30 October 2012

Wordless Wednesday 209

Brooklyn Bridge, 2012

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Review: Century Trilogy by Ken Follett

Few people can write a good saga like Ken Follett. Because I was huge fan of his cathedral books, which took place in 12th-century England, it was an absolute given that I'd read his new Century Trilogy. And it was sure bet I'd listen to John Lee narrate them.

Rather than try to give you a summary of the 20th century, I'm instead going to talk about Ken Follett's Fall of Giants and Winter of the World in general terms. These are very complex novels (although easy to follow) of the major shaping events of the last century. I'll say right up front that they're wonderful, everything a sweeping saga should be.

Fall of Giants starts at the turn of the last century and focuses on several families and specific people in Russia, Germany, England, and the United States. The characters are from varied socioeconomic classes, have distinct personalities, and individual politics. They are mostly in their teens or 20s, and although representative of types of people, they are not stereotypical.

Thus Follett's core characters span the Western world. Two brothers are trying to survive revolutionary Russia. Two brother-sister pairs in England and Wales are from different sides of the tracks. Both families have strong feelings about politics, social welfare, and upward mobility. In America, we meet rival families from Buffalo, New York: one in politics, one in business. And in Germany, the wealthy von Ulrichs, natives of Berlin, are involved in national politics, local business, and international diplomacy.

These characters--along with their families, friends, and associates--cross paths in tangled ways. Friendships are formed or torn apart thanks to social situations, political divisions, and World War I. No one comes through the turbulent early decades of the century unscathed.

Winter of the World follows these same families, friends, and associates from the 1930s to the late 1940s. As we learn their fates, the story is picked up by their children and other members of the next generation. Using the unique perspectives of his diverse characters, Follett recounts the most important events of those decades: the Spanish Civil War, Hilter's rise, the increasing power of USSR, World War II, the development of the atom bomb, and the Marshall Plan.

Follett is a master at allowing his characters to grow and change, fall in and out of love, make reckless choices, be smart and then be stupid. I had become so invested in the characters that my heart broke as they suffered the horrors of war or the unfairness of their fate. I rejoiced at their weddings and births, and I cried at their deaths. Needless to say, I can't wait for book three.

A brief word about the audio editions. Well, two words: John Lee. Lee's voice is a perfect match for Follett's words, and his wide range of emotions, pitches, and accents help bring the characters to life. Because of the cast of hundreds (see these lists for proof: Fall of Giants; Winter of the World) a strong narrator with extremely consistent vocalizations is needed. Lee nicely rose to the job. Fall of Giants is almost 31 hours and Winter of the World comes in at about 32 hours; both audios were produced by Penguin Audio.

Buy Fall of Giants at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Penguin USA / NAL Trade, 2011; ISBN-13: 9780451232571
Buy Winter of the World at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Penguin USA / Dutton Adult, 2012; ISBN-13: 9780525952923
Source: Bought (Fall of Giants); review (Winter of the World) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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29 October 2012

Review: Stonewylde Series by Kit Berry

When 14-year-old Sylvie begins to develop allergies to almost everything about her London home--the air, the food, and synthetic materials--she eventually ends up in the hospital. There, a sympathetic nurse suggests that Sylvie and her mother, Miranda, move to a closed community in Dorset, where there is plenty of fresh air and organic foods.

Miranda is naturally hesitant to relocate, but once she talks with Magus, the head of the community, she is immediately won over by his charm and generosity. And sure enough, after the pair settles into their cottage in the woods at Stonewylde, Sylvie quickly begins to heal, helped by powerful energy Magus emits.

Although Sylvie is happy in her new home, she doesn't have many friends, until see gets to know Yul, a handsome teen from the village. Unfortunately, Sylvie is told she's part of the manor house and thus cannot mix with the villagers. It is also clear that Magus has an especially deep dislike for Yul and is continually punishing the boy. As Sylvie regains her health and feels her inner strength, she realizes she will eventually be forced to pick sides, but first she has to determine who can be trusted and who has her best interests at heart.

Kit Berry's Stonewylde series is geared to an audience just out of middle grade books. The novels have a strong vein of magic, but that magic is based in folklore and has a pagan-like nature. Standing stones, the earth and sun, and the solstices and equinoxes are important to the people of Stonewylde, who are mostly cut off from modern technology and Western religions. Magus is clearly the man in charge, and he definitely appears to have the personality of a cult leader. Some in the community see only his charisma, whereas others see only his power.

The first book in Berry's series, Magus of Stonewylde, introduces us to the characters and the setting. The story moves at a good pace, and although the plot is somewhat predictable, the premise is fresh enough that it kept my interest. Like Sylvie and her mom, readers will question a lot of what they see at Stonewylde. It's interesting that mother and daughter react in their own ways to Magus and their new home, which increases the tension and affects Sylvie's decisions.

Sylvie and Yul come from totally different worlds, thus they have unique personalities that have been shaped by their backgrounds. You'll be happy to know that they don't fall madly in love at first sight. Their relationship is complicated and has time to develop.

The novel involves power struggles, legends, secrets from the past, and pagan ceremonies. Some of the scenes in the first novel contain lightly veiled references to sex, pregnancy, and menstruation. Child beating and corporal punishment also occur. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the books to any reader over the age of 12, but some parents may be more conservative than I am.

The paperback edition of the second book, Moondance of Stonewylde comes out in November. It starts immediately (as in the next day) after the first book ends. I've only just started reading it, but I can't wait to see what happens to Sylvie, Yul, and the rest of the community. At least two more books in the series will be released in paperback before year's end.

Kit Berry's Stonewylde books are recommended for anyone looking for a fantasy series with good characters that doesn't involve vampires and pointy hats but still preserves an atmosphere of magic. Visions are had, spells are cast, birds carry messages, and standing stones have power.

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

Buy Magus of Stonewylde at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Orion / Gollancz, 2012; ISBN-13: 9780575098824
Buy Moondance of Stonewylde at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Orion / Gollancz, 2011; ISBN-13: 9780575098855
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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27 October 2012

The Kitchen Journal 7

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.


