31 August 2013

Weekend Cooking: Legacy Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

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

Whole Grain Baking by King Arthur FlourIn the United States, Labor Day weekend is the traditional end to summer. By next week, kids will be in school, families will be unpacked from vacation, and everyone will be hard at work. In honor of the upcoming change in season and because it's a holiday, I decided baking was in order. And what better way to welcome fall than with an apple cake.

I've shared my easy apple cake recipe with you before. It's the one we take camping or to the shore or for a casual get together with friends. I wanted something a little bit different this week, so I turned to King Arthur.

In March 2010 I wrote a post about one of my favorite baking sources, King Arthur Flour. As I've mentioned many times, I own their cookbooks, I often subscribe to their baking newsletter, I use their flour, and I mail order from them several times a year. I was sure they'd have the perfect apple recipe, and I was right.

I usually bake with tart apples, but we had a quarter peck of Paula Reds in the house, so I used them for my cake. We don't usually go for frosting, but I figured it was a holiday and a little indulgence was called for. Plus the recipe gets rave reviews in the book and on the King Arthur website.

I made a couple of changes in the recipe, but the results were wonderful. First, I didn't have any cider or apple juice, so I substituted buttermilk. Second, I didn't peel the apples; we don't mind the skins at all. And finally, I used sliced almonds instead of chopped walnuts because I was feeling lazy.

If you clicked through to the King Arthur website, you'll notice the ingredients are slightly different. That's because I used their whole grain version instead of the white flour recipe.

We loved the moist, rich cake, and I wouldn't hesitate to serve this to guests. Enjoy!

Legacy Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting
One 9 × 13-inch cake

  • 2½ cups whole wheat flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup (2 sticks), unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¼ cup boiled cider or apple juice concentrate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups peeled, chopped apples
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
Brown Sugar Frosting
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1½ cups confectioners' sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 9 × 13-inch cake pan.

Make the Cake. Whisk together the flour baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices in a medium bowl; set aside. Cream together the butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping in between to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix in the cider and vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients, stirring until evenly moistened. Fold in the apples and walnuts.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 minutes. Remove the cake to a wire rake and cool completely.

Make the Frosting. Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts. Add the milk, bring to a boil and pour into a mixing bowl to cool for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, stir in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat well; if the mixture appears too thin, add more confectioners' sugar. Spread on the cake while the frosting is still warm; it will firm up and be more difficult to spread once it cools.

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30 August 2013

Imprint Friday: Sweet Thunder by Ivan Doig

Sweet Thunder by Ivan DoigWelcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Riverhead 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.

A few years ago, I read Ivan Doig's moving memoir of his mother's short life (Heart Earth). Afterward, I meant to try his fiction, which is mostly set about a hundred years ago in his native state of Montana. Thus when Sweet Thunder was released last week, I took the opportunity to get to know this other side of Doig's writing.

Here's the publisher's summary:

In the winter of 1920, a quirky bequest draws Morrie Morgan back to Butte, Montana, from a year-long honeymoon with his bride, Grace. But the mansion bestowed by a former boss upon the itinerant charmer, who debuted in Doig’s bestselling The Whistling Season, promises to be less windfall than money pit. And the town itself, with its polyglot army of miners struggling to extricate themselves from the stranglehold of the ruthless Anaconda Copper Mining Company, seems—like the couple’s fast-diminishing finances—on the verge of implosion.

These twin dilemmas catapult Morrie into his new career as editorialist for the Thunder, the fledgling union newspaper that dares to play David to Anaconda’s Goliath. Amid the clatter of typewriters, the rumble of the printing presses, and a cast of unforgettable characters, Morrie puts his gift for word-slinging to work. As he pursues victory for the miners, he discovers that he is enmeshed in a deeply personal battle as well—the struggle to win lasting love for himself.

Brilliantly capturing an America roaring into a new age, Sweet Thunder is another great tale from a classic American novelist.
If I had to sum up Sweet Thunder in just a few words, I'd say it was the Roaring Twenties, gangsters, and the dwindling Old West on a collision course for Butte, Montana.

For rambler, gambler Morrie, settling into the crumbling Victorian mansion is made bearable only because of the Thunder. In its pages, he takes on everything from mining safety to property taxes, labor relations, and communism. Right about when he thinks he could get used to this life, his marriage turns rocky and his past comes knocking.

I love Doig's characters and his careful attention to historical detail. In fact, it struck me that 1920s Montana wasn't all that different from today: the rich get richer, avoid taxes, and wield their power over the little guys, who struggle to make ends meet. But Morrie lived in a time when a guy still stood a good chance to start over—just as long as no one read the old, yellowing newspapers stored in the library's archive.

