29 September 2012

Weekend Cooking: I Love Cinnamon Rolls by Judith Fertig

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, beer, wine, 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. More information at the welcome post.

When confronted by a dessert buffet, most of my friends head immediately for the chocolate. I, on the other hand, go first for something with fruit and second for something spicy. So when Judith Fertig's I Love Cinnamon Rolls! showed up in my mailbox, I was thrilled.

I've baked a lot of cinnamon rolls in my life, and I'm always open to new ideas and innovative combinations. Judith Fertig's 50 recipes have me thinking about taking up running, so I can make them all.

But before I get to the recipes, let me step back a minute to tell you what else you'll find in I Love Cinnamon Rolls! Fertig starts off with a short description of cinnamon rolls around the world, a glossary of different types of cinnamon, and the items you'll need to have on hand before you turn on the oven.

Now here's where things get a little different. You might be thinking about how you're not all that great when it comes to baking. Or perhaps you're worried that cinnamon rolls are too fussy. You may even be scared to death of working with yeast. And what about your special diet? No worries, Fertig has it all covered.
  • Unsure of your skills? Read the outline of techniques: from measuring the flour to storing and freezing your cinnamony treats
  • Feeling lazy? Make pullaparts instead of rolling up the dough.
  • Refuse to work with yeast? Start with a package of hot roll mix.
  • Concerned about what you eat? Try a vegan, whole wheat, or gluten-free recipe.
Fertig has provided enough choices, so everyone can enjoy a warm, spicy homemade dessert.

The first recipe chapter takes us through eight different types of dough, each with variations and requiring different sets of techniques. After that we get into the heart of I Love Cinnamon Rolls--how to make all sorts of wonderful treats.

As you can imagine, the cookbook provides recipes for traditional cinnamon rolls, bear claws, and the like. But Fertig quickly moves far beyond your grandmother's kitchen. For example:
  • Bacon-Brown Sugar Cinnamon Rolls
  • Coffee Lover's Cinnamon Monkey Bread Rolls
  • Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls
  • No-Knead Pumpkin-Cinnamon Pullaparts
  • Slavic Cinnamon-Walnut Twists
There are also a number of vegan desserts, featuring bananas, coconut, lime, sweet potatoes, and even bourbon. The gluten-free recipes pair cinnamon with apple, blueberry, and walnut. Don't the recipes sound fantastic?

The range of flavors, easy directions, and special-diet versions in Judith Fertig's I Love Cinnamon Rolls! mean everyone is guaranteed to find several desserts to warm up a Sunday morning or brighten up an after-school homework session.

When it came time to bake, I picked a more familiar treat to start with so I could combine my love of citrus with my love of spice: Orange Cinnamon Rolls with Sweet Orange Drizzle. The dough was a traditional white flour yeast dough and the filling was butter, orange zest, and cinnamon-sugar. Once baked, the rolls were topped with a glaze made from confectioner's sugar, orange zest, and freshly squeezed orange juice.It was all we could do not to eat half a pan in one sitting.

Buy I Love Cinnamon Rolls! 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: 9781449420697
Rating: B+
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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28 September 2012

Imprint Friday: Lives of the Trees by Diana Wells

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.

If you've been reading Imprint Friday for any length of time, then you have already thanked me for bringing bugs and worms (both by Amy Stewart; Algonquin Books) and weeds (by Richard Mabey; Ecco Books) into your life. I've been wondering about what these books say about my view of the world.

Just so you know, I'm not all about the dark side; unless you mean shade, which I really love. And the best kind of shady place is, of course, under a favorite tree. Now that I've read Diana Wells's Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History, I have a fuller appreciation for the gentle giants that make my summers so pleasant.

Here's the publisher's summary:
Diana Wells . . . turns her attention to . . . our deep-rooted relationship with trees. As she investigates the names and meanings of trees, telling their legends and lore, she reminds us of just how innately bound we are to these protectors of our planet. Since the human race began, we have depended on them for food, shade, shelter and fuel, not to mention furniture, musical instruments, medicine utensils and more.

Wells has a remarkable ability to dig up the curious and the captivating: At one time, a worm found in a hazelnut prognosticated ill fortune. Rowan trees were planted in churchyards to prevent the dead from rising from their graves. Greek arrows were soaked in deadly yew, and Shakespeare’s witches in Macbeth used “Gall of goat and slips of Yew” to make their lethal brew. One bristlecone pine, at about 4,700 years old, is thought to be the oldest living plant on earth. All this and more can be found in the beautifully illustrated pages (themselves born of birch bark!). . . .
As Diana Wells says in her introduction, she wrote the Lives of the Trees "not for botanists or dendrologists" or even for landscapers, but for all of us who love trees and want to know more about them.

The book is arranged alphabetically from alder to yew, and each short chapter starts off with a lovely pencil drawing of the leaves of the tree being discussed. Don't pick up Lives of the Trees if you want to know where to plant your ash sapling; you won't find that information here. Instead you'll learn why the ash is sometimes called the widow-maker and the origins of its other names. You'll see what Shakespeare had to say about the tree and discover that some cultures believed ash had magic properties.

From literature to music, religion to politics, trees have played a part in human affairs for millennia. Here are just some of the fascinating tidbits Wells included in the book:
  • Pine: One of the precipitating events of the American Revolution was the British navy's claim to the biggest, straightest northern white pine for masts. One of the first acts of the United States was to ban export of such wood to Britain.
  • Holly: Have you wondered why holly is a common Christmas plant? Its thorns symbolize Christ's crown; its red berries, his blood; and its bitter taste, the Passion.
  • Neem: A native to India, this much-loved tree has so many medicinal uses, it was "sometimes known as the village pharmacy."
  • Quince: The fruit of the quince has been immortalized in poetry, plays, and the Bible. It was also once a common marmalade fruit.
Lives of the Trees is packed with literary references, folklore, and science, and Well's informal writing style makes it a pleasure to read. It's not the kind of book you're likely to read from cover to cover in one sitting; instead you'll probably start off looking up the trees in your yard, and from there dip into the rest of the chapters. The index is nicely organized, so you can easily find all the Shakespeare references or discover which trees were important in Greek mythology.

Diana Wells's Lives of the Trees is a gem of book for the naturalist, historian, and trivia buff in all of us.

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.