I've been busy with work and haven't had time to do sit down and read a book of food writing or to relax with a new cookbook. I have, however, been cooking and drinking.

Wine: We've been having fun trying new wines. Our strategy is to go to the liquor store and buy what's on sale, taking our chances. Two new-to-us wines that we enjoyed are Stemmari Nero D'Avola Sicilia 2010 and Parker Station Pino Noir 2009. The Stemmari had mild tannins and nice fruit flavor. But I need to warn you that this seems to be an inconsistent vintage, because the second bottle wasn't as good as the first. The Parker Station had spicy notes and maybe cherry. We found it light and tasty.

Fruit and vegetables: It's full-on apple season here and I've made several pints of applesauce to stock the freezer. I plan to make apple crisp this weekend and dried apples next weekend (I have a dehydrator). In sad news, I've picked up my last CSA basket of the year. We got plenty of root vegetables and squash to last a few weeks, but I always hate having to return to the grocery store.

Cookbooks, Food Writing: I have a small stack of foodie books I'm looking forward to reviewing. Three on the very top of the list are Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever, Bitter Brew by William Knoedelseder, and Risotta with Nettles by Anna Del Conte. The first is a cookbook that concentrates on (duh) vanilla. I'm learning a lot and will share in a few weeks. Bitter Brew is about the rise and fall of Anheuser-Busch and Risotto with Nettles is a memoir by a well-known British cookbook author. Both look really good and I can't wait to dig in.

Baking: Recently we had a craving for something sweet, but I was feeling a bit lazy. Then I remembered this easy treat that is tasty and quick to put together (if you ignore the time for cooling). I found this years ago when a friend of mine discovered that she was gluten sensitive. You'll see that it calls for peanut butter, which I can no longer eat (drat late-life allergies). I make it with Sunbutter, a peanut butter substitute. I bet it's even better with the real thing. Unfortunately, I didn't save the source for this recipe. And I think I must have had an extra glass of wine that night because all my photos were blurry or otherwise unusable. Ooops!

Surprise Bars
  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
Preheat the oven to 350F. Mix the oats, sugar and butter in a large bowl. Press into a 13 by 9-inch baking sheet with 1-inch sides. Use an off-set spatula, your hands, or a rolling pin to fill the pan and even out the mix. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until just golden brown. Let cool completely.

Melt the chocolate chips and peanut butter together and mix well. Spread on the cooled cookie base and chill in refrigerator until the topping hardens. Cut into whatever size squares you'd like.

These freeze well.

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26 October 2012

Imprint Friday: The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

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.

When I first read the description of Karen Engelmann's The Stockholm Octavo, I was attracted by the setting, the time period, and the hint of occult. I couldn't wait to start reading.

Before I say more, take a look at the publisher's summary:
Life is close to perfect for Emil Larsson, a self-satisfied bureaucrat in the Office of Customs and Excise in 1791 Stockholm. He is a true man of the Town—a drinker, card player, and contented bachelor—until one evening when Mrs. Sofia Sparrow, a fortune-teller and proprietor of an exclusive gaming parlor, shares with him a vision she has had: a golden path that will lead him to love and connection. She lays an Octavo for him, a spread of eight cards that augur the eight individuals who can help him realize this vision—if he can find them.

Emil begins his search, intrigued by the puzzle of his Octavo and the good fortune Mrs. Sparrow's vision portends. But when Mrs. Sparrow wins a mysterious folding fan in a card game, the Octavo's deeper powers are revealed. For Emil it is no longer just a game of the heart; collecting his eight is now crucial to pulling his country back from the crumbling precipice of rebellion and chaos. Set against the luminous backdrop of late eighteenth-century Stockholm, as the winds of revolution rage through the great capitals of Europe, The Stockholm Octavo brings together a collection of characters, both fictional and historical, whose lives tangle in political conspiracy, love, and magic in a breathtaking debut that will leave you spellbound
The Stockholm Octavo is one of those novels that cannot be easily described. Nothing in Emil Larsson's world is what it seems, people have hidden depths, and the most unlikely characters are entangled in national events. Karen Engelmann creates an atmosphere of secrecy and mystery, mixing a bit of occult with the facts of history.

The novel revolves around Mrs. Sparrow's casting of Larsson's Octavo, which is a kind of tarot card reading. Instead of telling someone's fate, however, Mrs. Sparrow's version identifies eight people who will help the Seeker meet his or her goals. These people are initially defined by their roles: Companion, Teacher, Prisoner, and so on. It is up to the Seeker to figure out who each person is, using the clues given in the cards. Once started on the path of the Octavo, the Seeker is obligated to see it through.

According to Mrs. Sparrow's vision, Larsson is seeking love and connection. Presumably the people in his Octavo will play some role in his reaching that goal. The only problem is that everything about the Octavo is twisty. For instance, the Companion may be Larsson's love but could also be the person who helps Larsson connect with his love. The Companion may be a giver or a taker or even a welcome friend or an unshakable enemy. As another example, the Prisoner may need to be let free or perhaps is now free and needs to be ensnared. So not only does Larsson—and the reader—need to identify his Octavo but he also needs to determine who is good and who is evil.

Karen Engelmann develops The Stockholm Octavo carefully and along winding streets. We get hints of who each person in Larsson's Octavo will be, but, like Larsson himself, we sometimes jump to wrong conclusions. Mixed up in Larsson's quest and his group of eight is the fate of King Gustav III and the future of the county.

Engelmann rounds out the plot by adding interesting details about 18th-century Sweden, such as politics, the royal family, entertainment, and different occupations. Each character is unique and provides his or her own perspective on Larsson's life.

Be prepared: once you enter the world of the Octavo, you will not want to leave until you've figured out the role of each character and learned Emil Larsson's fate. With its complex world and fascinating characters, The Stockholm Octavo will appeal to readers who like mysteries, historical fiction, and great storytelling.

