31 July 2012

Wordless Wednesday 192

Reflections of the New York Public Library, 2012

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Today's Read: Dark Companion by Marta Acosta

Last week I introduced you to Marta Acosta's Dark Companion. I finished it over the weekend and really enjoyed its Gothic overtones and fresh take on the paranormal.

In this scene our hero, Jane Williams, is caught on a wooded path at dusk:

Shadows shifted with the movement of the branches in the wind and there were so many noises, so many creaks and swishes, that I got spooked and started running. My feet slid sideways in my too-big sandals, so I paused to pull them off and ran barefoot the rest of way to cottage.

Once inside, I shut the door and locked it.

As the night got later, the wind increased and branches swept against the roof. When I finally fell asleep, I dreamed that the branches were stretching around to encircle my cottage. They were squeezing tighter and tighter, bringing the walls close in on me. I tried to get out, but the doors were jammed shut as the small house began cracking under the pressure.

I awoke gasping for air, and goose bumps covered my arms. (pp. 49-50)
Dark Companion: A Novel by Marta Acosta (Macmillian / Starscape, Tor Teen, 2012)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: California; modern times
  • Circumstances: Jane Williams is an orphan from the wrong side of tracks who is given a scholarship to an exclusive girls' day school in a small, insular town
  • Characters: Jane, an emancipated minor; her girlfriends; the mean girls; two brothers, the sons of the headmistress
  • Main themes: overcoming tough circumstances, hiding family secrets, love, family, duty
  • Genre and audience: Gothic, semi-paranormal, a bit of mystery, young adult
  • Quick review thoughts: just the right amount of creepiness; ending not too obvious; fresh take on paranormal; good characters; well written

Want to Know More? Author Marta Acosta has granted a number of interviews; check out The Examiner.com, Anna's Book Blog, and Love Vampires, for example. For more about Acosta, visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page. For more about Dark Companion, see reviews from Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, and book bloggers. Book clubs, teachers, and home schoolers will appreciate the extensive Reader's Guide found at the back of the book.

Dark Companion at Book Depository
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30 July 2012

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I'm likely the last person on earth to have read Veronica Roth's Divergent, the first in a proposed young adult dystopian trilogy.

For Beatrice Prior, native of Chicago, there is no Lake Michigan, only marshland. The city's buildings are crumbling and many are deserted. Politically and socially, the population is divided into five factions, each of which lives by a different primary principle, although there is a central government.

Beatrice was brought up in Abnegation, the faction that believes in selflessness, helping others, and a plain life. When she turns 16, she (along with everyone else in her age group) takes an initiation test to determine her talents and personality. Afterward, she is to pick which group she wants to join. This is a lifelong commitment and not to be taken lightly. Beatrice's results are inconclusive, but she picks the Dauntless faction as her new home and leaves her family and friends forever.

The bulk of Roth's exciting, action-packed Divergent covers Tris's (as Beatrice now calls herself) training in bravery, survival, weapons, and overcoming fear, all skills important to the Dauntless. Tris is one tough, smart young woman, but her weaknesses make her human and win our hearts. Roth does a great job capturing the teen's homesickness and her troubled adjustment to her new faction.

Tris's personal growth and loss of naivete mirror universal changes that all teens experience. Granted Tris's situation is quite a bit harsher than that of most contemporary high schoolers, but her dilemmas have a familiar feel, which makes her a sympathetic character. In addition, most girls will be able to relate to Tris's rocky relationship with the boy she's attracted to.

Divergent would make a great book club choice for both teens and adults. One strong theme throughout the novel is the idea that there might be one ideal way for people to behave in order to best serve humanity. The uneasy alliance among the five factions illustrates the problems of trying to categorize people based on personality or philosophy. Another great topic for discussion is the conflict between family expectations and staying true to one's own dreams. For more ideas, see HarperCollins's reading guide for Divergent.

Roth's characters and dystopian world grab you from the beginning, and the action and love story keep you engaged through the end. It's no wonder Divergent was an Indie Kids Next pick for summer 2011. I can't wait to get to Insurgent, the second book in the series.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Harper Audio; 11 hr, 11 min) read by Emma Galvin, who is experienced in creating a believable teenage voice. Her emotional range is outstanding on this audio, capturing Tris's toughness as well as her vulnerability. Galvin's characterizations and pacing keep listeners glued to their earbuds.

Buy Divergent at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by HarperCollins / Katherine Tegen Books, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062024022
Rating: B+
Source: bought (see review policy)
t © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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28 July 2012

Weekend Cooking: Review: I Love Corn by Lisa Skye

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, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime 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.


It's the height of corn season here in central Pennsylvania, and although I received a review copy of I Love Corn a couple of months ago, I decided to wait until the farmers' markets were selling fresh ears before I reviewed this seasonal cookbook.

When Lisa Skye's father died in an accident while traveling abroad, she turned to her friends and family for support to get her through her grief. As a means of giving back and helping children who have lost a loved one, Skye is donating the majority of the proceeds of I Love Corn to the Dougy Center, whose mission is (in part) this:
The Dougy Center provides support in a safe place where children, teens, young adults, and their families grieving a death can share their experiences.
Thus when you buy I Love Corn, you not only are treating yourself to a great collection of recipes but also are helping others get through rough times.

The 50 recipes in this slim cookbook cover every course and every meal, from breakfast to dessert. I would describe the dishes as middle to upscale, with a heavy emphasis on New World flavors. That's not to say that the recipes are difficult (they aren't) or boring (far from it). They run the range from comfort food, like warm polenta stew, to company food, such as corn-poached halibut with tomato and charred jalapeno chutney.

The four-color design with beautiful full-page photos of most of the dishes make I Love Corn a joy to look through and read as you learn all about buying, storing, preparing, and--most important--cooking corn.

The recipes were not developed by Skye but were contributed by professional chefs, caterers, and restauranteurs. Some of the names are very well know, Martha Stewart and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, for example, but most are unfamiliar to me. Each recipe is accompanied by an introduction and many include author or contributor notes with extra tips and hints.

Most cooks, no matter where they live, will have little difficulty obtaining the ingredients, expect for the usual problems of getting fresh fish in landlocked areas. Most contributors have included substitutions for ethnic ingredients, making their dishes accessible to everyone. More important, the directions, even for the fancy dishes, are broken down into easy steps, so home cooks can expect success.