Lives of the Trees at Powell's
Lives of the Trees at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Workman / Algonquin Books, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781565124912

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27 September 2012

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts 2

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts are my random notes about books I've read, movies I've watched, books I'm looking forward to, and events I hope to get to.


I've been working hard at editing lately, and that means more audiobooks than print books. My eyes are happy to let my ears take over in the evenings and weekends. I recently finished Rebecca Stead's Liar & Spy. It was my first Stead book, but I'm now adding her to my must-read list. I'll have a full review of the book soon. I'm in the middle of Fall of Giants, which is the initial book in Ken Follett's new Century Trilogy. It begins just before the start of World War I and follows families from a variety of nationalities and social classes. War has just begun, and I don't know yet who will survive.

Some of my most recent reviews for Audiofile magazine are now up on the website. Gail Tsukiyama's A Hundred Flowers is narrated by Simon Vance--need I say more? Another recommended title is The Mirrored World by Debra Dean, read by Yelena Shmulenson. Click the links to read my thoughts.

Print Books

As you know I'm a big supporter of the Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club for middle grade readers. One of the selections this month is the multiple-award-winning Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. This is the story of how a young girl copes with being transplanted from her well-off life in Mexico to working as a farm laborer in California during the Depression. I hope to review this one soon. For book clubs looking for a lighter read, the second selection is the first in Lisa Papademetriou's Confectionately Yours series, Save the Cupcake! Although this cute book includes recipes, its themes of friendship and family offer plenty to talk about. Remember that the book club site includes lots of resources for readers.

In case you missed them, I wrote about Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel (fiction set in New York City), The Fine Color of Rust by P. A. O'Reilly (fiction set in rural Australia), and Aftermath by Rachel Cush (memoir) for the SheKnows Book Lounge. Click the links to read the articles.


We've been catching up on some old TV shows, but took the time to watch the latest Jesse Stone movie, Benefit of the Doubt. If you haven't watched this series, based on the books by Robert B. Parker and starring Tom Selleck, you're missing out.. We also watched We Need to Talk About Kevin, based on the book by Lionel Shriver and starring Tilda Swinton. Not that the movie wasn't good, but it was one that I truly didn't need to see. Creepy and scary--and not in a horror-flick kind of way.

In the Stacks

Three books from this month that I've been dying to read are Emma Straub's Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, about Depression-era Hollywood; Sarita Mandanna's Tiger Hills, historical fiction set in southern India; and Kathleen Alcott's The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, about three childhood friends whose insular world crumbles as they mature. The three novels are completely different, but I'm all about eclectic (one of my favorite words).

What's on your read, watch, listen, or review list?

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25 September 2012

Wordless Wednesday 200

In My Mother's Garden, September 2012

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Guest Post: Dan Stephenson on Swimmers and Food

Yesterday I reviewed Dan Stephenson's debut novel The Underwater Window, which is about two friends and teammates who are hoping to make the U.S. Olympic swim team. Among the many eye-opening details about competitive swimming Stephenson reveals in his book is how hungry the athletes can become as a result of their grueling workouts.

Cover photo credit: Copyright 2012 Ginny Glass and Untreed Reads Publishing.

I asked Dan, who was an elite swimmer, to tell us a little more about the relationship between swimmers and food.
Swimmers and Food—Big Love

Michael Phelps raised some eyebrows in 2008 when he revealed that his training "diet" consists of 12,000 calories a day. That's the approximate calorie content of a small gymnast.

Michael burned off all those calories in the pool, but his revelation left the impression that swimmers eat indiscriminately, like goats—only the volume is important. I suppose I have confirmed this impression in my novel, The Underwater Window. It's a novel about two best friends and competitors in the pool, who both hope to make the Olympic team. But it's also a book that answers the probing questions the general public has about swimming—what do swimmers think about when they swim? Do they wear boxers or briefs? What do they eat? It's not surprising that many of the scenes in The Underwater Window revolve around food. In Chapter 15, Doyle Wilson and five of his teammates gather for Chinese food and a poker game after a particularly grueling practice:

"If you ever have to watch swimmers eat, be prepared to shield your eyes. It's pretty savage. We need fuel, we need a lot of it, and we need it fast. The niceties of etiquette are unimportant to us. We're oblivious to the finer nuances of taste. The six of us tore into the food like it was famine relief. After about 15 minutes, the food was gone. Every scrap, every drop, every grain of rice."

Okay, so swimmers eat fast, and they eat truckloads, but what do they eat? It depends on whether you mean before or after a big meet. After the meet, Doyle's preferred meal is two burgers, fries, and a hot fudge sundae. He dips the fries into the whipped cream on the sundae before munching. This would not make a good pre-race or pre-workout meal—it would reappear in the pool gutter. The post-race indulgence is a treat mostly because it's forbidden during training. So swimmers, who are among the most dutiful of creatures during training, eat what they should—fruits and vegetables, pasta, lean meats and fish—they just eat a lot of it

Then there are old swimmers like me, euphemistically called masters. The hopefulness of that name reminds me of my niece's pet turtle, Speedy. Masters don't swim because somebody makes them; they swim for their own reasons—to stay fit, to meet challenges, to make friends. In my case, I swim because I like to eat, and if I didn't swim, I'd look like I swallowed a bowling ball. In other words, to waterlog a famous quote from Descartes: "I eat, therefore I swim."
Thanks so much, Dan. Your watery Descartes quote made me smile. The men's swim team often had food on their brains, but considering their practice schedule, as you describe it in The Underwater Window, it's no wonder those guys had to fuel up.

I walk four to seven days a week, but if I ate half of what Doyle ate, I'd be as big as house! Of course, he's over a foot taller than I am, so it'd be pretty difficult for me to go bite for bite with him even if I did swim competitively.

Buy The Underwater Window at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Watermark, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780578108049

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24 September 2012

Review: The Underwater Window by Dan Stephenson

At 24, Doyle Wilson is almost too old to be an Olympic contender in swimming, but he has devoted his life to the sport and is not willing to back away from what he sees as his only chance at a moment of greatness. His responsibilities as team captain and his goal of winning a medal in Paris drive him to train harder.

Dan Stephenson's own experiences as an elite swimmer form the basis of his debut novel, The Underwater Window. Although the story is fiction, the details of full-time training and the decisions athletes have to make as their years of peak performance begin to wane are authentic. Swimmers endure an enormous amount of physical pain to squeeze out just another tenth of second, which can mean the difference between being on the podium and being forgotten.