What to learn more? Start with Karen Engelmann's blog, which has maps, photographs, and other information about The Stockholm Octavo. Engelmann has given a number interviews; the best is a CBS "Author Talk" segment with Jeff Glor. For print interviews, see the Wall Street Journal's "Speakeasy" column and Sir Read-A-Lot blog. Other reviews can be found at Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, and Salon.

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 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.

Buy The Stockholm Octavo at an Indie or a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, October 23, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780061994982

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25 October 2012

Review: One Good Deed by Erin McHugh

On the eve of a fifty-something birthday, Erin McHugh realized that she had gotten away from her habit of volunteering, being an activist, and organizing events, and she was beginning to feel the hole in her life. Her solution was to try to do one little thing each day that could make a difference. From that idea, came her blog, and from her blog, came her new book, One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying to Be Just a Little Bit Better.

Let me be honest from the start. I wanted to read One Good Deed because I like Erin. I don't actually know her, but I've been a Twitter friend (@ErinHere) for a few years, and I always like what she has to say. At the same time, I was a bit hesitant. I don't mesh well with books that are meant to be inspiring.

I'm so happy that my fears were for naught. First, Erin's style is not preachy. In fact, as I read each daily entry in One Good Deed, I felt as if we were sitting across a booth from each other, sipping coffee (or eating ice cream!) and having a quick catch-up. Erin writes in a light, airy, conversational style that made it easy for me to keep reading and made me curious to see what the next day would bring.

Second, Erin's good deeds are really just little things we all can and probably should be doing every day. And, now that I think about it, most of us are already doing at least one good deed every single day. What Erin has done is to make us conscious of them so that we can act in a more mindful way.

Here are some of the good deeds I remember:
  • Say thank you.
  • Give up a seat on the bus.
  • Be a good tipper.
  • Help that last customer even though you've already clocked out.
  • Listen to a friend, even when you're tired.
  • Hold the elevator.
  • Give directions to a stranger.
  • Take a bug outside instead of killing it.
I was also thankful that Erin recorded the days (there were just a couple) that she stayed home, watched TV, and, well, didn't really do a good deed at all. I'm happy to know she's human.

Read Erin McHugh's One Good Deed for yourself and give a copy to a friend. And even though it's only October, I'm recommending it as a great Christmas gift or as a Thanksgiving or New Year's Eve host/hostess gift. Little acts add up, and what better time to be reminded of this than now, as we head into the holiday season.

Buy One Good Deed at an Indie or at a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Published by Abrams / Abrams Image, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781419704178

Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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23 October 2012

Wordless Wednesday 208

Red Leaves, October 2012

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Review: 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass (Plus Feature)

Remember earlier this summer when I introduced you to the Scholastic Mother Daughter Book Club for middle readers? I'm committed to featuring or reviewing all the books selected for this club because I think Scholastic has picked winning titles that have broad appeal..

Don't forget that the Scholastic book club site includes more information about the books, recipes, reading guides, and contests. The resources are perfect for book clubs, teachers, homeschoolers, and any one who wants to get more out of reading books with middle grade readers.

The first selection for October is 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. This is a light and funny story about Amanda Ellerby's eleventh birthday. Amanda was looking forward to her birthday party, even if this was going to be the first time she ever had her very own celebration. Last year, her best friend and birthday twin, Leo Fitzpatrick, wasn't very nice to her, and Amanda has been avoiding him ever since. Until this year, they've always had a joint party.

From the moment she wakes up, Amanda's birthday seems off to a rocky start: her dad has a cold, she forgot her school lunch, and her big sister is in a crabby mood. Plus Amanda's worried that her friends will be going to Leo's party instead of hers because his parents hired a band. When her own party that night turns out to be a dud, Amanda can't wait to go to sleep and begin a new day.

But when she wakes up in the morning it's not Saturday! To Amanda's confusion and fear, she's forced to live out her birthday again and again. Will she ever figure out a way to get back in sync with time?

Of course, you've immediately seen the similarity to the movie Groundhog Day, but Amanda's story is geared to young readers and incorporates some different themes. Amanda and Leo (who is also stuck in time) must research town lore, understand that there are consequences to their actions, learn that friendships have their ups and downs, and find some inner strength before they can wake to a new day.

I just couldn't help falling for Amanda. Author Wendy Mass clearly remembers what it's like to be a preteen, caught between being a little kid and an official teenager. Most girls will be able to relate to Amanda and her friends and will laugh at some of their antics.

The ten discussion questions over at the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site are sure to start some good conversations. And the apple cupcake recipe is a perfect choice for Amanda and Leo (you'll have to read the book to know why).

The second selection this month is Emily Rodda's The Golden Door, the first book in the Three Doors Trilogy. This is the story of Rye who must find a way to save his brothers who are trapped outside the safety of the city's wall. I've only just begun the book, but I love fantasies and can tell this will be a big hit with middle grade readers who like action, mysteries, myth, and fanciful creatures. The book is broken up by small (and widely scattered) black-and-white graphics of maps, signs, letters, and scrolls, which helps draw us deeper into an already engaging story.

The discussion questions on the book club site have to do with finding one's courage and paying attention to one's instincts. There are also themes of learning cooperation, the strength of family, and figuring out puzzles. The recipe for this book is honey cheesecake squares, which Rye's mother may have made her sons.

I can't wait to finish The Golden Door; I love fantasies that involve quests and myth. Plus Rye and his family are easy to root for because Emily Rodda's characters are so well developed. In addition, as Publishers Weekly pointed out, Rye's journey is not one of a higher calling but more of a personal mission to find the brothers he loves.

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

Buy 11 Birthdays at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Scholastic Press, 2009; ISBN-13: 9780545052399
Buy The Golden Door at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Scholastic Press, 2011; ISBN-13: 99780545429900
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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22 October 2012

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (the Movie)

So you think the know the story of Honest Abe, rail-splitter, country lawyer, president, and orator? History, however, tends to forget the details, the true story of Lincoln's skill with an ax and the underlying war he spearheaded, not only with the South but with . . . vampires!

