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Ecco 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.

Every once in a while I come across a book that is so much fun or so different or so beautiful, I have to tell everyone about it. Caroline Preston's The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is all three, and it's a book you'll have to own. You'll find yourself looking through it over and over again.

Here's the summary:

For her graduation from high school in 1920, Frankie Pratt receives a scrapbook and her father’s old Corona typewriter. Despite Frankie’s dreams of becoming a writer, she must forgo a college scholarship to help her widowed mother. But when a mysterious Captain James sweeps her off her feet, her mother finds a way to protect Frankie from the less-than-noble intentions of her unsuitable beau.

Through a kaleidoscopic array of vintage postcards, letters, magazine ads, ticket stubs, catalog pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, fashion spreads, menus, and more, we meet and follow Frankie on her journey in search of success and love. Once at Vassar, Frankie crosses paths with intellectuals and writers, among them “Vincent” (alumna Edna St. Vincent Millay), who encourages Frankie to move to Greenwich Village and pursue her writing. When heartbreak finds her in New York, she sets off for Paris aboard the S.S. Mauritania, where she keeps company with two exiled Russian princes and a “spinster adventuress” who is paying her way across the Atlantic with her unused trousseau. In Paris, Frankie takes a garret apartment above Shakespeare & Company, the hub of expat life, only to have a certain ne’er-do-well captain from her past reappear. But when a family crisis compels Frankie to return to her small New England hometown, she finds exactly what she had been looking for all along.
Let's talk about the design and visuals before we talk about plot and characters. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is exactly what the title promises. The scrapbook pages are filled with Frankie's souvenirs from her high school graduation in 1920 until she pastes up the last page in 1928, on the eve of a new phase of her life. Each page contains vintage items, from movie ticket stubs to photographs, old advertisements, and yearbook photos. Preston haunted eBay and antiques stores as well as her family's attic and memorabilia boxes to find each item placed in Frankie's scrapbook. You can read the whole story on Preston's "How I Made The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt" pages on her website.

Thanks to Ben at Ecco for allowing me to share two color spreads from the novel. The image at the right comes from the beginning of the book and the one at the left from the middle. Don't hesitate to click on the scans so you can zoom in and enlarge them. The images show you the fantastic design of the novel but are completely spoiler-free. Remember each item on these pages is authentic, right from the 1920s—no high-tech special effects, just the real thing.

But what is a pretty book that calls itself a novel if there is no story? Rest assured, Preston doesn't let you down. Frankie is a modern woman who proudly claims to be a feminist and wants to be a writer. Through her eyes, we experience the Roaring Twenties from small town life to women's colleges, Greenwich Village, and sea voyages as well as learn about the era's icons like Lindbergh and Babe Ruth. Frankie is so believable as a naive young lady, you want to warn her of the evils of the big, bad world. Fortunately, the spunky gal can handle everything life throws her as she heads off on a whirlwind adventure.

This is such a visual book, I want to share not only the color spreads but also this short video of Preston talking about the novel and some of the items you'll see in Frankie's scrapbook.

To learn more about Caroline Preston and her other work, be sure to visit her website, which is a visual delight, or check out her Facebook page.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rachel Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt at Powell's
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, October 25, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780061966903

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20 October 2011

Review: The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

In 1916 Calcutta a soldier sacrifices his life saving two orphaned newborns from a mysterious evil being. He takes the infants to an old lady, who leaves one them, Ben, at a Catholic orphanage. The boy thrives, eventually joining a secret society that meets in a ruined house the children have dubbed "the Midnight Palace." Each year, the orphanage releases the sixteen-year-olds out into the world. On the eve of Ben's departure, the evil presence reappears to claim the boy's life. The teens must find a way to defeat the magic and stay alive.

Although Carlos Ruiz Zafón wrote The Midnight Palace for a young adult audience, this Gothic tale misses its mark. The plot lacks some sophistication and thus seems better suited to a middle grade reader. On the other hand, the creepiness factor could very well be too much for preteens.

When I read the novel, I hadn't realized it was a sequel to The Prince of Mist, which I haven't read. Fortunately, the novel stands on its own, and I didn't feel as if I were missing background information. Although I loved Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind, written for adults, I found The Midnight Palace to be a disappointment.

The first problem was I didn't have a strong sense of place; I wasn't immersed in colonial India and felt the story could have been set almost anywhere. In addition, I thought the lifestyle of the orphans and their level of education and expectations for their future didn't ring true. For example, there was no explanation (or perhaps I missed it) for how one of the orphans was able to sail to London to pursue a medical degree. I doubt orphans in 1930s Calcutta had those kind of resources. Perhaps a younger reader would be caught up in the action and magic and not think to question these issues, but an adult reader will find it difficult to believe the setup.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Hachette Audio, 7 hr, 9 min) read by Jonathan Davis. My full audio review was written for AudioFile magazine and will eventually appear on their website and/or in the magazine. Here's a hint: you may want to pick this one up in print.