The story of The Underwater Window revolves around the friendship–rivalry between Doyle and Archie, the teammate who beats him most often. Doyle is the kind of guy who works hard, stays focused, and devotes his life to swimming. Yet he is well aware that he needs a fall-back position and that he's likely seeing his last few years in the sport. He stews over training long enough to get to the Paris Olympics, becoming a swimming coach, or accepting his admission into medical school.

Archie, on the other hand, seems to live the life of luck. He breaks training and looks no farther than the next few hours, but he always comes out on top. Deep within, however, he wonders about his obligations to swim and gets annoyed when people tell him not to waste his talents.

The Underwater Window also explores other aspects of being a world-class competitor. For example, although the training, traveling, competing, and camaraderie can give young athletes skills for later life, they also isolate them from their peers. As an elite simmer, Doyle had little time to date, make friends, or just hang out. Other themes are the conflicts that arise from being both an individual swimmer and a team member, the sacrifices made by the athlete's parents, and the mental and physical strength needed to finish a race.

Dan Stephenson's The Underwater Window gives readers an insider's view of what it's like to be an Olympic swimmer, both in the water and on dry land. Cover photo credit: Copyright 2012 Ginny Glass and Untreed Reads Publishing.

Stop by tomorrow for a great guest post from author Dan Stephenson.

Buy The Underwater Window at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Watermark, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780578108049
Rating: B
Source: review (see review policy)
t © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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23 September 2012

Subscription (RSS) Issues and Updates

Out with the old, in with the new. I'm sure you're going to be seeing quite a lot of this kind of post in the next month or so. It seems that the service I was using to distribute my posts to your feed reader (like Google Reader) is going to close soon. Thus I've decided to prepare my blog and you by moving my RSS feed to a new service (FeedBlitz, in case you're curious).

What does that mean? For a while you'll still see my blog in your reader, but eventually it might go away if or when the old service shuts down.

What do you need to do? Click on one of the following icons to resubscribe to my blog. The first one (the familiar RSS icon) will ensure that my blog shows up in your reader. The second one (with the envelope) will send my latest post to your email inbox.

<---- click to subscribe to the RSS feed (posts appear in your reader)

click to subscribe via email (posts are sent to your email inbox) ---->

I know this is a huge pain, but it takes only a second to resubscribe. Thanks so much.

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22 September 2012

Weekend Cooking: Boozy Brunch by Peter Joseph

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, beer, wine, 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. More information at the welcome post.

Here's my question: Is there really anyone who doesn't love brunch? Especially when it's part of a lazy day and involves a drink. Seriously, what's better than a casual meal with family or friends, at home or a restaurant, in the middle of the morning?

I caught my first glimpse of Peter Joseph's Boozy Brunch at BookExpo America (BEA) last June, and one look was all it took. I knew it was a book for me.

First off, I adore Salma Knalil's photography. The photos are taken from fun angles and showcase a terrific collection of glassware. If you could see the photo of the Chocolate Chip and Bacon Pancakes (yeah, you read that right) with the maple syrup dripping down the sides, you'd be in the kitchen right this second. I mean it.

I also love the design of Boozy Brunch, especially the color palette. Earthy colors dominate the coffee and tea drinks, and fiery colors are used for the Bloody Mary variations. Cool blues for tropicals, and golden for Champagne.

It's clear that Peter Joseph is someone you want to know. In a slip of book, he's packed a wealth of knowledge about daytime drinks and indulgent meals all meant to be enjoyed in the most laid-back settings. Yeah, he tells you how to make the flaming garnish for a Ritz Cocktail, but instead of thinking it's pretentious, you really just can't wait to try this out for your best friend . . . on the deck so you don't burn down the house while you both collapse in laughter.

And how's this for pure brilliance: The Bloody Mary Buffet. This is a "make-your-own Bloody Mary spread" so all your friends and family can create individual versions of the perfect, classic daytime drink. It sounds like so much fun that I'm hoping for at least one more warm Sunday so I can invite the neighbors over for a fall deck party.

And no worries about what to serve because Joseph hasn't forgotten that brunch involves food as well as drink. What would I make for that deck party? The Full English Breakfast Quiche, with its pork sausage and mustardy crust and Egg and Cheese Strata, which has got to be the easiest brunch dish ever. I kind of made the Roast Beef Hash last weekend, but I had leftover lamb and a slightly different veggie combo than the recipe Joseph provides, but really this a dish that begs for a "come as you are" invitation: sweet potatoes, warm spices, chopped roast meat all topped with a fried egg.

Peter Joseph's Boozy Brunch is the weekend companion you've been dreaming of. Whether your tastes run toward a Champagne cocktail, a Bartender's Breakfast, or a Salty Dog, you'll find the right match for your kind of Sunday morning.

The perfect drink for that hash I made? I picked the Bloody Marie. What can I say, I saw Pernod, and I came running.

Bloody Marie
1 drink
  • 1½ ounces vodka
  • 3 ounces tomato juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  • Dash Pernod absinthe
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice cubes. Shake well and strain into a racks glass or tumbler with a cube of ice.

Buy Boozy Brunch at an Indie, at Powell's, at Book Depository, or at bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Rowman & Littlefield /Taylor Trade Publishing, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781589796782
Rating: A
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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21 September 2012

Imprint Friday: The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich

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.

In 1998, Louise Erdrich published The Antelope Wife to high praise from readers and from critical reviewers. But three years ago, Erdrich reread the novel and started to think about the characters, wanting to know more about them. The result was a complete reworking of the book, which was published last month.

Here's the publisher's summary:
A new and radically revised version of the classic novel the New York Times called "a fiercely imagined tale of love and loss, a story that manages to transform tragedy into comic redemption, sorrow into heroic survival."

When Klaus Shawano abducts Sweetheart Calico and carries her far from her native Montana plains to his Minneapolis home, he cannot begin to imagine what the eventual consequences of his rash act will be. Shawano's mysterious Antelope Woman has stolen his heart—and soon proves to be a bewitching agent of chaos whose effect on others is disturbing and irresistible, as she alters the shape of things around her and the shape of things to come.