I have one minor complaint, and that is the index, which is an odd mix of too complete and not complete enough. By that I mean, there were many unnecessary entries, such as the title of every cookbook written by every contributor, all which are mentioned in the short contributors' biographies. At the same time, some recipes can be found by only their title and are not also indexed by major ingredient or type of dish. This is an annoyance, however, not a deal-breaker.

To give you an idea of the types of recipes you'll find in I Love Corn, here are some of the dishes I want to try:
  • Jalapeno Corn Muffins
  • Roasted Corn and Goat Cheese Quiche with Brown Rice Crust
  • Roasted Salmon with Corn Salad and Salsa Verde
  • Corn Pudding with Bacon and Leeks
  • Fresh Corn and Black Bean Salad
  • Strawberry Corn Pone with Maple Caramel
I like the idea of using familiar foods combined in interesting ways and am particularly looking forward to making that quiche for my gluten-free friends.

Vegetarian/Vegan Alert:
Vegetarians will find quite a few good recipes in I Love Corn. Even the main-dish chapter has a couple of meatless recipes. Vegans should look before they buy, but they'll find foods they can eat, such as the recipe I share here.

I hope to make the following gazpacho this weekend; maybe for Sunday dinner on the deck. I have all the ingredients, most of which were locally grown.

Fresh Corn Gazpacho
From Executive Chef Guillaume Thivet (Cadaques in Brooklyn, New York)
Serves 4
  • 2 small ears corn, unhusked
  • 1 medium-size tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 3 cups tomato juice
  • 1 large unpeeled cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup finely diced white onion
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves, for garnish
1. Preheat the grill to 325F

2. Grill the ears of corn with the husks on for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the husks are burned, turning every 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the ears from the grill and let them cool.

3. Remove and discard the husks and then slice the kernels from the cobs. Measure 1 cup and set aside the rest for another use.

4. Combine all the ingredients, except the basil in a large bowl and stir until mixed together. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

5. To serve, ladle the gazpacho into bowls and garnish with the minced basil leaves.

Author note: This recipe is great to make a day in advance, so the flavors have more time to meld together.

Buy Herbivoracious at an Indie, at Powell's, at Book Depository, or at bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs
Published by Andrews McMeel, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781449418168
Rating: B-
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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27 July 2012

Imprint Friday: Gap Creek by Robert Morgan

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.

Way back in 1999, I read a book I loved so much I made everyone I knew read it. I still think about that book and its characters, and I know I'm not alone in my love for it. This month, a dozen years later, Algonquin Books is releasing Robert Morgan's Gap Creek in a new paperback edition. Now's your chance to read this stellar novel.

Here's the summary:

There is a most unusual woman living in Gap Creek. Julie Harmon works hard, "hard as a man," they say, so hard that at times she's not sure she can stop. People depend on her to slaughter the hogs and nurse the dying. People are weak, and there is so much to do. She is just a teenager when her little brother dies in her arms. That same year she marries and moves down into the valley where floods and fire and visions visit themselves on her, and con men and drunks and lawyers come calling.

Julie and her husband discover that the modern world is complex and that it grinds ever on without pause or concern for their hard work. To survive, they must find out whether love can keep chaos and madness at bay.

Robert Morgan's latest novel, Gap Creek, returns his readers to the vivid world of the Appalachian high country. Julie and Hank's new life in the valley of Gap Creek in the last years of the nineteenth century is more complicated than the couple ever imagined. Sometimes it's hard to tell what to fear most-the fires and floods or the flesh-and-blood grifters, drunks, and busybodies who insinuate themselves into their new lives. Their struggles with nature, with work, with the changing century, and with their disappointments and triumphs make this a riveting follow-up to Morgan's acclaimed novel, The Truest Pleasure.
Because I read Gap Creek: The Story of a Marriage so long ago, I can't write a review, but I can talk about what I remember and why it was such a win for me. When I read the book, I wasn't aware of Morgan's earlier novel, The Truest Pleasure, and thus I can assure you that you can read Gap Creek as a standalone.

Julie and Hank are good people. They work hard, they love each other, and they want to do right. When they leave their families to walk across the state border to live in Gap Creek, they are unprepared for even the small bit of worldliness found there. They aren't stupid, but Julie and Hank are innocent and uneducated. They trust people a little too readily and may accept their situation a bit too easily. Their time in Gap Creek tries their love, their physical strength, and their spirit. Your heart goes out to them, and you want to rush inside the pages to give them advice and to support them.

Beside the realistic characters and emotionally engaging story, Gap Creek highlights Morgan's exceptional skills at creating a setting. The Carolina mountain country is so vividly a part of the book, you feel as if you could hear the birds and smell the wildflowers. I can still picture the way Julie and Hank's cabin looked and remember the details of cooking and other chores of everyday living.

Part of the Gap Creek's success is that it's told from Julie's point of view and in dialect. Morgan found the perfect balance: He captures the local speech patterns but doesn't lose the modern reader by making the book too difficult to read.The opening paragraph gives you a sense of the style:
I know about Masiener because I was there. I seen him die. We didn't tell anybody the truth because it seemed so shameful, the way he died. It was too awful to describe to other people. But I was there, even though I didn't want to be, and I seen it all.
Gap Creek is very much a character-driven novel, but Julie and Hank's life is far from undramatic. If you like Southern fiction, period pieces, and stories about ordinary people struggling to survive, you'll love the book.

Gap Creek was the recipient of several awards and honors: the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for 2000, a Notable Book by the New York Times, an Oprah Book Club selection, and the Appalachian Writers Association's Book of the Year for 2000. For more on Robert Morgan, visit his website.

Algonquin Books
is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.

Gap Creek at Powell's
Gap Creek at Book Depository
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Published by Workman / Algonquin Books, 2012 (new paperback edition)
ISBN-13: 9781616201760

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26 July 2012

Thursday Tea: Dark Companion by Marta Acosta

The Book: I'm currently reading Marta Acosta's Dark Companion. All I knew about the book before I opened it was that the novel had some paranormal elements. I'm on page 109 (of 356), just starting Chapter 11, and I haven't met any vampires or ghosts yet. The Prologue, however, contains strong signs of some kind of otherworldly beings.