As Morrie tries to save his marriage, make house repairs, and outrun his enemies, the daily rhythm of the newspaper hums in the background:
How often does a name fit so perfectly it cannot be improved on? From the very start, the atmosphere around the Thunder held that tingle of anticipation that the air carries before a rain. The spell was contagious. With its aroma of ink and paper and cigarette smoke and its staccato blurts of writing machines and jingling of telephones, the newsroom was a strangely exciting place where nothing definitive seemed to be happening, yet everything was. (p 53, uncorrected proof)
Take a walk in old Montana as it starts to transition, for better or worse, from a dusty mining town to a twentieth-century city.

For more about Ivan Doig, visit his website where you can learn about all his novels and memoirs. Book clubs will appreciate the thoughtful discussion questions for Sweet Thunder. I especially liked the background notes, which put the novel in historical context and reveal Doig's own experiences working in a newsroom.

Riverhead Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, visit the Riverhead website. While there, explore their terrific book list, check out authors in the news, and view some fun videos. Stay in the know by following them on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.

Published by Penguin USA / Riverhead, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781594487347
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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29 August 2013

Review: Benediction by Kent Haruf

Benediction by Kent HarufKent Haruf seems to have a window that looks deep into the human condition. He writes with such honesty and beauty that no gimmicks are needed; no twisty plot, no slapstick comedy, just the truth of what it's like to live an ordinary life.

In the years before I blogged, I read his Eventide and Plainsong, both of which take place in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, a few hours east of Denver. Benediction, published this spring, takes us back to Holt and focuses on "Dad" Lewis, the seventy-seven-year-old owner of the hardware store.

In the heat of a High Plains summer, Dad waits at home for his terminal cancer to get the best of him. Next door, eight-year-old Alice, recently orphaned, settles in to a new town and gets used to living with her grandmother. Lorraine Lewis returns from Denver to ease her mother's burden and to be near her father. The elderly Johnson women help out where they can, and the new reverend hopes to offer direction and comfort to his flock.

The characters in Benediction are as real as your neighbors. Each has been shaped by everyday circumstances: widowhood, rough childhood, fortunate and unfortunate marriages, bad decisions, death, and success. In Holt, the small crises of daily life (a girl gets temporarily lost, a boy is hurt in love) mingle comfortably with the bigger questions faced by the adults (forgiveness for past wrongs, the future of a family after death).

Haruf doesn't offer us spine-tingling thrills but lets us see the way of things by introducing us to contemporary life in small-town America. Although I loved many scenes in Benediction, it was Dad Lewis's death with dignity and the love and respect of his wife and daughter that will stay with me the longest.

Open your heart to the people of Holt and give yourself over to Haruf's simple, profound, and honest prose.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 8 hr 54 min) read by Mark Bramhall, whose thoughtful reading brought Haruf's characters to life. Leaving sentimentality behind, Bramhall nonetheless infused his narration with the perfect emotional level, so we feel both the elation of women swimming on hot summer's day and the sadness of friends saying good-bye for very last time. A don't-miss listen.

Random House / Knopf, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780307959881
Source: Review (both print and audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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27 August 2013

Wordless Wednesday 252

At the Horse Show, 2013

© cbl for www.BethFishReads.com

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Today's Read: Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

Three Graves Full by Jamie MasonSuppose you killed a man who needed killing and buried him in your backyard. Then, months later, a landscaper uncovers a body—and then another—but neither is the guy you did in. That's what happened to Jason Getty, who now has to accommodate a police investigation while trying to hide his own criminal activities.

There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard. Jason Getty had grown accustomed to the strangling night terrors, the randomly prickling palms, the bright, aching surges of adrenaline at the sight of Mrs. Truesdell's dog trotting across the lawn with some unidentifiable thing clamped in its jaws. It had been seventeen months since he'd sweated over the narrow trench he'd carved at the back border of his property; since he'd rolled the body out of the real world and into his dreams.
Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason (Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books, 2013, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: small-town contemporary America (I think it's set in Oklahoma, but not sure yet)
  • Circumstances: Jason, who is hiding a murder, is trying to stay at least one step ahead of the police, who are investigating two other murders just yards away from where he stashed the body
  • Characters: Jason; Gary, the guy Jason killed; Tim Bayard, local detective; Sheriff Watts and his wife; other townsfolk; and the dog Tessa
  • Genre: psychological thriller mixed with black humor
  • Miscellaneous: multiple points of view, including the thoughts of the sheriff's dog; Indie Next pick for February 2013; likened to a Coen brothers film
  • Audience: perfect for those who like twisty plots, quirky characters, and a little bit of weird
ISBN-13: 9781451685046
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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26 August 2013

Giveaway: Peace, Love, and Cupcakes Series by Sheryl and Carrie Berk

The Cupcake Club by Sheryl and Carrie BerkWhen you were a kid, what did you dream of becoming when you grew up? A published author? A baker? For ten-year-old Carrie Berk, both those dreams have already come true, thanks to a little help from her mother, Sheryl Berk.