In this remarkable revised edition of her acclaimed novel, Louise Erdrich weaves an unforgettable tapestry of ancestry, fate, harrowing tragedy, and redemption that seems at once modern and eternal.
I'm intrigued with the idea that an author would return to a well-received work and drastically change it. In an interview published in the P.S. section of the new Harper Perennial edition, Erdrich says that only "the beginning [of the novel] is the same, and then the book changes utterly." I haven't read the original, but I'm going to have to find a copy so I can make a comparison.

I am still in the early part of the revised version, but Eridrich has already drawn me into the world of the Roys and the Shawanos, two families who "got tangled up." I'm quickly getting attached to favorite characters, which makes we wonder even more about the original book. In the author's note about the revision, Erdrich makes it clear that she was driven to rewrite The Antelope Wife so she could more fully tell the story of characters who were short changed the first time around

The novel is presented from a variety of view points, a style I almost always like. In this case, we even hear from a dog, who tells us:
A dog's-eye view of history includes certain details that human people might rather skip. I have no illusions. Humans are capable of anything. (p. 73)
Yes, I'm sure the dog is right.

Even if—or maybe especially if—you read the 1998 edition of The Antelope Wife, I encourage you to read the revised version. Erdrich's writing style is beautifully poetic, sometimes sparse, but always vivid.

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 Antelope Wife at an Indie
The Antelope Wife at Powell's
The Antelope Wife at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial ebook edition, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780061767968

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20 September 2012

Giveaway: Mickey Bolitar Series by Harlan Coben

Earlier this year I discovered Harlan Coben's new mystery/thriller series starring Mickey Bolitar. The first book, Shelter, which is just out in paperback, introduces us to Mickey, whose life is spinning a bit out of control. Here are the opening paragraphs:

I was walking to school, lost in feeling sorry for myself--my dad was dead, my mom in rehab, my girlfriend missing--when I saw the Bat Lady for the first time.

I had heard the rumors, of course. The Bat Lady supposedly lived alone in the dilapidated house on the corner of Hobart Gap Road and Pine. You know the one. I stood in front of it now. The worn yellow paint was shedding like an old dog. The once-solid concrete walk was cracked into quarter-size fragments. The uncut lawn had dandelions tall enough for the adult rides at Six. Flags. (p. 1)
I don't know about you, but that passage made me want to keep reading.

One thing about Harlan Coben, he can write an intense, action-packed story that's not all that easy to figure out. And the good news is he doesn't ease up just because his Mickey Bolitar series is geared to a teen audience. In fact, Mickey and his friends find themselves in a few adult situations (a strip club for one), and the bad guys are very, very bad.

As other reviewers have mentioned, one of the pluses about Shelter and Seconds Away (book two in the series) is the fantastic characters. Mickey and his friends have distinct personalities that are consistent and believable, and they stick together, even when things get tough.

The next book in the series, Seconds Away, went on sale this week. It starts immediately where Shelter left off, and Mickey is still in the thick of things. Coben keeps the action and mysteries coming and has definitely sidestepped the sophomore slump. To whet your appetite, here are the opening paragraphs of Seconds Away:
There are moments in your life that change everything. I don't mean little things like, say, what cereal turns out to be your favorite or whether you get into any AP classes or what girl you fall in love with or where you wind up living for the next twenty years. I mean total change. One second your world is one thing, the next--snap!--it is completely altered. All the rules, all the things you accepted about reality, are turned around.

Like, up becomes down. Left becomes right. (p. 1)
Ummmm. Okay. Now I need to know what had been so completely turned on its head. Just in case you need more, take a look at the book trailer:

For information about the series, see the Mickey Bolitar website and Facebook page. For more on author Harlan Coben, check out his website.

The Giveaway

If I've caught your attention, then you're in luck because, thanks to Big Honcho and the publisher, I'm happy to offer one of my readers a fabulous giveaway package. One winner will receive a copy of Shelter, a copy of Seconds Away, and a very cool Mickey Bolitar tote bag.

To enter for a chance to win the Mickey Bolitar prize pack, simply fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner (using a random number generator) on September 30. Once a winner is picked and confirmed, all data will be erased from my computer. Because this giveaway is being handled by the publicist, it is open to only those with a U.S. mailing address. Good luck!

Published by Penguin USA / Speak
ISBN-13: 9780142422038, Shelter (paperback), 2012
Published by Penguin USA / G. P. Putnam's Sons
ISBN-13: 9780399256516, Seconds Away (hardcover), 2012

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18 September 2012

Wordless Wednesday 199

Asters, September 2012

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Guest Post: Nichole Bernier on Blogs and Journals

A couple of weeks ago, I teased you with a passage from Nichole Bernier's debut novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. Yesterday, I reviewed the book. Today, I'm pleased to welcome author Nichole Bernier to Beth Fish Reads as a guest blogger.

As I mentioned yesterday, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. features two women who have husbands and young children. Kate's story is told in a traditional narrative style, but Elizabeth's is revealed through the personal journals she kept for over 26 years.

One of Nichole's readers asked her a very interesting question about keeping journals and using them in a novel set in the 21st century. Nichole address that issue here.

Are Blogs the New Journals?

Shortly after my novel came out in June—it's a portrait of two women, including one revealed through her journals after her death—I got an interesting email from a reader.

She said she hadn’t been sure she would like a book half written in the form of journals but had been grabbed by the point of view: the private side of a woman, in her own words, that made her public self look like a facade.

"No one hears about journals anymore, now that everything is about blogs," the reader wrote. "Were you afraid it would seem dated?"

To be honest, that never occurred to me. Certainly blogs have become enormously popular: personal and professional blogs; hobbyist blogs; blogs about illness, health, and parenting. But have they taken the place of writing people used to keep for themselves privately? In this age of everyone trying to have their platform, are blogs to journals what banks are to money that used to be hidden in mattresses?

It's hard for me to see it that way because blogs are such a different beast from journals. No matter how natural and honest a blog might be, in the end, it’s always written with the consciousness of someone else reading. Blogs can be many things—entertaining, poignant, hilariously embarrassing, informative, cathartic. But even with the most sincere of intentions, blogs have a certain amount of posturing because they're crafted to be seen by others. It's the difference between a candid photo and a portrait.