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, starring Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, and Dominic Cooper and based on Seth Grahame-Smith's novel of the same title, tells the alternate-history, paranormal version of Lincoln's rise to power and the reason for his ultimate assassination.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what I was going to think about the movie, but when given the opportunity to review it, my curiosity got the better of me. I'm so glad I took the chance; the movie was both enjoyable and intense. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire  Hunter is less about vampires and more about big-action scenes, Lincoln, and terrific special effects.

One of the best parts of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire  Hunter was the way the writers wove the facts of history into the story, giving them a new slant. For example, I loved the retelling of Gettysburg and Pickett's Charge, and I'll never think of that battle in the same way again. The movie is well acted, and the settings, effects, and costumes help set the mood and boost the action.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire  Hunter is a good choice for the Halloween season, and home viewers can pick up the DVD, BluRay, and/or 3-D versions on disc tomorrow. The special features on the discs include the following:
  • The Great Calamity Graphic Novel
  • Audio Commentary with Writer Seth Grahame-Smith
  • The Making of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
  • On the Set: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
  • The Art of Transformation: Make-Up Effects
You'll also find commentary, a music video, and more. Grab a bowl of popcorn, turn down the lights, and get ready for a fun night of the hidden history of one of America's greatest presidents.

Thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Think Jam for the review copy.

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20 October 2012

Weekend Cooking: How to Love Wine by Eric Asimov

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.

It's no secret that I love wine and that Mr. BFR and I drink a glass almost every night. Am I a wine expert? Not even close. Do I know something about wine? Maybe a little bit. So what do I know? I know what I like.

I imagine that at this point you're probably recalling that old art joke. Fortunately, Eric Asimov, wine writer for the New York Times, just might back me up. In his memoir, How to Love Wine, Asimov reassures us that, when it comes to wine, the most important thing is personal taste.

Asimov laments:
Many people have come to believe that they cannot enjoy wine unless they are already knowledgeable, and so deny themselves the pleasurable experiences that would allow them to gain confidence. Instead of a joy, for many people wine has become a burden. (p. 3).
How to Love Wine is not a buying guide, nor does it contain a checklist of the top ten wines to have in your cellar. Instead, Eric Asimov talks about how he went from beer-drinking teen to chief wine critic for the New York Times. (By the way, he is quick to point out that not only is he the chief wine critic but he's the only wine critic and has no staff.)

In this enjoyable and personal story, Asimov shares his opinion on a variety of wine-related topics, such as wine regions, wine vocabulary, blind tastings, growers, writers, and reviewers. His style is casual, easy to read, and never snooty.

In a nutshell, Asimov asserts that learning to love wine is a matter of experience and individual preferences. He suggests that we try a variety of wines, write down which ones we like and why, and go forth and try some more. If you're lucky enough not to live in my state of Pennsylvania, Asimov recommends another terrific avenue. Find a good wine store where the staff is respectful and knowledgeable. Ask them to make up a mixed case within your budget, and go home and drink. Create, as Asimov calls it, your own home wine school.

Of course, Asimov has plenty of other advice and is free with his opinions about the current wine culture. He also talks about his education, his travels, and his early days as a journalist. Two of my favorite parts of the memoir were his thoughts about wine tastings and ratings and his discussion of what he calls the "arc of discovery" along the path to wine appreciation.

If you're like most people, you've been intimidated by wine at least at some point. Thank goodness for chief wine critic Eric Asimov. In How to Love Wine, he reminds us that
no special physical characteristics or equipment are required to love wine. . . . You simply require an open mind, a sense of curiosity, and an awareness that learning about wine is an act of volition, not of obligation. The aim is pleasure and joy, not status, not connoisseurship, and certainly not wealth. (p. 11)

The truth is that wine can be one of the simplest pleasures available to anybody: Pour beverage into glass, drink, enjoy. That's 90 percent of it right there! Anybody can do that, right? (p. 127)
Pick up a bottle--red or white, sweet or dry--pour a glass, and settle in with Asimov's "memoir and manifesto." You'll quickly become a fan of Asimov's while gaining a newfound wine confidence.

Buy How to Love Wine at an Indie or at bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Published by HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780061802522
Rating: B+
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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19 October 2012

Imprint Friday: Harvest by Richard Horan

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.

If you've never lived on a farm, you probably have little idea of what it takes to harvest crops on a big enough scale to make a living from it. During the growing season of 2011, Richard Horan decided to find out just what's involved with bringing in the harvest on family-owned American farms. Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America's Family Farm tells the story of what he learned.

Here's the publisher's summary:
Novelist and nature writer Richard Horan embarked on an adventure across America to reveal that farming is still the vibrant beating heart of our nation. Horan went from coast to coast, visiting organic family farms and working the harvests of more than a dozen essential or unusual food crops—from Kansas wheat and Michigan wild rice to Maine potatoes, California walnuts, and Cape Cod cranberries—in search of connections with the farmers, the soil, the seasons, and the lifeblood of America.

Sparkling with lively prose and a winning blend of profound seriousness and delightful humor, Harvest carries the reader on an eyeopening and transformational journey across the length and breadth of this remarkable land, offering a powerful national portrait of challenge and diligence, and an inspiring message of hope.
Richard Horan got the idea of taking part in America's harvest after listening to a radio show in which United Farm Workers president, Arturo Rodriguez, asked that more Americans apply for farm labor jobs. But Horan didn't want to work for mass-commercial organizations and didn't want to commit to the possibility of being involved in labor union politics. Instead, he decided to volunteer on small farms to learn about 21st-century harvesting methods.

After planning his travels around the harvest schedule and getting permission from the farm owners, Horan worked out a plan that took him to 10 farms and 8 states from July to October 2011. He followed the growing seasons of such diverse crops as wheat, rice, blueberries, tomatoes, and walnuts.