EDIT: After some Twitter conversation and a bit more research, I discovered that The Midnight Palace is likely not a sequel to The Prince of Mist. Zafón's website says it is "the second in a series" of young adult novels. I'm not sure he is using the word series here to mean interlinked books; instead I think he means a group of, a number of young adult novels.

This review will be linked to both Kid Konnection, hosted each Saturday by Julie from Booking Mama, and Murder, Monsters, and Mayhem, a month-long event hosted by Jenn from Jenn's Bookshelves.

Published by Hachette Group / Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780316044738
Source: Bought, both print and audio (see review policy)
Rating: C

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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19 October 2011

Wordless Wednesday 152

Fall Evening, 2011

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18 October 2011

Today's Read & Giveaway: The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White

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.

I'm on a roll with good October reading! Today I'm spotlighting the third in the Tradd Street series by Karen White, which is coming out November 1. Haven't read the first two? Enter my giveaway to get a copy of each.

I felt my mother watching me and I turned my head. Her eyes were narrowed in concentration, and I knew she could smell the acrid scent heavy in the early summer night. She stepped forward, and before I could stop her, she reached out her hand to touch the curling eave of the old dollhouse, and the air screamed. (p. 49)
—From The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White (Penguin USA / New American Library, 2011 [from uncorrected proof, may differ from published edition])

The Giveaway: To celebrate the publication of Karen White's third Tradd Street novel starring Melanie Middleton, ghost-seeing Realtor, and Jack Trenholm, investigative writer, I am pleased to have the opportunity to offer one of my readers the chance to win copies of the first two books in this series: The House on Tradd Street and The Girl on Legare Street.

The books are perfect for fall reading and for those who like a little bit of woo-woo mixed in with their mysteries as well as for those who like a little rocky romance thrown in for good measure. To enter for a chance to win the first two books in the series, just fill out the form. This giveaway is sponsored by the publicists and is open to those with a U.S. or Canada mailing address only. I'll pick the winner on Halloween!

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17 October 2011

Review: The Sandburg Connection by Mark de Castrique

The following review was written for Shelf Awareness for Readers. It was not published in the newsletter but may eventually appear on their website.

Mark de Castrique's third Sam Blackman novel, The Sandburg Connection, starts mid-action as private investigators Blackman and Nakayla Robertson are hot on the trail of Janice Wainwright, who is suing a back surgeon for malpractice. If Wainwright is in so much pain, why is she heading for the Carl Sandburg estate, outside of Ashville, North Carolina, to go hiking? By the time the partners catch up with her at trail's end, they find Wainwright dying and mumbling, "It's the verses. Sandburg's verses." Realizing that the PIs have already collected important data on the victim, law enforcement officials ask for collaboration: Are they looking at murder, malpractice, or an unfortunate accident, and what role does the poet play?

As in the other novels in this series, a complex murder mystery is founded in facts about a famous literary figure (earlier books featured Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald) and historical information (such as the Civil War). De Castrique draws on his personal links with Ashville and the Sandburg family to create a multidimensional mystery, complete with attention-grabbing red herrings that keep PIs Blackman and Robertson on their toes.

Readers new to the series will have no trouble connecting to the protagonists and the reappearing secondary characters. Avoiding spoilers, de Castrique brings readers up to date on an as-needed basis without resorting to long sections of background narrative. Blackman and Robertson are smart but make mistakes, are compassionate but know when to use their guns, and have a great relationship both on and off the job.

Give it to me quickly: When insurance fraud leads to a possible murder, investigator Sam Blackman must find the links between local lore, the Civil War, and Carl Sandburg's poetry before anyone else gets hurt.

The Sandburg Connection at Powell's
The Sandburg Connection at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Poison Pen Press, October 4, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781590589410
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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15 October 2011

Weekend Cooking: Six Sweet Scary Suggestions

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 over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


What's October without some mysterious reading? And what's a Saturday without something foodie? Today is all about eating your way through murder. And, by the way, today is also the second anniversary of Weekend Cooking. Thanks to all of you for helping make it a success.

Here are a half dozen tasty choices—all from Penguin Group (USA). In fact the Berkley Prime Crime Mystery imprint publishes quite a few great cozies, including many culinary mysteries. Dig in to these delicious devilish delights.