Have you heard of the Peace, Love, and Cupcakes series for middle grade readers? I sure wish these books had been available when I was young or my niece was in fourth grade. I know both of us would have been big fans. Besides great characters and compelling plots, the books also contain recipes for yummy cupcakes. Now tell me, who wouldn't love to sit down with a good book and homemade cupcakes?

Recipe for Trouble by Sheryl and Carrie BerkThe series begins when Kylie is just starting fourth grade in a brand new school. As a way to make friends, she decides to start a cupcake club. Finding some girls who want to join isn't so much a problem but learning how to make peace with the class mean girl will take some thinking.

Each of the other three books focus on a different girl and a different common problem (accepting a new step-dad, trouble with math). The common thread among the books is the cupcake club and the interactions among the members. Side plots cover baking contests, the school play, sports, friendship, boys, and families.

Winner Bakes All by Sheryl and Carrie BerkBesides being at school and home, the four BFFs also spend time in the kitchen, fulfilling orders for their new business, getting ready for a competition, or coming up with new ideas. The cupcake club spotlights the strength of the girls' friendship and their mutual support, which are at the heart the series.

There is much to love about these books. Besides the good topics for discussion, awesome recipes, and likeable characters, young readers will be inspired by the fact that the books are co-written by someone just their age. The collaboration between Carrie and Sheryl means the dialog is authentic and the situations are believable.

Icing on the Cake by Sheryl and Carrie BerkYour young reader will fall for Kylie and her friends. But be prepared: You will definitely have some cupcake baking sessions in your future.

The Giveaway: To celebrate the publication of the newest book in the series, The Icing on the Cake, and thanks to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, I can offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address all four books in this darling (and tasty) series. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner on September 6 using a random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal data from my computer. Good luck!

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24 August 2013

Weekend Cooking: A Look at My Cookbook Shelves

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

It's incredibly hard for me to believe that this is my 200th Weekend Cooking post. I really had no idea when I wrote that first post, almost four years ago, that I'd still have a backlog of ideas for this weekly meme. Thanks so much to all of you for joining in on the fun over the years.

It's been a long time since I've grabbed a stack of cookbooks from one of my shelves to share with you. So here is another edition of a look at my cookbook shelves. I'll start at the top of the photo and work my way down. For a closer look at the spines, click on the photo to enlarge it.

1. Every once in a while I think Mr. BFR and I are going to transform ourselves into cocktail drinkers, so I pick up a fun book on mixed drinks. Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan's New Classic Cocktails (Macmillan 1997) has a lot going for it. Not only does it include the usual bar-tending tips and recipes but it provides a history for each of the included drinks plus some beautiful photography. Although the drinks are no longer new, several have indeed become classic: the Cosmopolitan and Lemon Drop, for example, were developed in the 1990s and are still with us. Recommended and useful.

2. I picked up several good books during my French phase, and I'm sure I bought Diana Shaw's Sweet Basil, Garlic, Tomatoes, and Chives (Harmony Books, 1992), for the title alone. As the subtitle says, this book is all about vegetables from Tuscany and Provence. Oddly enough, the only recipe I remember making from it is one for stuffed grape leaves--not a dish I associate with Italy or France. Apparently Greek is (was?) popular in Aix-en-Provence. The grape leaves were good but not particularly spectacular. Neutral recommendation.

3. Sitting comfortably next to the last book is The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells (HarperCollins, 2004). I would buy pretty much any book Wells wrote, and this is one I'm happy to own. I love the wine recommendations, spotlights on local growers and winemakers, tips on technique, and the descriptions of the French countryside. The recipes are easy to follow and wonderfully appealing. Recommended.