Horan writes in a very conversational style, even addressing his readers directly at times. This makes Harvest easy to read and engaging. For each farm visit, we meet the owners and crew, learn the methods of that particular harvest, eat a meal or two, and get a sense of the farm's environment.

Based on Horan's profiles, it's clear that today's farmers cannot be stereotyped and that they are hardly isolated from the greater world around them. Some are activists, some are conservative, and all are hardworking.

Horan's experiences as a laborer were also varied. Although his harvesting stints were mostly positive, everything was not always wonderful. Some crews were standoffish, he missed out on harvesting grapes, and some of the offered living conditions made him uncomfortable (at one point he opted to check into a hotel instead of using a dusty, buggy cabin and outhouse).

The best part of Harvest is getting a glimpse of the 10 farms, learning the different techniques of harvesting, and meeting the people. Some of the environmental concerns Horan outlines were also interesting, especially the legal issues that organic, traditional, and small farmers are having with Monsanto in terms of seeds and GMO products.

Unfortunately, Horan's farm visits were very short. After all, he was there specifically to bring in a particular crop, and that meant he was in the fields for only a few days (or so it seemed) at each place. Thus we don't get a full feel of the rhythm of the growing season and lack a wide-angle perspective of modern farm life. Horan doesn't downplay his own political views, so depending on where you stand, you may be fascinated or frustrated by some of what he writes.

The trademark PS section of this Harper Perennial edition contains photographs of the farms and excerpts from questionnaires that the host farmers filled out, providing more details about the people Horan met during his summer as a field laborer.

Richard Horan's Harvest is a good jumping-off place for anyone who is curious about modern-day small farms all across America. By the time you finish the book, you'll be grateful for the people who work hard to grow your food, and you'll also understand how much today's small farmers value their land and their way of life.

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.

Harvest at an Indie
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Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780062090317

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18 October 2012

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts 3

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 listened to an eclectic group of audiobooks over the last few weeks. And as  I was writing this post, I realized I never reviewed Fall of Giants, which I really loved. At this point I think I'll just add it to my review of Ken Follett's Winter of the World (Penguin Audio), which I'm listening to now. I also need to review My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher (Hachette Audio) I have mixed thoughts about the story, but liked the narration.

I wrote about other recent audiobooks for AudioFile magazine and the SheKnows Book Lounge, click on the links, for the reviews. Narrator Todd Haberkorn did an outstanding job on Kiana Davenport's The Spy Lover (Brilliance Audio). Molly Ringwald kept my attention during her reading of Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins (AudioGo). The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon (AudioGo) was beautifully read by veteran narrator Cassandra Campbell. And don't miss Libba Bray's The Diviners (Listening Library) and the award-winning narration by January LaVoy.

Print Books

I'm currently in the middle of two print books, and both involve mystery. I'm going to blame my current craving for mysteries and thrillers on Halloween season. I first learned about Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal (Bantam Books) at the book club session at BookExpo America (BEA). This is the second in a series that takes place in Europe during World War II. I like the strong female lead as well as the time period. I'm also reading and enjoying the latest in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died a Lot (Viking). I plan to hold an international giveaway for a hardcover copy of this title in a few weeks.

For the SheKnows Book Lounge, I recently wrote about All Gone by Alex Witchel (Riverhead Books), which is about her mother's early-onset dementia. Louise Erdrich's The Round House (Harper) is an emotional coming-of-age story that shouldn't be missed.

Movies and TV

Our Sunday nights have gotten out of hand. I've become the master of the DVR, On Demand, and other television scheduling. We're watching Dexter, Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, and whatever is on PBS's Materpiece. Mr. BFR watches 666 Park Avenue, but I think it's too scary for me. Five shows plus the political debates means there isn't a lot of time for movies. On top of all that, we've also recently started watching season 1 of Revenge on Netflix streaming. The only movie we've seen in the last couple of weeks is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer; I'll have a review up next week.

In the Stacks

All three books at the top of my stacks this week seem like intense stories, perfect for long, dark evenings. Michael Robotham's Say You're Sorry (Mulholland Books) is a mystery about two missing teenaged girls who may or may not be dead. It's Fine by Me (Graywolf Press), the latest Per Petterson, is also about a teen, in this case a troubled boy is trying to find his way in a rough world. Dennis Lehane's new novel, Live by Night (William Morrow), takes us to the Roaring Twenties, complete with bootlegging and corrupt police.

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

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16 October 2012

Wordless Wednesday 207

October Sky at Evening

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

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Review: Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris by Marissa Moss

Mira's mother has gone missing. Her dad called the police, but there has been no trace of Mom for months, and no ransom notes have shown up either. Then one summer day, an antique postcard from Paris arrives in the mail. To Mira's surprise, it's from her mom; unfortunately, Mira, Malcolm, and their dad don't understand Mom's cryptic message.

The good news is that Dad has a year-long grant to travel around the world photographing famous man-made structures, and he's taking the kids with him. The first stop is Paris, where they hope to find Mom.

While touring Nortre Dame, Mira finds herself irresistibly drawn to a gargoyle. As soon as she touches it, she's whisked back to 1881! After accepting the help of cute boy, who just happens to be an apprentice to Degas, Mira discovers another note from her mother--who is stuck in 1881--which explains that time-traveling is genetic and lists several important rules Mira must follow.

The worst rule is that Mira and her mother must not touch or talk to each other, and the most confusing rule is that Mira must discover why she's been called back in time and must complete her tasks before returning permanently to 2012. Can Mira figure out what she's supposed to do? More important, will she find a way to get back to the 21st century?

Marissa Moss's Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris, is a fun story for middle grade readers full of mystery and history. Youngsters will learn about the famous French Impressionists, antisemitism, and the Dreyfus Affair. Moss's informal writing style and charming charcoal (pencil?) drawings make Mira's story easy to read and keeps the plot moving forward.