Liz Lipperman's debut novel, Liver Let Die, introduces food columnist Jordan McAllister, based in small-town Texas. Poor Jordan didn't know that food writing could be so dangerous. Be sure to check out the recipes in this Clueless Cook Mystery; Ray's Pumpkin Pie Crunch and Alex's Tex-Mex Breakfast Casserole both sound good. (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN-13: 9780425244043, October 2011)
Jordan McAllister can’t cook her way out of a macaroni & cheese box, but filling in for the culinary reporter at The Ranchero Globe is better than writing personal ads. Her first assignment to review the new steakhouse in town is a disaster that ends with her waiter murdered outside her door—with her name and number in his pocket. Now Jordan is the prime suspect, as well as the main course on the murder menu.
Lost and Fondue, by Avery Aames is the second entry in the Cheese Shop Mystery series. Charlotte Bessette lives in Ohio and owns Fromagerie Bessette. Aames's first in this series, The Long Quiche Goodbye, won an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Recipes at the back of the book include a couple for (of course) fondue. (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN-13: 9780425241585, May 2011)
The fair town of Providence has settled down to normal after last year’s murder. Jonquils are in bloom. The Cheese Shop is thriving. and Charlotte’s romance with Jordan is flourishing. But when her friend, Meredith, decides to throw a fund-raiser to create a liberal arts college out of a long-abandoned winery—a winery that is rumored to hold not only buried bodies but buried treasure—Charlotte’s joie de vivre deflates like a bad souffle. Charlotte’s fears are realized when an art student is found dead in the wine cellar, and Meredith’s niece is the main suspect.
The third title in Jenn McKinlay's Cupcake Bakery Mysteries is Death by the Dozen. Bakery owners Melanie Cooper and Angie DeLaura are based in Arizona, and murder and mayhem seem to follow in their tracks. Bakers will find recipes for several yummy treats, including chocolate chili cupcakes (yum!). (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN-13: 9780425244050, October 2011)
Melanie and Angie are determined to win the Challenge to the Chef to promote their Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery. Mel’s mentor from culinary school, Vic Mazzotta, may be one of the judges, but Mel and Angie will have to win fair and square. But, when Vic’s dead body is found inside a freezer truck, Mel and Angie will need to use their best judgment to find the cold-blooded killer or they may lose more than the contest—they may lose their lives.
Just in time for Halloween we have Krista Davis's newest Domestic Diva Mystery, The Diva Haunts the House. This series stars Sophie Winston, an event planner in Virginia. Her job exposes her to all kinds of people, including killers. Davis's The Diva Runs Out of Thyme, was a finalist for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The recipes are perfect for October and will delight the kids, with names such as Bat Cave Risotto, and Chicken Scaryaki. (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN-13: 9780425243787, September 2011)
Domestic diva Sophie Winston is getting into the Halloween spirit—her decorations for a community haunted house are so good, it’s scary. Not to be outdone, rival domestic diva Natasha is throwing a spooktacular Halloween party at her house. But when Sophie arrives, she discovers one of Natasha’s guests dead in a Halloween display, and a pale, fanged partygoer fleeing the scene. Could the killer be a real vampire—the same one rumored to have lived in Sophie’s haunted house back when it was a boardinghouse? Good thing a domestic diva never runs out of garlic.
As the chill of fall sets in, warm up with B. B. Haywood's Town in a Lobster Stew. This is the second time Candy Holiday—a blueberry farmer on the coast of Maine—finds herself in the middle of mystery. Recipes include several versions of lobster stew and chowder. Where's my spoon? (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN-13: 9780425240014, Februrary 2011)
Things start to boil over at the annual Lobster Stew Cook-Off when an award-winning recipe is stolen and a seven-time contest champion mysteriously disappears—leaving Candy no choice but to find out who in Cape Willington, Maine, would get steamed enough to break the law.
What's a murder mystery without a little chocolate? JoAnna Carl's The Chocolate Castle Clue is the eleventh in the poplular Chocoholic Mysteries starring Lee McKinney, who makes her chocolate goodies in Michigan. No recipes in this book, but the descriptions of sweet treats will make you raid your chocolate stash. (Obsidian, ISBN-13: 9780451234742, October 2011)
Lee McKinney Woodyard discovers a dusty trophy inside TenHuis Chocolade that belongs to her aunt Nettie and her old high school singing group, the Pier-O-Ettes. It’s a trophy that brings back terrible memories of an unsolved murder years ago. Before Lee takes aim at the past, someone is murdered in the here and now. Lee needs to keep her eyes on the prize, hoping the trophy is a clue to finding the killer—before she’s a target herself.
Lots to satisfy the murder mystery–loving foodie in us all.

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14 October 2011

Imprint Friday: Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin

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.

Do you know Mary Ann? If so, you've waited eagerly for Armistead Maupin to publish another novel in his Tales of the City series. Lucky you, Mary Ann in Autumn came out in paperback just last week. If you don't know Mary Ann and her friends, well, you're in for a treat. Take a look at the summary:

Twenty years have passed since Mary Ann Singleton left her husband and child in San Francisco to pursue her dream of a television career in New York. Now a pair of personal calamities has driven her back to the city of her youth and into the arms of her oldest friend, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, a gardener happily ensconced with his much-younger husband.