In my novel, I used journals because I wanted to give voice to a character who was no longer living—and also provide a lifeline to my protagonist left behind, a friend and mother struggling in a post-9/11 world that felt suddenly and precipitously arbitrary. I juxtaposed the two women's storylines to show how they might have had some of the same experiences but perceived them very differently. Friendships passing in the night.

The evolution of blogs has been fascinating for me to watch. Blogs, with their comments boxes and links to one another's sites, are looking for community, perhaps sometimes even crowd-sourcing opinions. But in journals, people are working through questions for insight, alone—essentially asking of themselves, What would the wisest person I know advise me on this? And then digging deep for the answer. It's a conversation with the best part of oneself.

Journals are not everybody's cup of tea. Not everyone processes thoughts and problems by writing them out. But if people who might be inclined to take to blogging, is there no need to keep a journal? Even if it's not the same thing, is it close enough?

Earlier this year, author Chris Bohjalian wrote about this in his newspaper and blog column. He said he didn’t keep a journal because he found these essays scratched that itch for personal expression and synthesizing observations.

"Young writers ask me often if I keep a journal. I don’t," he wrote last February, on the 20th anniversary of his column. "I have notebooks that hold research for my novels, but I have never kept a diary. Why? Because 'Idyll Banter' has been my diary. This column has been where I have tried to make sense of the loss of close pals and parents, and where I have celebrated the wondrous joys of marriage and fatherhood and friendship. Likewise, it has been where I have chronicled the unremarkable but universal moments that comprise every day of our lives. The first snow. The last leaf. The swimming hole. The ice jam. And I have enjoyed it more than you know. This column has been a great gift."

I couldn’t agree more; I feel that way about first-person essays too. They might be my favorite kind of writing. But sometimes when I want to process the big personal things, I put the file on restricted mode and write only for myself. I don't worry about clever phrasing or dangling participles or a good strong concluding line. It's an unshowered-with-a-baseball-hat-on kind of place, where spades are called a spade. And where they had been by my doomed novel character too.
Thank you so much, Nichole. I can imagine it's not easy for journalists who write about their own lives to sort out the many public/private issues. But I think I'm drawn to the personal essay precisely because it straddles that line.

I've always been envious of people who keep private journals because I haven't been able to maintain one myself. When I read The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, I admired Elizabeth's steady commitment to putting her internal thoughts to the page. But I am completely bowled over by Nichole's ability to create an absolutely believable series of journals for her character. Through Elizabeth's writing, we witness a girl mature into an adult.

How about you? Do you keep a journal? If so, is it of the paper-and-pen variety or does it live in your computer?

Nichole Bernier is author of the novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. (Crown/Random House), a finalist for the 2012 New England Independent Booksellers Association fiction award, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men’s Journal. A Contributing Editor for Conde Nast Traveler for 14 years, she was previously on staff as the magazine’s golf and ski editor, columnist, and television spokesperson. She is a founder of the literary blog Beyond the Margins, and lives outside of Boston with her husband and five children. She can be found online at nicholebernier.com and on Twitter @nicholebernier.

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17 September 2012

Review: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

Imagine that one of your good friends was killed in an accident and you found out she bequeathed 26 years of personal journals to you instead of to her husband or young children. You are picked because you're "fair and sensitive and would know what should be done with them"; you're instructed to "start at the beginning."

That's what happened to Kate. Although Kate considered Elizabeth to be a good friend, she was surprised, flattered, and confused at being chosen keeper of the journals. Surprised and confused because the women had in fact known each other only a handful of years, and Kate had moved away more than a year before Elizabeth's death. But flattered that the self-assured, calm, and organized Elizabeth trusted her.

Nichole Bernier's The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. covers seven weeks in the summer of 2002, during which Kate's family is vacationing on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. The story is told from two perspectives: Kate's as she reads the journals, reflects on her own life and marriage, and thinks about the future, and Elizabeth's as she writes her most private thoughts, presumably for only herself.

Bernier is equally adept at the narrative style of Kate's story and the private diary style of Elizabeth's. She does an impressive job keeping the personalities of the two women distinct and presenting their life choices in a way that allows the reader, not the author, to be the judge.

Although Kate and Elizabeth struggle with universal issues (motherhood vs. career, making compromises and sacrifices for children and marriage), the novel moves beyond the usual fare. The focus is not so much on what a person presents to the world but on what she keeps to herself.

Every reader will immediately pick up on the question, How well do you know your friends and spouse? Every mother will wonder about how her family would cope without her. But careful readers will find that Bernier is also exploring other, less obvious issues faced by modern, smart mothers of young children.

One of the principal themes of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. involves dealing with sad or difficult life events. Which is better: to talk about loss and sorrow and troubles or to bury them deep within and hide them behind your smiles? Another is the idea that "with enough will, a person could make herself over any way she chose." This feeds back into that question of how well we can know another person and also makes us wonder just how much a person can truly change. A third theme has do with the meaning of commitment, not just in a love relationship but also among family and friends. Just what are your obligations to another person? To a loved one? Under what circumstances, if any, is it okay to care more about yourself than about your family?

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is clearly an excellent book club pick. Besides the topics I've already mentioned, readers might also want to talk about death, grieving, friendship, parenting, and marriage in the context of the novel and their own lives. Whether you connect with Kate or Elizabeth or to their husbands or to none of them, you'll find a lot to think about and discuss. Nichole Bernier's debut novel will resonate with women of all ages.

Be sure to come back tomorrow when I welcome Nichole Bernier to Beth Fish Reads as a guest blogger. I love Nichole's post and I'm sure you will too.

Buy The Unfinished Life of Elizabeth D. at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Random House / Crown Publishing Group / Crown, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780307887801
Rating: B+
Source: review (see review policy)
t © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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15 September 2012

Weekend Cooking: Introducing Lee Bailey

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, beer, wine, 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. More information at the welcome post.


Let's talk Lee Bailey. No, not the attorney but the cookbook author.

I first discovered Lee Bailey in the 1980s, when he wrote for Food and Wine magazine, among other publications. I always liked his recipes and his sense of style. As other people have noted, "Well before Martha Stewart, Mr. Bailey produced attractive books about how to entertain that drew much of their appeal from making glamorous cooking and presentation seem accessible to the uninitiated" (New York Times).

Unlike Stewart, however, Bailey often gives advice like this:
Puff pastry may be bought ready made in most food specialty shops so there is no recipe for it included here. And, frankly, unless you are a dedicated cook, I don't think it is worth making from scratch. (p. 102, California Wine Country Cooking)
I appreciate a man who recognizes that some things are just fine to buy.