Mira, a junior high student, is a great character, who's smart and full of spunk. She's easy to relate to because she isn't a know-it-all and she isn't always brave. Plus she gets herself into some scrapes when she tries to come up with quick stories to explain her sudden disappearances every time she stumbles across a time-portal touchstone.

At the back of the book, Moss provides an author's note for readers who want to know more about late-19th-century Paris. Book clubs, homeschoolers, and teachers will appreciate the short bibliography, which offers a starting point for a more in-depth study of the time period.

Although Lost in Paris ends on a satisfying note, the last page hints that there are more time-traveling adventures to come.

Giveaway: Thanks to the publishers, I'm able to offer one of my readers (U.S. or Canadian mailing address only) a copy of Marissa Moss's Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris. All you have to do to enter for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner, via random number generator, on October 26. I'll delete all personal information as soon as a winner is confirmed. Good luck.

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

Buy Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris at an Indie or at a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Published by Sourcebooks / Jabberwocky, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781402266065

Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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15 October 2012

Review: The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye

In 1890s, the northwest shore of Lake Superior was still virtually wilderness, where Scandinavian immigrants and Ojibwa eked out a living by trapping and fishing. By the end of the century however, opportunists and loggers had made their mark on Gunflint, Minnesota, creating a patchwork community of disparate individuals.

Peter Geye's second brilliant novel, The Lighthouse Road, is set at time when people could still start over and when it was possible to live in a half-blind world that kept its open secrets close. Through vivid characterizations and poetic descriptive prose, Geye explores dualities, especially in family, love, truth, and personal history.

At the center is Hosea Grimm who calls himself an apothecary, midwife, surgeon, and dentist. His background is an enigma, but he appears resourceful and knowledgeable, winning the town's trust. Yet before he sets up shop in Gunflint, he goes to Chicago to acquire a 13-year-old daughter, Rebekah, to solidify his image as a family man. Thus from the start we see Grimm as both savior and enslaver of his domain.

A few years after the Grimms settle into Gunflint, they take charge of baby Odd, who was orphaned just weeks after his birth. From this nucleus, the story spins through time, stopping in the past and present, until we begin to see the characters whole, with all their flaws exposed.

The Lighthouse Road begs for discussion but must first be experienced straight from Peter Geye. I have lists of themes I want to write about, but after hours of struggling, I realize there is no way to discuss blind-eye disease, lies, fresh starts, the possibility of unconditional love, survival, trust, independence, hope, and changing perspectives without talking about the novel almost line for line.

What I can talk about is Geye's incredible talent at creating characters. The people of Gunflint are so fully formed that not only do I understand what motivates Rebekah's decisions but I have a feel for the level-headedness and kindness of the town lawyer, although we meet him only a few times. In addition, the sights and sounds of the rugged, male-dominated north woods of the last century are permanently engraved in my mind, as are private moments of Odd's life:
He wasn't expecting to see her inside but was glad when he did. Sitting under the open window, in the guttering candlelight, her hair down the way he liked. There she was. He stood in the dark corner of the fish house looking at her, she looking back. Neither spoke. It occurred to him, as he untied his boot laces and kicked them off, that candlelight was doing the same work inside that the lightning had been doing out: throwing just enough light to lead him where he needed to be. (p. 15; uncorrected proof)
Peter Geye's The Lighthouse Road is a beautifully written, stunning novel of self-preservation, secrets, and the ache for love. Geye's work is unforgettable and will be read for generations to come.

Buy The Lighthouse Road at an Indie or at a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Published by Unbridled Books, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781609530846

Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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13 October 2012

Weekend Cooking: Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton Hachisu

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.


I first fell in love with Japanese food when I lived in Hawaii a few decades ago. That's also where I quickly learned there was difference between what was commonly served in restaurants and what I ate at friends' houses. Restaurants (in those days) prided themselves on elaborate presentations, fancy techniques, and expensive ingredients.

Friends, on the other hand, often made noodle dishes, pickled vegetables, or grilled meats, simply prepared, full of flavor, and informally served. But of course we were all in our 20s and were living on grants or teaching assistantships.

In 1988, Nancy Singleton Hachisu, a Californian, moved to Japan "for the food but stayed for love." She met a Japanese farmer, accepted his marriage proposal, and now lives on an organic farm in a traditional Japanese farmhouse with him and their children. In Japanese Farm Food, Hachisu shares the story of her acclimation to her unexpected life, from discovering artisanal charcoal to watching shishimai (the lion dance), from her trips to the fishmonger to walking her fields, and from picking vegetables to working in the kitchen. Tucked between the recipes and the stunning photographs of Japan, the markets, the fields, and the food, Hachisu invites us to stop a moment to share some of these experiences with her.

Japanese Farm Food, however, is more than a memoir; it is also a very accessible cookbook. But the cookbook part is a little deceptive. By that I mean, my first reaction was to love the book for the information, photos, and narrative, but I paid little attention to the recipes. It was only on the second look that I realized just how many dishes call to me.

If you are unfamiliar with Japanese food and ingredients, you'll want to spend some time reading the early chapters, which cover the pantry, kitchen tools, and cooking techniques. Then turn to the back of the book, where you'll find a glossary, charts, resources, and more. Although Hachisu calls for some exotic-sounding items, like dried seaweed and chili-infused sesame oil, don't be put off. Even in my small town I can find most of these items at the supermarket and the rest at the health-food store. As always, my weak link is the seafood; we just don't have access.

The chapters are arranged in a logical way from appetizers and soups to noodles, vegetables, and meats, ending with sweets. My favorite sections are those concentrating on noodles and rice, the vegetables, and meat. On the other hand the ice creams, cordials, and dipping sauces look pretty good too.

Many of the recipes are very simple to make and call for just a few ingredients. For example, Zucchini Coins with Roasted Sesame, Turnip Greens with Soy Sauce, and Foil-Wrapped Broiled Salmon with Butter all have short ingredient lists and easy directions. Most of the dishes are foods for everyday meals, such as simple soups and grilled meats. However, let me be clear that I'd serve anything in Japanese Farm Food to company; the food is visually appealing and full of flavor.