More than three decades in the making, Armistead Maupin's legendary Tales of the City series rolls into a new age, still sassy, irreverent, and curious, and still exploring the boundaries of the human experience with insight, compassion, and mordant wit.
I read the first Mary Ann collection, Tales of the City, many years ago. I don't remember the details but I do remember feeling totally involved with Mary Ann and her gang. Michael, Brian, Mona, Mrs. Madrigal, and the others are so well formed I had strong opinions about them, liking some, almost hating others, and wishing a few were my next-door neighbors.

Maupin is more than a master of characterizations, though. He was part of the first wave of authors to write about AIDS, and many of his characters are gay or might be gay. Using humor and a host of characters from different economic classes and sexual orientations, Maupin brilliantly weaves social commentary into his slice-of-life stories.

I've only just started Mary Ann in Autumn, and I'm already back in San Francisco with Mary Ann as she orders a Swiss Orange Chip ice cream cone and revisits her old neighborhood. My heart goes out to young Ben as he chats up friends at the dog park trying not to worry about what might happen now that Michael's old friend is back in town. I still don't know Mary Ann's news, but I'm looking forward to fun reading ahead.

Here are some thoughts about Mary Ann in Autumn; click on the links for the full reviews.
  • Wendy from Caribou's Mom writes: "As in all of Maupin’s books, the characters are who drive the story and draw the reader in. Flawed, original and wholly likable, Maupin’s characters are a joy to spend time with."
  • Publishers Weekly concludes: "As ever, Maupin's edgy wit energizes the layered story lines. His keen eye for irony and human foible is balanced by an innate compassion in this examination of the life of a woman of a certain age."
  • Libdrone Books says: "I did not so much read Armistead Maupin’s new eighth volume in the Tales of the City series . . . near so much as I devoured it in a single sitting."
The hardback edition of Mary Ann in Autumn was an Indie Next pick for November 2010. For more on the series and to join the Tales of the City Readalong, see the discussion of Tales of the City and More Tales of the City on the Olive Reader. To learn more about Armistead Maupin and his work, visit his website, follow him on Twitter, or check out his Facebook page. Eva Wiseman wrote about Maupin for the Guardian last fall.

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.

Mary Ann in Autumn at an Indie
Mary Ann in Autumn at Powell's
Mary Ann in Autumn at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Harper Perennial, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780061470899

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13 October 2011

Thursday Tea: Fables 8: Wolves by Bill Willingham

The Book: I don't know how he does it, but Bill Willingham manages to make each new Fables book better than the last. Volume 8, Wolves, is probably my favorite of the novels so far. I'm sure it's because the book stars Bigby Wolf (as in the Big Bad Wolf), and I might just have a bit of crush.

Without getting too spoilery for those who are thinking of reading the series, I'll just say that Bigby's been going through a rough time and has hidden himself away either to wallow in his troubles or to attempt to move on and start over. He's looking pretty haggard lately, as you can see in the scanned panel (click to enlarge it); or his expression may be the result of that empty bottle.

The book involves a string of adventures involving a diversity of beings from the Lilliputians to the giants of Jack and the Beanstalk fame. In this volume, unlike the previous novels, the action takes the Fable folk far from home, even all the way to Russia. We have spying, politics, and even a little romance, and as promised by the title, Bigby, Mowgli, and a couple of wolf packs play major roles.

Willingham has a team of artists, nine of whom worked on this volume. As always when reading a Fables book, it's very important to take the time to really look at the artwork; not only for the characters' expressions but also for the fun details.

The Tea: Last year when I was in Washington, DC for the National Book Festival and the Baltimore Book Festival, I visited a tea shop called Teaism with Julie from Booking Mama and Swapna from S. Krishna's Books. I loved their Keemun tea so much, I now keep a small supply on hand. Here's the description: "Perhaps the most important black tea from China with a slight smokiness and notes of sugar cane and red wine. Lower grades are often used in English Breakfast blends." Yes, I'm still drinking it black with no sweetener!

The Assessment: Umm, well, I don't really see Bigby as a tea-drinking kind of guy; strong black coffee would be more his style. On the other hand, I bet his real favorite drink doesn't involve caffeine at all (click on the scan for a hint). Time to buy him a new bottle and pour us both a mugful.

What About You? Our rain is back so I'm all about warm drinks and curling up with a good book. What are you reading today and have you discovered anything good to pour in your mug?

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

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

Published by DC Comics / Vertigo, 2006
ISBN-13: 9781401210014
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+

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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