The story is about Jane Williams, who was orphaned at age six and put into the American foster care system. She had a rough childhood in group homes located on the wrong side of the tracks. Through hard work and some luck, she scores a full scholarship to the local private high school for girls from well-off families.

As you can imagine, Jane is worried about fitting in at her new school. So far her junior year is about a week into the term. The good news is she has met some nice classmates; the bad news is there are some mean girls at the school. Her class schedule includes journalism, a class called "Night Terrors," and honors chemistry. Jane is trying her best to keep up with the other students.

As part of her scholarship, she lives alone in the old caretaker's cottage on the edge of a spooky birch wood. She's been warned to lock her doors at night, and she hears enough strange noises outside to obey. Of course, there are boys; in this case, there is a cute guy and his creepy brother, both of whom have indicated an interest in the new girl.

Marta Acosta's writing and the plot have captured my interest. There is a definite Jane Eyre feeling about Dark Companion (and the publicity documents mention this too). It's not so much the storyline as the atmosphere and, obviously, Jane's name and status. As I mentioned, Acosta has hinted at Gothic elements, and I'm curious about what kinds of paranormal happenings will go on at the school or perhaps in the woods. At this point, I'm clueless, but I'm hooked.

The Tea: This week's iced tea is Adagio Tea's Orange black tea. Here's the description: "Our Orange Black tea combines fresh and brisk Ceylon black tea with the flavor of juicy, ripe Florida oranges, playfully accented with orange peel." The orange flavor isn't very powerful, but it makes a great summer drink over ice.

The Assessment: Jane Williams has probably never had a good-quality tea in her life. Her classmates, however, are probably very familiar with fruit-flavored teas, and I bet they'd like this one. I have a feeling that Jane will soon be learning how the better half lives, and she may even stock her small kitchen with some decent tea.

What About You? Have you read Dark Companion? If so, will it hold up to my expectations? Are you drinking anything interesting these days? And what are you reading this week?

This post will be linked to Kid Konnection, hosted by Julie at Booking Mama.

Buy Dark Companion at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Thursday Tea was the brainchild of Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.
Published by Macmillan / Starscape, Tor Teen 2012
ISBN-13: 9780765329646
Source: Review (see review policy)
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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24 July 2012

Wordless Wednesday 191

Looking Up through Queen Anne's Lace, 2012

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Review: Fables 12: The Dark Ages by Bill Willingham

Volume 12 of Bill Willingham's Fables series, The Dark Ages, is very much a transition book, and I've always had problems with these types of books. Yes, I understand that for a long series to continue, some plot lines must be wrapped up and new issues and characters have to be introduced. Unfortunately, very few authors write exciting transition novels, and Willingham isn't one of them.

But let me be very quick to add that The Dark Ages is a Fables book, and I love the characters and the premise. So I'm not saying this book is bad, I'm just saying it isn't my favorite one in the series.

As I indicated, the major story line of the first 11 books has been resolved; thus this volume starts out by letting the citizens of Fabletown and the farm enjoy some downtime in the aftermath of the war. Unfortunately, the good times don't last because, as in our own world, there is always some evil person or being ready and able to fill the void.

The Dark Ages introduces us to a new bad guy--a very creepy one at that--and lets us see his initial acts of destruction and the first-response actions of the Fable folks. The leadership of the Fable community is also undergoing a transition in the postwar period, and some beings on the new team are having trouble coping with the changes and their newfound power.

These are the seeds for the next story arc, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the situation develops. Some of the changes in volume 12 are drastic, and it's no wonder a few of the characters are feeling blue. We readers are too.

The scan I've included here gives you an idea of the artwork for The Dark Ages but includes no spoilers to the book. It does, however, show you just how far-reaching the new evil has spread. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

Fables is a branching story, with a couple of spin-offs, tangents, and a prequel. So I will be leaving the main Fables books now to catch up on the Jack of Fables sub-series. I'll also take the time to read the prequel at this point. If you're starting the series and are confused (like I was), worry no longer. Thanks to the wonderful Kailana of The Written Word, I now have a reading plan. Be sure to see her fabulous post "So You Want to Read Fables?" Kailana's suggested reading order is designed to avoid spoilers while providing the needed background for each new volume.

Buy Fables 12: The Dark Ages at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by DC Comics / Vertigo 2009
ISBN-13: 9781401223168
Source: bought (see review policy)
t © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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23 July 2012

Review: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Note: This review assumes you've read the first book in Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy. I reviewed A Discovery of Witches in May 2012.

Shadow of Night begins moments after the first book in the trilogy ends. We are taken back to the 1500s, where Diana and Matthew plan to search for the missing pages of the alchemical book that Diana found in the Bodleian Library. They also hope to find a witch who can help Diana learn about her personal powers and how to control them. Once these tasks have been completed, she should (they hope!) have the ability to return to the 21st century, bringing Matthew with her.

Deborah Harkness has avoided the sophomore slump, and Shadow of Night is a multipronged success. First, I loved the historical details of Elizabethan England and the literary, religious, and cultural references. Matthew hangs out with an illustrious crowd, and although I was familiar with most of the historical characters, I didn't know that some of them were really deamons and witches.

Harkness does a brilliant job re-creating the late 16th century. We learn about the fashion and food of the times as well as the sights and sounds of life in the city. We get a peek at the everyday life of people who will make a mark on history, and we also meet people whose names were forgotten only a few generations after their deaths. Its fun to see how easily Matthew reverts and how difficult it is for Diana to adjust.

The novel also shines when it comes to some of the sticky problems of time travel. Harkness has fine solutions to such questions as, Can there be more than one Matthew at the same time? We also gain a much clearer sense of his more hidden side when we see how he reacts to meeting up with friends who died more than 400 years ago. As Matthew explains his contemporary situation to Diana, we learn some very interesting facts about the vampire's life.

Naturally Matthew has grown and changed over the centuries, and his friends sense he is not quite the same. After all, in their reality, the vampire is only a couple of days older than when they last saw him, not centuries older. Thus another problem Diana and Matthew face is deciding to whom they tell the truth of their time walking and how to explain Diana.

Diana too must struggle with learning how to behave, including how to dress, how to run a household, and how not to be a walking anachronism. I was particularly pleased to see Diana come into her own once she accepted her heritage. Of course she still has to rely on Matthew to guide her through the strange new world of the past, but she has found her inner strength and is no longer a helpless pawn.