For each recipe, Hachisu provides a personal story, the history of the recipe, or maybe a note about the ingredients. When appropriate, she offers variations, tips, storage information, and serving ideas.

I recommend Nancy Singleton Hachisu's Japanese Farm Food to a large range of cooks and readers. The narrative text will appeal to anyone who likes memoir, travel writing, and/or food writing. Cooks interested in Japanese cooking, simple cooking, Asian flavors, and organic and farm-fresh foods won't want to miss this book. Finally, vegetarians will find many dishes perfect for their diet and others that can be easily tweaked without losing flavor. Vegans should look through the book before they buy; I'm less confident about how useful this book will be for them.

For more about the author, follow her on Twitter or visit her website, where you can see some lovely photographs and check out her tour schedule. You can also find some recipes.

There are quite a number of recipes from the book I'd like to try, but I think this simple stir-fry might be near the top of my list.

Stir-Fried Celery and Red Pepper with Soy Sauce
Serves 6
  • 2½ tablespoons best-quality rapeseed or light sesame oil
  • 3 small dried red peppers, torn in half
  • 5 cups (2250 cc) 1¾-inch (4-cm) julienned celery
  • 2½ tablespoons organic soy sauce
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add the peppers and cook until bright red. Turn the heat up to high and dump in the julienned celery. Toss several minutes over high heat, until the celery has lost its raw quality but still has a bit of crunch. Do not cook to the point where the celery is completely translucent. Throw in the soy sauce and toss for a couple of seconds to let the celery soak up the flavor. Serve in a medium-size bowl as a before dinner appetizer that stays on the table through the meal.

Buy Japanese Farm Food at an Indie or at a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Published by Andrews McMeel, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781449418298

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

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12 October 2012

Imprint Friday: The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro

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.

Some books defy your attempts to skim a little to see if you might be interested. B. A. Shapiro's The Art Forger is just such a novel. Before I finished the first couple of paragraphs, I was already imagining the stacked canvases, misshapen tubes of oils, and smell of turpentine that are so prominent in Claire Roth's art studio / home in Boston's SOWA district.

For a few brief paragraphs Claire is still innocent, free from the devil's pact that will test her talents and threaten her soul. Then hints of what's to come infiltrate the story, and before I knew it, I was on chapter 17.

Here's the publisher's summary:
On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

Claire makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer. Desperate to improve her situation, she lets herself be lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—one of the Degas masterpieces stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when the long-missing Degas painting—the one that had been hanging for one hundred years at the Gardner—is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.

Claire’s search for the truth about the painting’s origins leads her into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life. B. A. Shapiro’s razor-sharp writing and rich plot twists make The Art Forger an absorbing literary thriller that treats us to three centuries of forgers, art thieves, and obsessive collectors. it’s a dazzling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas
Shapiro has written an engaging and successful literary thriller that will quickly rise to top of the genre. Just as an artist carefully places layers of paint on the canvas to create a masterpiece, Shapiro layers her novel with intrigue, mystery, history, and motivations to tell a memorable story.

Claire, Aiden, and the rivals and co-conspirators that cross their paths are as multidimensional as the plot. Whether or not you'd make the same choices they do, you'll be be caught up in the centuries-old game of deception, wealth, acquisition, and quest for fame that shadows the fine arts. The bonus is how much you'll learn about the art world, Degas, and the fine line between forger and legitimate reproductionist.

In the following short video, Shapiro talks about what motivated her to write The Art Forger.

For more on B. A. Shapiro and The Art Forger, visit the author's website, where you'll find an excerpt from the novel, the book tour stops, and the author's blog. You can also check out Shapiro's Facebook page and follow her on Twitter.

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.

The Art Forger at Powell's
The Art Forger at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Workman / Algonquin Books, October 23, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781616201326

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11 October 2012

Giveaway & Guest Post: The Witch of Babylon by D.J. McIntosh

I like a good thriller, especially one based in archaeology and folklore. It's even more fun when the novel involves puzzles, historical accuracy, and exotic locales. Thus D. J. McIntosh's The Witch of Babylon should be a great match for me.

Based on the publisher's summary, the story centers around John Madison, a Turkish-American art dealer who is caught up in a race to recover a "priceless relic looted from Iraq's National Museum" when Baghdad fell in 2003. Working with an archaeologist and a photojournalist, John is forced to solve a puzzle—which involves witches, Assyrian lore, and alchemy—all the while trying to stay two steps ahead of the villains.The Witch of Babylon involves revenge, treasure, and an ancient prophecy, promising a lot of action.

I haven't started the book yet, but when I was looking through it, I noticed it's illustrated with maps, photos, and clues to the puzzle. Reviewers have commented that the story has satisfying twists and turns and is a smart thriller that's hard to put down. The Witch of Babylon is the first in a planned trilogy.

To help celebrate the U.S. release of The Witch of Babylon (October 16), I'm pleased to welcome author D. J. McIntosh to Beth Fish Reads. Today she is talking about learning to bend the rules.

Writing What You Know

How many times have we heard new writers advised to "write what you know"? Well-meant guidance, I'm sure and the thought has a lot of merit. When writers draw on their own experience, their novel is often richer and the more convincing for it.

But here's another common adage "rules are meant to be broken." And when I sat down to write my first novel, The Witch of Babylon, I did break a lot of rules.

This didn't transpire out of sheer rebelliousness but was a result of luck, circumstances, and that author's inner voice it's always wise to pay attention to. Professionals I'd sought advice from recommended I choose a gutsy female protagonist. They were trending well in current literature, and being a woman myself, well, I'd be writing what I knew! But as I began the book, the inner voice that came to me was that of a thirty-something guy, an art dealer and risk taker who wasn't averse to crossing the legal line—as long as he didn't get caught of course. He came fully formed, I could see his image in my mind readily: European looking with a close cropped beard, dark hair and eyes. Even his name, John Madison, came easily. Especially when you're writing in first person, you need to feel a bond with your central character, and that's just what I felt. I'll leave it to others to decide whether this was successful, but I'm happy to say that a great many men who've read the book really like Madison and don't sense anything out of place.