I own three of his books (the ones shown here) and am sorry I didn't pick up more when they were readily available. I did however save many of his magazine and newspaper articles, so I have a decent collection of his recipes. (By the way, I couldn't find good cover images; thus the fuzziness.)

Bailey's books are known for their beautiful photography, not only of the food but of the table settings, rooms, people, and natural surroundings. I love that his cookbooks are arranged by complete menus. Depending on the book and recipes, he also writes about wine choices, the inspiration behind the meal, the right occasion to serve the meal, and so on.

I also like his writing style. Here Bailey is introducing his duck soup meal:
Of course the first thing I thought of when duck soup crossed my mind was the Marx Brothers movie of the same name. You'll probably be relieved to know that this is as far as the comparison goes. Duck soup in no joke. (p. 100, Soup Meals)
I can't lay my hands on Country Weekends, which is probably my favorite of the three (it's buried somewhere in the bookshelves!), so I can't quote from it, but Bailey's style is fairly consistent.

If you wander around used book stores, flea markets, or yard sales, keep your eye out for Bailey's cookbooks. No matter which one you find, I'm sure it will be great.

One of the soup meals I've made many, many times over the years is the Sausage and White Bean Soup Dinner. Here's the menu:
  • Piperade pie ("a tomatoey-eggy Basque dish"; a tart)
  • Sausage and white bean soup
  • Cottage cheese biscuits
  • Fresh figs marinated in lemon
I've never made the figs (though they look yummy), but I've made all the other parts of the meal. Although I'm not a very good biscuit maker, I've had great luck with Bailey's cottage cheese version, so I'll share the recipe here. I agree with his advice to eat them immediately while they're hot. Leftovers can be toasted.

Cottage Cheese Biscuits
Makes approximately 18 biscuits
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) butter, chilled
  • 1½ cups small-curd cottage cheese
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender or two knives until it is the size of small peas. Stir in the cottage cheese all at once.

Drop by generous tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

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14 September 2012

Imprint Friday: I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons

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.

Ecco publishes a number of genres, and I find myself particularly drawn to their books by and about musicians and the music world. Although I have been a fan of Leonard Cohen's from his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), I knew very little about him as a person. Sylvie Simmons's I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen (in stores on September 18) introduced me to a complex, talented, and fascinating man.

Here's most of the publisher's summary:

The legend behind such songs as "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," and "Hallelujah" and the poet and novelist behind such groundbreaking literary works as Beautiful Losers and Book of Mercy, Leonard Cohen is one of the most important and influential artists of our era, a man of powerful emotion and intelligence whose work has explored the definitive issues of human life—sex, religion, power, meaning, love. Cohen is also a man of complexities and seeming contradictions: a devout Jew, who is also a sophisticate and ladies’ man, as well as an ordained Buddhist monk whose name, Jikan—"ordinary silence"—is quite the appellation for a writer and singer whose life has been anything but ordinary.

I’m Your Man is the definitive account of that extraordinary life. Acclaimed music journalist Sylvie Simmons crafts a portrait of Cohen as nuanced as the man himself, drawing on a wealth of research that includes Cohen's personal archives and more than a hundred exclusive interviews with those closest to Cohen—from his lovers, friends, monks, professors, rabbis and fellow musicians to his muses, including Rebecca De Mornay, Marianne Ihlen, Suzanne Elrod and Suzanne Verdal—and most important, with Cohen himself, whose presence infuses these pages. . . .
At the core of Simmons's biography is the chronological account of Cohen's life from his birth in Montreal to his recent worldwide tour. Woven around and through that core are the threads she weaves to show how life events, relationships, spiritual issues, and depression have reflected, influenced, and directed Cohen's writing and music.

That may sound complicated, but from both a reader's and an editor's perspective, the approach works, and works well. Cohen is such a complex person, it'd be near impossible to tell his story as if he had walked a straight, well-marked path. He is a man of dichotomies: both old-fashioned and cutting edge; accomplished poet, novelist, and musician; solitary and private but connects to his audiences; Jewish and Buddhist.

Although Simmons relies on interviews, archives, and other firsthand material, she writes in an easy-to-read narrative style. She often steps back so Cohen himself can take center stage, either as part of their conversations together or through his prose, poetry, and songs. And in this way we get to know the man himself, not just the facts of his life.

Several things stood out to me. First were some of the little-known (at least to me) pieces of Cohen's personality, such as the fact that he's athletic (he played hockey, for example) and has a tendency to wander city streets in the wee hours. I was also fascinated with his spiritual journey, which bridges different religions, customs, and cultures, and how this journey may have helped him overcome his struggles with depression.

Of course I loved reading about Cohen's encounters with fellow musicians, writers, and artists as well as the details of the music world. He was often in the thick of things, living in the Chelsea Hotel at the time when Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, and others made it their home and (years earlier) attending one of Jack Kerouac's poetry readings. I was also happy to learn something about the real people, including Suzanne and Marianne, who appear in Cohen's songs and writings.

Sylvie Simmons's I'm Your Man is well-researched, literary biography that not only sensitively explores the life of Leonard Cohen but takes us back to a prolific and exciting era of music and the arts.

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.

I'm Your Man at Powell's
I'm Your Man at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, September 18, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780061994982

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13 September 2012

Review: Snow White & the Huntsman (Movie)

As many of you know, I love fairy tale retellings, so it was a no-brainer that I was looking forward to seeing the movie Snow White & the Huntsman.

For whatever reason, I missed the movie in the theaters, but now I'm glad I waited because the BluRay, DVD, digital, and UltraViolet Combo Pack of the film was released this week, which contains both the theater edition and the extended version of the movie. The BluRay disc also includes several exclusive special features, for example, "Reinventing the Fairytale" and "The Magic of Snow White & the Huntsman."

The cast is amazing, and a ton of stars appear in the film, such as Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Stewart, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane, and Bob Hoskins. The acting was well done, making the relationships among the characters, especially between Snow White and the Huntsman, believable. The sword fighting and the evil step-mother's magic were pretty intense, but the movie had lighter moments as well.

I loved the sets, which straddled the line between fairy tale and medieval. The forest was appropriately spooky, and the special effects enhanced the fantasy world without pulling you out of the story.