Although Diana and Matthew's mission is clear from the start of the book, Harkness throws in several surprises. Thus the plot, while consistent with the story line, also takes us places that are unexpected. As well, we don't yet know whether the pair has changed their 21st-century present or have changed their future.

If you loved A Discovery of Witches, you won't be disappointed by Shadow of Night. It's a great mix of historical, paranormal, and thriller fiction spiced up with a little romance. When I finished the book, I had one of those "Oh no!" moments: What do you mean I have to wait another year or so before I find out what happens next?

The unabridged audio edition of Shadow of Night (Penguin Audio; 24 hr, 30 min) was read by Jennifer Ikeda, who also read the first book. She not only did an impressive job with the multiple accents and languages but created consistent and distinctive characterizations. She had better be available to read book three.

Shadow of Night is an Indie Next pick for July 2012. For more on Deborah Harkness, visit her website or follow her on twitter.

Buy Shadow of Night at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Penguin USA / Viking 2012
ISBN-13: 9780670023486
Rating: B+
Source: review (see review policy)
t © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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21 July 2012

Weekend Cooking: Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

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, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime 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.


Michael Natkin didn't grow up in a vegetarian household or in the gourmet capital of world. Instead, while still in high school, he jumped in the deep end, taking over the family cooking to create macrobiotic dishes for his mother who was battling cancer. Despite a few total disasters when he was still a teen and despite a long career in computer graphics, Natkin found his footing in the kitchen, eventually sharing his recipes on his blog Herbivoracious.

The first thing to know about Natkin's wonderful cookbook, Herbivoracious, is that it's not just a collection of the recipes you'll find on his blog. The book includes new dishes as well as information on ingredients and equipment. The second thing to know is that this isn't your typical vegetarian cookbook; the flavors are fresh and the recipes have a wide appeal.

I was particularly pleased to see that Natkin does not rely on fake meats (soy hot dogs and the like), instead he grounds his recipes in foods you'd find at the farmers' market or in the outside aisles of the supermarket. At the same time, he isn't a food snob. His recipes run the gamut from braised endive and smoked asparagus to flavored popcorn and onion rings.

Although you will certainly find several dishes that call for tofu and another handful that use beans or legumes, Natkin's tastes are more 21st century than the old hippie-style vegetarian fare. The recipes in Herbivoracious cover a range of flavors (Asian, Mexican, French) and use a variety of cooking techniques (including grilling). The directions are easy to follow, and Natkin provides tips and advice when needed. Each recipe is accompanied by a time estimate, and those that are vegan and gluten-free are clearly marked.

I am very impressed that Natkin did all the photography himself. The dishes are not only beautiful (look at the cover photo) but are shown exactly as they really are. Natkin doesn't use plastic ingredients, sprays, or props to make his food look appetizing. What you see is what you get, which means you really can create a meal that looks just like it does in the cookbook.

Among the recipes I have marked to try are grilled radicchio, chopped salad with Greek flavors, and Swiss chard and tomatillo enchiladas. The grilled pineapple salsa is also on my list, even though I'm thinking it would be awesome on grilled pork tenderloin (sorry Michael, I'm not a full-time vegetarian). I love Natkin's updated takes on traditional foods (vegetarian Navajo tacos) as well as his new-to-me combinations of flavors (Sicilian spaghetti with cauliflower).

Whether you're a vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore, you'll find plenty to choose from in Michael Natkin's Herbivoracious. The following recipe was a huge hit, with its bright, summery flavors.

Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto
Gluten Free
Serves 4
About 1 hour (15 minutes active)

For the Vegetables
  • 1 pound small, waxy potatoes, such as red-skinned
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 8 ounces green beans, trimmed and halved
For the Arugula Pesto
  • 2 ounces baby arugula (about 3 cups loosely packed leaves)
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ounce Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about 1/4 cup)
To Complete the Salad
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnut pieces (optional)
1. For the vegetables: Place the potatoes in a large pot of cold water with the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer. When the potatoes are fork-tender, 10 to 15 minutes, transfer them to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add the green beans to the water and boil for 2-1/2 minutes. Transfer the beans to a separate bowl. Rinse both vegetables in cold water to cool; drain well. Cut the potatoes in half if they are much larger than bite size. Set aside.

2. For the arugula pesto: Combine all the ingredients in a mini-food processor. Process until the mixture forms a fairly smooth paste with some texture left. Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender or a regular blender if you make a double batch. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

3. To complete the salad: Toss the potatoes and green beans with the arugula pesto, several grinds of black pepper, and the walnut pieces (if using). Taste and add more salt if needed, and serve.

BFR's notes: I used pine nuts.

Buy Herbivoracious at an Indie, at Powell's, at Book Depository, or at bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs
Published by Harvard Commons Press, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781558327450
Rating: A
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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20 July 2012

Imprint Friday: My First New York, from the editors of New York magazine

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.

Do you remember the first time you saw New York City? The cultural and political scene, your reason for being there, your age, and your financial situation all affected your reaction to the city and your comfort level. The personal essays collected in My First New York, out in paperback this month, were written by 56 well-know individuals who share their first impressions of the city.

Here's the publisher's summary:

From some of the most remarkable people who have called the city home, come fifty-six candid accounts of long nights out and wild nights in, of first dates and lost loves, of memorable meals and miserable jobs, of slow walks up Broadway and fast subway rides downtown. From a mix of actors, artists, comedians, entrepreneurs, politicians, sports stars, writers, and more, these moving and memorable stories combine to form an impressionistic history of New York since the Great Depression, an accidental encyclopedia of New York hotspots through the ages, and a testament to a larger revelation, one that new arrivals of all stripes and eras have experienced again and again: what the songwriter Rufus Wainwright calls "having cracked the code of living life to the fullest."
My first visit to New York was in June 1973. I took a train in from New Jersey with a college friend to spend the day in Manhattan. The city was a dangerous, dirty, and decaying place back then. No one in their right mind would walk through Times Square at night . . . unless they were looking for drugs or a hooker. My how things have changed (see the photo taken last spring at about 10:00 pm on a Friday night; click to enlarge).

But my initial visit was nothing compared to the stories you'll find in My First New York. For example, Ira Glass moved to New York in 1984 and never did learn to feel comfortable walking (or, more often, running) past the drug dealers and prostitutes on his way to and from the subway station. The first day David Rakoff was in the city, his mother was robbed, giving him a rude awakening to the very real dangers of New York City in the early 1980s.