Rule number two that I broke—the setting. The first part of The Witch is set in New York. I made several trips to that wonderful city to research all the locations, so in a sense, I was writing what I knew. But the second part of my novel is set in Iraq at the start of the 2003 war. Absolutely no way could I go there. So these circumstances required me to spend months researching everything I could find about life in Iraq. In this I will be forever grateful to the many journalists and photographers whose articles, books, and reports made it possible for me to tell my story convincingly. I was nervous about using a place I'd never even visited, but it's interesting that I ended up finding the Iraq portion easier to write than the rest.

Rule number three relates to getting one's book published rather than the book's content, and in that regard the most commonly recommended course of action was to circulate query letters in the hope your work will catch at least one literary agent's eye who will go on to sell your book for a six figure advance (well OK, maybe five figures to start with). Hearing about all the dreaded slush piles towering in agent's offices, I chose again not to follow the good advice. Instead I entered a competition called the Debut Dagger administered by the estimable Crime Writers Association in the UK. It was a moment of pure euphoria when I learned my submission for The Witch had been shortlisted. In the weeks following, I received expressions of interest from a couple of agents and signed on with one of them.

So yes, write what you know and follow the rules, but only after you've listened to your inner voice and chosen to write the book you feel passionate about.
Thanks so much, D.J. I think it's fantastic that you were able stick to your instincts and still come out on top. And as for rule number one: I bet John Madison displays a few rule-breaking behaviors himself during his Iraqi adventure.

To learn more about The Witch of Babylon, visit the novel's interactive website. For more on D. J. McIntosh, visit her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.

The Giveaway: Thanks to Tor/Forge I am able offer one of my readers a finished copy of D. J. McIntosh's debut novel, The Witch of Babylon. To enter for a chance to win, all you have to do is fill out the following form. I'll pick the winner via a random number generator on October 22. (After the winner is confirmed, I'll delete all data from the form's database.) Because the giveaway is being handled by the publisher, it's open to only those with a U.S or Canadian mailing address. Good luck!

Published by Macmillan / Tor . Forge, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780765333667

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09 October 2012

Wordless Wednesday 206

Turning Leaf, 2011

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Review: The Raven (Movie)

I mentioned last week that today is the 163rd anniversary of the death of American author Edgar Allan Poe. In that post, I introduced you to the movie The Raven, which was inspired by Poe's life and work.

The premise is this: A serial killer is loose in Baltimore in the mid-1800s. Although all the murders are different, Detective Fields (Luke Evans) recognizes the link between them: Each is a reenactment of one of Edgar Allan Poe's (John Cusack) short stories.Working together to track down and stop the killer, the two men use clues left at the crime scenes and study Poe's works. When the killer threatens to make Poe's beloved Emily his next victim, the author will stop at nothing to protect her.

Although parts of The Raven are predictable, its mix of scary and action held my attention. I really liked the sets, props, and costumes, which enhanced the mood and and captured the time period. In addition, Cusack plays a believable Poe, who, near the end of his life, was struggling with alcoholism and was on the downhill slope of fame.

I'm not familiar with the entire list of Poe's work, but it was fun to try to guess the basis of each crime. Some, like the "Pit and the Pendulum," were easy; others were more difficult. Finally, I liked the way the screenwriters took some of the facts of Poe's life and wove them into the storyline.

The BluRay/DVD contains commentary, extended and extra scenes not seen in the theater, and over a dozen features, providing several evenings of entertainment.

The Raven is a good pick for an October night and a great way to remember one of America's classic horror authors. Take a look at the trailer, and if you haven't yet entered my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the DVD, be sure to fill out the form.

Thanks to Think Jam and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment for the opportunity to review this movie.

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08 October 2012

Review: Captivate by Carrie Jones

Last month I reviewed the first book in a refreshing young adult urban fantasy series: Carrie Jones's Need. I enjoyed it so much, I didn't wait long to read the second book in the quartet.

Captivate starts fairly soon after Need ends. Now that Zara White, our teen heroine, knows the truth about her family tree and some of the secrets of her grandmother's Maine town, she and her friends can no longer ignore the larger problems caused by the resident pixies.

I loved Zara's independence in Need; she was open to the possibility of having a boyfriend, but she didn't let Nick push her around. In Captivate, unfortunately, she is more dependent on Nick, and her relationship is sometimes more important to Zara than her own safety. I was disappointed that Jones decided to make Zara so focused on her boyfriend.

I could have forgiven Zara her Nick-crazy teen love if Captivate had moved along more quickly. Instead, Jones spends more than half the book on Zara and Nick and the "are they/aren't they" dating relationship of their best friends. On the positive side, when the action finally does pick up, it's good. We have pixie fighting pixie, were-animals fighting pixies, and pixies terrorizing humans. Through it all, Zara is forced to figure out her unique role in the current hostilities and in the bigger war to come. Jones also introduces two new paranormal species to the mix: Valkyries and elves. Each type of being, including humans, will have to take a side.

Although I guessed what part Zara would ultimately play, I didn't figure out the circumstances that would lead her there or the after effects of her actions. Carrie Jones has nicely set the stage for the next book, Entice.

So what's my overall reaction? Captivate is not as strong of a novel as Need, but Jones may have required a transition book to carry the story to the next phase. The bottom line is that I'm still interested in how everything will shake down. And I'll likely listen to book three next month.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Brilliance Audio, 8 hr) read by Julian Whelan, who reads the entire quartet. Again, I was impressed with her performance and her characterizations, making Captivate a recommended listen.

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

Buy Captivate at an Indie or at a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Published by Bloomsbury USA / Bloomsbury USA Childrens, hardcover January 2010
ISBN-13: 9781599903422

Source: Bought (audio) (see review policy)
Rating: C+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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