Be aware that this is not the exact same story as told in the animated Disney movie. Snow White & the Huntsman is a grownup reworking of the Brothers Grimm tale. Although the movie retains many of the familiar features, such as the magic mirror and the dwarfs, there are new elements to Snow White's story, which keep the plot fresh.

In the special features on the BluRay disc, the production staff and the cast talk about the development of the screenplay, some of the filming techniques, and the personalities of the characters. All the bonus films are worth watching.

Mr. BFR and I both liked Snow White & Huntsman and are looking forward to the next Snow White movie.

Just in case you don't know how a fairy tale works, Think Jam has provided a terrific guide to help you stay alive. Click on the poster at the right to enlarge it, and you'll learn the seven things you need to avoid as well as what you must seek out if you want to survive long enough to find your happily ever after. Feel free to print yourself a copy so you'll be prepared next time you're chased by an evil queen.

Thanks to Think Jam for the review copy of the film and the graphics in this post.

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11 September 2012

Wordless Wednesday 198

Changing Weather, September 2012

Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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Review: Jack of Fables. Vol. 2: Jack of Hearts by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges

As you know I've been reading and loving Bill Willingham's graphic novel series Fables. The last book I reviewed was Volume 12: The Dark Ages. When discussing that book, I mentioned the post "So You Want to Read Fables?," published over at The Written World. Taking the advice given in that fabulous post, I'm on hiatus from the main Fables series until I catch up with the Jack of Fables books. I reviewed the first Jack book last spring.

Did you follow any of that? If not, don't worry, just ignore that first paragraph.

The Jack of Fables books are all about the guy who is/was Jack the Giant Killer, Little Jack Horner, Jack B. Nimble, Jack who was with Jill, and so on. Earlier in the Fables books, we learn that Jack is quite the renegade, and as a way to control him and punish him for his past transgressions, the Fabletown authorities sentenced him with isolation from the Mundy (our human) world. He, of course, being who he is, escaped. The Jack spin-off books tell his past and present story.

Volume 2: Jack of Hearts collects two tales. In the first, Jack is hiding out in Idaho with John Henry, Pecos Bill, and Alice (of Wonderland fame), all of whom are on the run from Fabletown for one reason or another. To entertain his temporary friends, Jack tells the story of how he became Jack Frost and why he gave up that persona. This story is similar in style to the main Fables books, and I enjoyed it.

In the second tale, Jack travels to Las Vegas because he wants to regain his wealth. While there, he has an unfortunate run-in with Lady Luck and picks up a sidekick, Gary (the Pathetic Fallacy). I won't spoil the book by letting you know whether he comes away rich or poor, but he certainly has some adventures while in Nevada. I was less taken with this part of the book, probably because I'm not all that interested in Jack's wheeling and dealing.

I love the artwork in Jack of Hearts, though, which was created by a team of six artists: Tony Akins, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Lee Loughridge, Daniel Vozzo, and Todd Klein. The scan shows Jack just after he became Jack Frost and contains no spoilers (click image to enlarge it).

Buy Jack of Fables 2: Jack of Hearts at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by DC Comics / Vertigo 2007
ISBN-13: 9781401214555
Rating: B-
Source: bought (see review policy)
t © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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10 September 2012

Review: Need by Carrie Jones

Way back in January 2010, I started Carrie Jones's Need. I even wrote a great "Where Are You?" post and shared a teaser. But I never got past the first chapter or two. I must have gotten swamped with editing assignments and forgot to go back to it.

I took a different approach last week and decided to listen to Need, and I'm so glad I revisited this YA urban (rural?) fantasy.

Ever since her stepfather died--young and unexpectedly--from heart failure, Zara has felt disconnected from life. Her worried mother hopes a change of scenery and new start will help Zara move forward, so she sends her teenager to Maine to live with her (step)grandmother.

Zara, naturally, has mixed feelings: about why her mother sent her away, about enrolling in a new school in October, about making friends, about living in a rural community. The good news is that at least a few kids seem friendly and the running coach is impressed with her speed. Oh, and her grandmother, Betty, even bought her a car.

What's the down side? Snow, cold, constant reminders of her dad . . . howls in the night, voices in the woods, and gold glitter near her car. Zara senses the town has secrets, and she's just about to learn that the north woods can be more dangerous than Southern city streets.

Need is the first in an urban fantasy quartet by Carrie Jones geared to young adult readers (the final book was published this year). Let me say right off, thank goodness Jones has a unique approach to the genre--and I don't mean by writing four books instead of three! First, there are no vampires. Second Zara is not under the control of the cute guy she has her eye on. She is independent, smart, and has a strong will, which sometimes gets her in trouble but also helps her get out of scrapes.

The paranormal creatures in Need are several different kinds of weres and a couple of groups of pixies. These aren't the cute winged pixies who live under toadstools in the garden. Instead, they are strong, pointy-toothed humanlike creatures who are known to kidnap teenage boys when "the need" comes over them. Scary stuff for Zara, who had no idea that the beings of fairy tales could be real.

Although the plot isn't all that difficult to figure out, Need is a great weekend read or listen. I can understand why the novel was an Indie Next pick, appearing on the Winter 2009 Kids' List. In particular, Jones's characters are memorable, well conceived, and multidimensional. There is a little teen romance, but Zara is not defined by her budding relationship with Nick. Neither the teens nor the adults are stereotypical (except for one mean girl), and each has a distinct personality.

In addition, the paranormal elements are internally consistent and believable within the context of the story. Urban fantasy fans will appreciate not only that Jones follows the general rules and concepts of urban fantasy (weaknesses and strengths of pixies, for example) but that she freshens the genre by introducing new (at least to me) concepts as well.

Finally, I'm recommending Need as a book club pick. I couldn't find a reading guide for the novel, but young readers, teachers, and parents will find a lot to talk about. Some of the topics that stood out to me are loss of a parent, family structure (step-parents), friendship, loyalty, moving, bravery, pacifism, phobias, Amnesty International, and teen romance.

As I mentioned, I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Brilliance Audio; 7 hr, 28 min) read by Julian Whelan. Need is told through Zara's perspective, and Whelan did a brilliant job channeling her inner teenager. Her voice is young but not childish, emotional but not over-the-top dramatic. If you're an audiobook fan, I recommend reading this title with your ears.