Other people had it easier. Liz Smith arrived in New York after the war and writes about seeing Broadway plays for only $2.50 a ticket. Mike Myers moved to the city in 1988 with a job interview already in hand. In 1962, Nora Ephron was hired by Newsweek almost immediately, although she was placed in the mail room. And for Judy Collins, life in the Village in 1963 was filled with art and music.

I recognized many of the names in My First New York: Dan Rather, Lauren Hutton, and Amy Sedaris, for example. But other people were completely new to me. Famous or not, each author in the book reveals a slice of New York history and presents the city in a unique light. For some, luck was surely on their side; for others, it's a wonder they lasted a week.

Whether they stepped onto the streets of New York during the Summer of Sam or just a couple of years ago, the "actors, artists, athletes, chefs, comedians, filmmakers, . . . writers, and others" who contributed to the book still have vivid memories of their first days in the big city. The fascinating personal stories in My First New York show the city at its best and worst, safest and scariest over the course of about 75 years.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite essays (in its entirety). From Yogi Berra (baseball player), who arrived in 1946:
New York? It was big.
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.

My First New York at Powell's
My First New York at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, July 24, 2012 (paperback edition)
ISBN-13: 9780061963940

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19 July 2012

Thursday (Not) Tea: Whiplash River by Lou Berney

The Book: Charles "Shake" Bouchon is determined to play it straight. He's served his time and has managed to leave the employ of the Armenian mob. Life on Ambergris Caye, off the coast of Belize, couldn't be better. Sure it's tough to run a restaurant, but there's still plenty of time to enjoy a morning swim in the ocean and to take the boat into town to shop the fish market.

The day a man named Quinn narrowly misses getting killed in Shake's restaurant is the day Shake's life begins to spin out of control. Thanks to a complex case of misunderstandings, crossed signals, and half truths, Shake finds himself being chased by a host of bad guys and even a few good guys. Will he be able to stay alive long enough to win back his ex-girlfriend, Gina, and pull off a get-rich-quick scheme?

Lou Berney's Whiplash River takes us on a madcap chase around the globe as Shake hooks up with the questionable Quinn, tries to make up with the unforgiving Gina, and attempts to pull off an international con. Among the motley crew that's after him is a beautiful FBI agent, newlywed killers, a freelance hit man, a drug lord, and an antiques collector. In fact, who isn't trying to track down Shake?

Whiplash River is a terrific mix of fun and deadly, making it the perfect summer read. Take a copy to the pool and be prepared to read it all in one go. Look for my full review of the book and my great interview with Lou Berney on the SheKnows Book Lounge next week.

The (Not) Tea: It's been so horribly hot here in central PA that I've turned my back on tea and have reached for something that will help me better forget how much I hate the heat. This week I'm drinking ice cold Hornsby's Hard Cider. It's the only bottled cider I've been able to find in the United States that comes even close to the draft cider you can get in the UK and Europe. The alcohol content is relatively low and the taste is refreshing. A nice choice on a hot, hot summer afternoon or evening.

The Assessment: Now, I don't know Shake all that well, but I'm pretty sure there is no way he's drinking cider--even in a pub in London. He seems to me to be more a whiskey kind of guy, although I bet he'd be happy to put back a few beers while out in his boat on a sunny day. I'm not complaining though, because that means there's more cider for me.

What About You? Are you drinking anything interesting these days? And what are you reading this week?

Buy Whiplash River at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Thursday Tea was the brainchild of Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.
Published by William Morrow, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780062115287
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)
FTC: I buy all ciders myself, I am not a cider reviewer.

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17 July 2012

Wordless Wednesday 190

New York City from the Brooklyn Bridge, 2012

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Review: A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

A River in the Sky is the 19th Amelia Peabody book that Elizabeth Peters wrote, but it's the 12th book chronologically. As I mentioned last month in my review of Guardian of the Horizon, there are two ways to read this series: via the stories' time line or by date of publication. I've decided to go by time line.

You can imagine how difficult it is to write a spoiler-free review at this point in the series, so I'll give you a bare-bones idea of what the book is about and then tell you my general thoughts. Thus this post is less review and more musings.

A River in the Sky takes place in 1910, and is set in Jerusalem. When the Emersons decide to spend the archaeology season in Palestine, instead of their usual Egypt, they tell their colleagues that they want to broaden their studies. In the meantime, however, Emerson has been speaking with the British intelligence department, and Amelia has her eyes and ears open to signs of spies. Ramses, their son, is to meet them in Jerusalem after taking leave of his archaeological work in Samaria. Naturally, nothing goes as smoothly as it should, and there are dead bodies, people to be rescued, and the usual spots of humor to balance the action.

In this novel, Peters interjects hints of political unrest and rumors of war. The Emersons observe that both Turkish soldiers and German citizens seem to have an unusally high degree of interest in the area, as do the British. The family is caught up in riots, clashing religions, and secret societies. In A River in the Sky, the personalities of the main characters stay true to the series, but the atmosphere and plot seem slightly more sober than the earlier books. Perhaps this is because I know the fate of the Middle East, Jerusalem, and Palestine in the decades to come.

A River in the Sky foreshadows World War I but gives no hints as to what's going to happen in Falcon at the Portal, which is the next book in the time line and is a major game changer. I was a bit surprised because I was expecting a tighter bond between the two novels. This isn't a negative, it just isn't what I expected.

There are few series that keep me invested across so many books. I recommend Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody series to readers interested in Egyptology, archaeology, historical mysteries, and cozy mysteries. The books are well written and lots of fun and would appeal to readers who like the idea of following a family of great characters over the course of several decades.

As always for this series, I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 11 hr, 3 min) read by the fabulous Barbara Rosenblat. I've praised Rosenblat's narration throughout the series; her work is not to be missed.

Buy A River in the Sky at Powell's, at an Indie, at Book Depository, or at a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by HarperCollins / Harper, 2011 (several editions are available)
ISBN-13: 9780061246272
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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16 July 2012

Guest Post and Giveaway: House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

Although I read quite a bit of literary fiction, I'm not a genre snob. And one genre I really like is fantasy. Rachel Neumeier's House of Shadows sounds like a good match for me. I like the idea that it's about sisters and takes place in an exotic location. Throw in a little magic, and I know I'll be hooked. Here's the publisher's summary:

When tragically orphaned, two sisters are left to find their own fortunes. Sweet and proper, Karah’s future seems secure at a glamorous Flower House. She could be pampered for the rest of her life . . . if she agrees to play their game.

Nemienne, neither sweet nor proper, has fewer choices. Left with no alternative, she accepts a mysterious mage’s offer of an apprenticeship. Agreeing means a home and survival, but can Nemienne actually trust her new teacher?

With the arrival of a foreign bard into the quiet city, dangerous secrets are unearthed, and both sisters find themselves at the center of a plot that threatens not only to upset their newly found lives, but also to destroy their kingdom.

If you've read my blog for more than a week, then you know that one of my passions is food and cooking. Whenever I'm reading, I am always interested in what the characters are eating. When I asked Rachel Neumeier to write something about the food we'd find in the world of the House of Shadows, I had no idea she was a fellow enthusiast. Not only did she write a terrific guest post, she's even shared a yummy-sounding recipe.

Help me welcome Rachel to Beth Fish Reads.

Details and the Dining Table in House of Shadows

Thanks for having me on Beth Fish Reads! It's a pleasure to be visiting a blog that gives proper priority to books and cooking—both subjects dear to my heart.

Establishing the setting of a novel is, for me, one of the great pleasures of writing. Dialogue, that's hard. But setting? That's the fun part.

For a fantasy such as House of Shadows, inspiration for the setting comes from all sorts of places. But once I have the basic idea for a setting, building depth and a "you are there" feel depends on the detail work, and what and how my characters eat is one of the most important details. Writers who don't cook in their daily lives may sometimes be content to let their characters eat "stew" and "roasts," but since I love food, I try to do better than that!

One of the main inspirations behind House of Shadows, was a nonfiction book, Geisha, by Liza Dalby, which I happened to be reading at the time I was thinking about the setting for a new novel. It's not that House of Shadows, is set in any kind of alternate Japan. No. But there are definitely echoes of the East in the story's setting.

I was particularly interested in the Japanese separation between artistic geisha and ordinary prostitutes, and many aspects of the society in House of Shadows, grew out of that detail. In Lonne, the city where the story is set, successful keiso are famous celebrities. In the opening scenes of the story, we see a girl rescuing her sisters from threatened poverty by essentially selling herself into a keiso house—arguing that at least she is not proposing to become anything so disreputable as, say, an actress. Not exactly courtesans, certainly not prostitutes, keiso are instead professionally glamorous woman companions hired by men who want not only to entertain their friends but also to show off their good taste while they do it.

The idea of keiso entertainments led directly to the use of formal banquets in the story and gave me a chance to have fun establishing an exotic and elegant atmosphere. Thus we have duck breast with cherry sauce, pureed parsnips with sea urchin roe, and glazed pastries decorated with candied flower petals. Or, elsewhere in the novel—playing with Eastern ideas of elegant presentation—clear broth served in bowls painted with sea grasses, doves cooked with leeks and cream and served on copper-colored plates, and translucent noodles sprinkled with abalone and served on plates decorated with painted dragonflies.

You can also tell from these menus that the setting is a coastal city. In fact, Lonne, the "Pearl of the West," is a famously sophisticated and glamorous city, the capital of a powerful country, and set in rugged country where three rivers come down from the mountains and pour into the sea. That's actually important for magical reasons but obviously has a big influence on food, too.

Of course, even in Lonne, it's not all banquets and glitter. There's "comfort food" as well, but it's not American comfort food. Instead, the people of Lonne are likely to sit down to a breakfast of rice porridge with shrimp, or on hot evenings send out for chilled noodles.

If you'd like to sample the cooking of Lonne, it's not hard: here's a very simple Asian-style recipe that probably comes close. It's also, coincidentally, a perfect easy, quick recipe for those evenings when you're writing a great scene and don't want to take the time to cook!

Cold Sesame or Peanut Noodles with Poached Shrimp
  • 3 ounces glass noodles (bean threads, cellophane noodles) or thin spaghetti
  • 1 can chicken broth, plus a little water if necessary
  • ¼ cup tahini (or peanut butter, an option I actually prefer, though I doubt they have peanuts in Lonne)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame chili oil (or Tabasco) (optional)
  • 1½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1–2 tablespoons hot water
  • ¼ cup minced scallions
  • ½ of a cucumber, seeded and sliced thin
  • 12 or so medium poached shrimp (or 2 ounces diced poached chicken breast)
Cover the glass noodles with broth (plus, if necessary, a little water). Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Or else cook the spaghetti as you ordinarily would.

In the meantime, whisk together the tahini, chili oil, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and enough hot water so that the sauce has a consistency similar to heavy cream.

Drain the glass noodles and cool slightly, or run cold water over them and drain again if you want them cold rather than room temperature. Or drain and rinse the spaghetti.

Whatever kind of noodles you're using, toss with about 4 tablespoons of the sauce, adding more to taste. Toss in the cucumber and scallions. Top with shrimp and serve. Serves two.
Thanks so much, Rachel. I love the examples you gave of how the food and its presentation say so much about the people present and the circumstances in which the meal is served. And I can't wait to try the noodle dish. I love cold noodles and this one with shrimp sounds delicious.

The Giveaway:
Thanks to the publishers, I am able to offer one of my readers a copy of House of Shadows. Because I will mailing the book myself, this giveaway is open to only those with a US/Canada mailing address. To enter for a chance to win, just fill out the form. I'll pick a winner on July 30. Good luck!

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14 July 2012

Weekend Cooking: Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen

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, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime 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.


Did you know Penguin USA has a new imprint? Pintail is dedicated to bringing the best of Penguin Canada to the attention of U.S. readers. Among the first season of Pintail books is Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen: 100 of My Favourite Easy Recipes.

I was not familiar with Michael Smith, a popular chef in Canada, but based on his cookbook, I can tell I'll be keeping an eye on him. As the subtitle of the cookbook says, the recipes are indeed easy and will appeal to a wide range of cooks.

In his introduction, Chef Michael shares his philosophy of food. Food, he says, is for sharing, creating, and exploring. In addition, food should be fun and personal. I love the way he cooks, probably because it's the way I do. I also like his easygoing style:
My goal is not for you to precisely duplicate how I might cook a dish but to share my ideas and insight so you can confidently create you own version of a dish. Your food doesn't have to look or taste like mine to succeed. (p. vii)
How freeing is that?