This review will be linked to Kid Konnection, hosted every Saturday by Julie at Booking Mama.

Buy Need at Powell's, at an Indie, at Book Depository, or at a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Bloomsbury USA / Bloomsbury USA Childrens, paperback December 2009
ISBN-13: 9781599904535
Source: Review (print), bought (audio) (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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08 September 2012

Weekend Cooking: SprinkleBakes by Heather Baird

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, beer, wine, 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. More information at the welcome post.


What happens when an artist takes to the kitchen? You get beautiful desserts that pop with color and design and delight with flavor and aroma. In short, you get Heather Baird, the genius behind the Sprinkle Bakes food blog. Her debut cookbook, SprinkleBakes, was published in May.

One of the first things you notice when you open SprinkleBakes is the absolutely gorgeous photography. From the completed desserts to the close-up details of specific techniques and ingredients, the pictures invite you to sit a while and dream of your next baking adventure.

Then when you turn to the table of contents, you'll see that the cookbook has a unique format. The chapters are not divided by type of dessert but rather by technique or medium.

What does that mean? Well, for example, the section titled "Blank Canvases" contains recipes for undecorated cookies, cakes, and candies. Other chapters and sections provide recipes for icings and toppings as well as decorating techniques that turn a plain dessert into a work of art. So you could make Baird's simple sugar cookie recipe and then turn to a technique chapter to learn how to use a variety of pigments, food colorings, and icings to create such things as postcard cookies with exquisite line drawings and exotic-looking cookies with intricate designs inspired by henna tattoos.

Here are some of my favorite recipes/techniques:
  • Origami cookies
  • A book cake
  • Individual grasshopper pies
  • Beautifully colored free-form lollipops
From front to back, SprinkleBakes is inspiring and a joy to look through. I particularly appreciated Baird's well-written and clear instructions for mastering her techniques and tips for using decorative ingredients. Between the beautiful photography and excellent directions, the cookbook is a great resource for the creative baker.

But now comes a moment of confession. I'd like to think that I'd actually make a stunningly beautiful dessert that required multiple master baker techniques, but the truth is this: I'm pretty much a casual (or should I say lazy?) baker. Don't get me wrong, I like a pretty icing, and I think it's fun to play around when decorating a birthday cake; it's just that I tend to put the bulk of my culinary energy into the meal itself. On the other hand, I can easily picture my artistic niece taking the time to mix the perfect colors to decorate cupcakes to fit a party theme.

If you have an artistic bent or are looking for ways to be more creative in the kitchen, Heather Baird's SprinkleBakes is the cookbook you've been looking for.

Buy SprinkleBakes at an Indie, at Powell's, at Book Depository, or at bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Sterling Publishing / Sterling Epicure, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781402786365
Rating: B
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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07 September 2012

Imprint Friday: The Great Mortality by John Kelly

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.

Today I'm doing something a little bit different. Although John Kelly's The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time was published as a Harper Perennial paperback edition in 2005, I'm featuring it as part of Imprint Friday because the eBook edition was released only last month.

Assuming you need no introduction to the Black Death, which, in just a few years, killed up to 60 percent of people in Europe alone, let's jump right to the publisher's summary.

La moria grandissima began its terrible journey across the European and Asian continents in 1347, leaving unimaginable devastation in its wake. Five years later, twenty-five million people were dead, felled by the scourge that would come to be called the Black Death. The Great Mortality is the extraordinary epic account of the worst natural disaster in European history--a drama of courage, cowardice, misery, madness, and sacrifice that brilliantly illuminates humankind's darkest days when an old world ended and a new world was born.
Like most people who have an interest in medieval history and culture, I have always been fascinated with the plague and how it affected not only Europe but also what is now the UK, Scandinavia, and Russia. As author John Kelly points out, scrutiny of the 14th-century pandemic has recently increased thanks to modern diseases, such as AIDS and SARS, that seem to spread quickly and have a high mortality rate.

In fact, Kelly started researching the plague with the idea of writing about future disease scenarios, but he ended up being fascinated with the history. Kelly took a multipronged approach to his account, discussing politics, economics, the environment, religion, and travel; introducing firsthand reactions as well as literary descriptions; and relying on histories, medical research, and archaeology. Although such a thorough story involves a little repetition and some minor tangents, all in all, The Great Mortality is accessible to the layperson and unforgettable.

Among the things that hit me were how quickly a city could be decimated as well as the vast number of dead. Here is a quote from Boccaccio, who is describing Florence:
"Many dropped dead in the open streets by day and night, . . . whilst a great many others, though dying in their own houses, drew their neighbors' attention to the fact more by the smell of their rotting corpses than by any other means. And what with these and the others who were dying all over the city, bodies were here, there and everywhere." (p. 106)
In England, the mortality rate for two years was about 50 percent; that's every other person. It's almost impossible to grasp.

Jews were particularly hit hard, but not necessarily from the Black Death. Instead, they were blamed for the disease and many were burned to death:
In Nordhausen, Landgrave Frederick of Thuringia-Meisen also had to steel the weak. "For the praise and honor of God and benefit of Christianity," the landgrave admonished a wavering city council, burn the Jews immediately. (p. 257)
According to some sources, within one year all the Jews "between Cologne and Austria" had been burned. All to no avail, of course, as the plague continued to kill Christian clerics and peasants alike.

Kelly also discusses some of the theories that explain the enormity and the virulence of the plague. He notes that the early 1300s was a time of major environmental change, and millions were starving thanks to the cold and rainy summers. In such a weakened state, many people simply had no physical reserves to fight the disease.

Finally, The Great Mortality ends by looking at the long-lasting changes that came out of the plague. As one would expect, the demographic structure of the Old World had been significantly altered by the Black Death, and with it there were changes in fertility rates and in the age at which people married and started families. The plague also brought about new technologies, new economic opportunities, and new sociocultural divisions throughout the affected areas.

John Kelly's The Great Mortality lives up to its subtitle of "an Intimate History" by focusing on how the Black Death affected individuals, as recorded by numerous eyewitness accounts. This readable and vivid history of the plague is sure to leave a indelible impression.

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 Great Mortality at an Indie
The Great Mortality at Powell's
The Great Mortality at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial ebook edition, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780060006938 (paperback), 9780062243218 (eBook)

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