Here some things I really like about Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen:
  • The directions are clear and easy to follow.
  • There is a beautiful, full-page photo of each completed dish.
  • The book design is clean, making the book easy to cook from.
  • The recipes cover a world of flavors to fit each season and mood.
  • The measurements and temperatures are given in Imperial units and metric, so the recipes are accessible to cooks outside of the United States.
One feature that home cooks will appreciate is that every recipe is accompanied by one or two "Kitchen Tips." These tips are sometimes general (why you should roast certain spices), some are specific to the recipe (how to roll up rice paper packets), and some offer variation suggestions. In all cases, the tips are helpful and informative.

One thing that surprised me was how inventive, yet simple the side dish recipes are. I admit that I rarely use a cookbook when it comes to vegetables and sides, but Chef Michael cooks up some great dishes. For example, I can't wait to try the Corn Cakes with Avocado Cilantro Salsa. Corn season is here and the cilantro is ready to be picked. A winter side that could probably work as a main dish too is the Smoked Salmon Stuffed Potatoes. Kind of like twice-baked potatoes with lox and cream cheese. Yum.

One recent evening, we had neighbors over for a late afternoon gathering. I served Chef Michael's tuna crostinis. They were a big hit.

Garlic-Rubbed Crostini with Mediterranean Tuna Salad

Serves 6 to 8

For the Crostini
  • 1 baguette, cut diagonally into 16 or so ½-inch (1 cm) thick slices
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half lengthwise
For the Tuna Salad
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 2 cans (each 6½ ounces/184 g) tuna
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup (125 mL) chopped, pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ML) drained capers
  • Pinch or two of salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
  • 12 large basil leaves
Preheat your oven to 400F (200C).

To make the crostini, arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Lightly brush each one with olive oil. Season with pepper to your taste. Bake, turning the tray once, until golden brown and toasted, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and rub each crostini vigorously with the cut side of the garlic clove.

To make the tuna salad, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and mustard. Add the tuna, juice and all, breaking it into flakes with a fork. Toss in the green onions olives, and capers. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Toss everything together. Spoon the mixture onto the crisp crostini. Stack the basil leaves with the biggest leaves on the bottom, then roll them into a tight cigar shape. Slice into thin threads and sprinkle them over the crostini. Serve and share!

Kitchen Tip: One of the keys to great crostini is taking the time to thoroughly brown them. They're at their best when they're entirely golden brown--not just along the edges. Your patience will be rewarded with lots of toasted flavour and a crispy base that's easy to hold.

From BFR: If you look at my photo, you will see I wasn't patient . . . but the crostini were still delicious.

Buy Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen at an Indie, at Powell's, at Book Depository, or at bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs
Published by Penguin USA / Pintail, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780670066919
Rating: B+
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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13 July 2012

Imprint Friday: The World We Found 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.

A little over a year ago, I reviewed Thrity Umrigar's The Space between Us for an Imprint Friday feature. This month, Harper Perennial is publishing the paperback edition of The World We Found, a novel that shows a different side of modern India.

Here's the summary:

As university students in late 1970s Bombay, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were inseparable. Spirited and unconventional, they challenged authority and fought for a better world. But over the past thirty years, the quartet has drifted apart, the day-to-day demands of work and family tempering the revolutionary fervor they once shared.

Then comes devastating news: Armaiti, who moved to America, is gravely ill and wants to see the old friends she left behind. For Laleh, reunion is a bittersweet reminder of unfulfilled dreams and unspoken guilt. For Kavita, it is an admission of forbidden passion. For Nishta, it is the promise of freedom from a bitter, fundamentalist husband. And for Armaiti, it is an act of acceptance, of letting go on her own terms.

The World We Found is a dazzling masterwork from the remarkable Thrity Umrigar, offering an unforgettable portrait of modern India while it explores the enduring bonds of friendship and the power of love to change lives.
First and foremost, The World We Found is about the friendship of four women, cemented in the heady, carefree days of their youth. As the years went by, they took separate paths, but in their hearts they were still a band of four against the world. Unlike lighter books about women's relationships, this novel takes a more realistic look, highlighting what the friends cannot share as much as what they can.

A second principal theme is that of Nishta's conversion from Hindu to Muslim and the profound effect it has had on her circumstances and prospects. After political unrest in India, her husband insists they move to a Muslim neighborhood and begins to take his religion seriously, insisting Nishta change both her name and her spiritual practices.

Before you jump to conclusions, let me quickly say that The World We Found is not the same old rehash of women's repression in the East. Umrigar moves beyond women's issues, focusing on other aspects of modern India--politics and religion, in particular. In addition, we are given the chance to see things from the minds of Nishta's and Laleh's husbands. When we learn what has motivated the men (especially Nishta's husband), we gain a new understanding, even if we can't always condone their actions.

Finally, I'd like to say something about Umrigar's treatment of India and Indian culture. One of the shining aspects of this novel is that India is, simply, just what it is--the informing background to the women's lives. Umrigar is unapologetic, leaving it to the reader to balance the negatives and the positives.

The World We Found would make an excellent book club choice. There is a vast range of topics for discussion. Although Harper Perennial provides 18 thoughtful questions, do not miss the detailed and incredible discussion posts written by Swapna of S. Krishna's Books. She developed 30 insightful questions spread out over six posts. In fact, I relied on her prompts to help me solidify my thoughts about the novel when I wrote today's post.

The World We Found was an Indie Next Pick for January 2012. For more on Thrity Umrigar, visit her website, where you'll find links to interviews, radio shows, all her books, and her tour schedule.

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 World We Found at an Indie
The World We Found at Powell's
The World We Found at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780061938351

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12 July 2012

Review: Hell or High Water by Joy Castro

In post-Katrina New Orleans, Nola C├ęspedes is hoping for a meatier assignment from her editor at the Times-Picayune. When she gets it, she's both excited and scared. She's been tapped to investigate sex offenders: Has rehabilitation worked? Do these men have any kind of life after prison? And what happened to all those who slipped off the grid in the aftermath of the hurricane?

In the meantime, a tourist has gone missing, and Nola starts to take an almost obsessive interest in the case. Can her research for the newspaper article give her insights into the disappearance?

Joy Castro's Hell or High Water is part mystery, part psychological study of Nola, and part expose of a city in crisis. Of the three aspects of the novel, it's Nola's story that is the most intriguing. Nola's personality is complex, and she clearly has issues. The combination of her work, her secret behavior, and her public persona is eating away at her psyche. I needed to keep reading to find out how or if Nola finds resolution. Although I wasn't as focused on the missing woman as Nola was, I looked for clues and failed to guess who done it.

Castro's descriptions of the city from Nola's point of view are particularly impressive because, according to her bio, she's never lived there, although I believe her husband is a New Orleans native. On the other hand, I felt that Castro may have included too many statistics about sex offenders, or perhaps it was that there were long sections of facts, which pulled me out of the story. This information would have served the novel better if it had been spread out more or revealed in some other form (as part of several conversations, for example).

Fortunately that minor problem did not take away from the novel as a whole. Nola C├ęspedes is the type of character you root for. So I was pleased to read that Joy Castro is writing a follow-up to Hell or High Water. I'd love to know how Nola is doing.

Buy Hell or High Water at Powell's, at an Indie, at Book Depository, or at a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by St. Martin's Press / Thomas Dunne Books, July 17, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781250004574
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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10 July 2012

Wordless Wednesday 189

Daylily, 2012

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Pennsylvania Puzzles: Two from My Nightstand

I love a good cozy mystery; in fact, it's my favorite escape reading. Last month, Berkley Prime Crime published two titles that I can't wait to get started on. And here's why. One of the fun things about cozies is picking a series based on the protagonist's occupation (baker, cab driver, antiques store owner) and/or location (home town, college town, favorite vacation spot).

I want to read the books featured here because they take place in Pennsylvania, my adopted state. I haven't read either of them yet, but they sound perfect for a lazy Saturday on the deck.

Threaded for Trouble by Janet Bolin (Penguin USA / Berkley Prime Crime, 2012) is the third the Threadville Mystery series featuring Willow Vanderling, owner of a embroidery shop.

Welcome back to Threadville, Pennsylvania, where crafts are king, and a "killer" sewing machine lives up to its name . . .

Darlene Coddlefield, the winner of a national sewing competition, has come to Willow Vanderling’s embroidery shop, In Stitches, to be presented with a top-of-the-line Chandler Champion sewing and embroidery machine as her prize. But Darlene’s triumph is short-lived after she’s found dead under her sewing table, apparently crushed by the heavy machine.

It soon becomes clear that this was no freak accident. Who had it in for Darlene Coddlefield? The long string of suspects includes Darlene’s fire chief husband. So Willow and her best friend, Haylee, become volunteer firefighters to uncover the truth. But when a second sewing machine sparks trouble, the friends realize they may have jumped from the frying pan into the fire . . .
Hearse and Buggy by Laura Bradford (Penguin USA / Berkley Prime Crime, 2012) is the first in the brand new Amish Mystery series starring Clair Weatherly, who recently came to town from Manhattan.
Claire Weatherly has fled a high-stress lifestyle for a slower pace—in Amish country: Heavenly, Pennsylvania. She only planned a short visit but instead found herself opening an Amish specialty shop, Heavenly Treasures, and settling in.

Claire loves her new home, and she’s slowly making friends among the locals, including Esther, a young Amish woman who works in the shop. So when the store’s former owner,the unlikable Walter Snow, is murdered, and the man Esther is sweet on becomes a suspect, Claire can’t help but get involved. Newly returned Detective Jakob Fisher, who left Heavenly—and his Amish upbringing—as a teenager, is on the case. But his investigation is stalled by the fact that none of his former community will speak with him. Claire’s connections make her the perfect go-between. As Claire investigates, she uncovers more than she wanted to know about her neighbors. And suddenly, everything she had hoped to find in this peaceful refuge is at risk . . .
Buy Threaded for Trouble at Powell's, at an Indie, at Book Depository, or at a bookstore near you.
Buy Hearse and Buggy at Powell's, at an Indie, at Book Depository, or at a bookstore near you.
These links lead to affiliate programs.
Source: Review (both) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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09 July 2012

Review: So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore

Three women, three voices, three generations, but a single ache caused by separation from those they love. Meg Mitchell Moore's So Far Away introduces us to three very different characters: Kathleen Lynch, a research librarian at the Massachusetts State Archives; Natalie Gallagher, a young teen who comes to the archives to work on a school project; and Bridget O'Connell, who immigrated to Boston from Ireland in the 1920s.

Because the nature of the principal characters' problems and losses are revealed slowly, I don't want to talk about them here and thus spoil the suspense and mystery of the book. Kathleen (in her 50s) and Natalie (13 years old) narrate So Far Away in alternating sections. Each tells her own story, looking into the past as well as moving the plot forward. They are both private people, and keep their troubles to themselves as best they can. Bridget, too, is given a voice, but her tale is told through her journal, which Natalie found in the basement of her house. Like the others, Bridget held her secrets close.

It's easy to become invested in Kathleen, Natalie, and Bridget. I was especially drawn to Bridget's journal, but I also wanted to know more about Kathleen's history and Natalie's present. Moore even had me rooting for the minor characters, including Kathleen's dog. Although this sounds like a sad book or a book with little action, it's not either. So Far Away isn't light fiction but it doesn't lack hope, and there's plenty going on in the characters' lives.

Moore writes about the many faces of loss and how our attitudes have changed over the generations. What was devastating to Bridget would be more acceptable today. But what Natalie faces is the product of the 21st-century. From the very first chapter, we learn about one of Natalie's issues: She is the victim of cyber-bullying, and this makes her tale the most heartbreaking of the three.

Another theme of So Far Away is the question of reaching out to help when you see someone in need. Where is the line between being kind and invasive? Do you tell your friends, or even strangers, that you think their child is in trouble? How do you get others to listen, particularly when you know from personal experience that it's unlikely they'll heed your warning? There are no easy answers, but Moore makes you think.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Hachette Audio; 11 hr, 2 min) read by Emma Galvin (as Natalie) and Suzanne Toren (as Kathleen). My positive audio review will be available at the AudioFile website later this month.

Buy So Far Away at Powell's, at an Indie, at Book Depository, or at a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Hachette / Reagan Arthur Books, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780316097697
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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