4. In the old days (meaning before the Internet) I devoured the Wednesday New York Times, and one of my favorite columns was "The 60-Minute Gourmet" because the recipes were always winners. Cooking with the 60-Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey and Bryan Miller (Times Books, 1999) is a wonderful collection of 300 recipes that originally appeared in the newspaper. If you find this or any of the 60-Minute Gourmet books for sale, don't hesitate to buy. The recipes have stood the test of time, and I still love cooking with Franey. Highly recommended.

5. I bought South American Cooking by Barbara Karoff (Aris Books, 1989) because when I was a graduate student I lived in Peru for a few months while doing research. I thought maybe I would try my hand at some of the dishes I discovered when I was there. Sadly, I don't think I've ever cooked out of this book. Though now that I'm looking it through it again, I may be inspired. Unknown recommendation.

6. As many of you know, I love to bake bread, and Carol Field's Focaccia (Chronicle Books, 1994) is a beautiful book all about bread from Italy. If you're not familiar with Field, she is a well-known food writer who got her start in 1970s. Her recipes are always tasty and easy to follow. I love the great variety of breads in this book and the lovely photos. My favorite recieps feature fresh herbs and colorful garden vegetables. Highly recommended.

7. Judith Olney's The Farm Market Cookbook (Doubleday, 1991) is one of those books I look through a lot but never seem to cook from. The recipes are appealing, but I haven't yet been inspired enough to try one. I wish I knew why. Unknown recommendation.

8. Do you shop at the farmers' market? Belong to a CSA? Elizabeth Schneider's Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide (Harper & Row, 1986) could be your new friend. The book is arranged alphabetically and includes everything you need to know when your market basket includes veggies such as celery root and Jerusalem artichokes. Some of the included foods aren't all that uncommon anymore (arugula, kiwi) and some never were rare (Swiss chard, sour cherries), but all the advice and recipes are still useful and welcome. Recommended.

9. Sarah Leah Chase's Cold-Weather Cooking (Workman, 1990) is one of my favorite cookbooks. First, it's a Workman publication, and we all know how I feel about their books. Second, the recipes are homey, warming, and welcoming, bringing cheer to the winter months. If you were a fan of the Silver Palate cookbooks, you'll love Chase's solo venture. I turn to this for family meals, casual entertaining, and holiday parties. Don't pass on this one.

10. Mark Bittman's The Minimalist Cooks at Home (Broadway Books, 1999) is another cookbook based on a New York Times food column. I don't think I've ever cooked from this book but I have used it to help me "minimalize" my own recipes. A nice reference.

11. Oh gosh. Apparently I raided my New York Times shelf for this post. The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne (Harper & Row, 1961) shown here is the original edition (it was updated in the 1980s, and I have that one too). My copy is beaten up, with a ripped jacket and broken spine and food-splattered pages. All 1500 recipes found within originally appeared in Claiborne's newspaper columns. I'm not sure what I can say about this classic book, except, well, it's a must have for any serious cookbook collector. Highly recommended.

I hope you enjoyed this look at one small section of my cookbook collection. I have no idea how many of these books are still in print, but you can always look at used book stores, your library, and flea markets.

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23 August 2013

Imprint Friday: On the Noodle Road by Jen Lin-Liu

On the Noodle Road by Jen Lin-LiuWelcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Riverhead 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.

Once I learned that Jen Lin-Lui's new book, On the Noodle Road, combined travel writing with food history, I knew I had to read it. Before I tell you more about her fascinating journey along the Silk Road, from Asia to Europe, take a look at the publisher's summary:

Feasting her way through an Italian honeymoon, Jen Lin-Liu was struck by culinary echoes of the delicacies she ate and cooked back in China, where she'd lived for more than a decade. Who really invented the noodle? she wondered, like many before her. But also: How had food and culture moved along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking Asia to Europe—and what could still be felt of those long-ago migrations? With her new husband’s blessing, she set out to discover the connections, both historical and personal, eating a path through western China and on into Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, and across the Mediterranean.

The journey takes Lin-Liu into the private kitchens where the headscarves come off and women not only knead and simmer but also confess and confide. The thin rounds of dough stuffed with meat that are dumplings in Beijing evolve into manti in Turkey—their tiny size the measure of a bride’s worth—and end as tortellini in Italy. And as she stirs and samples, listening to the women talk about their lives and longings, Lin-Liu gains a new appreciation of her own marriage, learning to savor the sweetness of love freely chosen.
Lin-Liu, an established food writer and cooking school founder, wanted to know the truth behind the common idea that Marco Polo was responsible for introducing noodles to Italy. Tracking the noodle, in all its forms, was the principal motivation for her six-month journey. Although in the end she was unable to definitively pinpoint the origin of noodles, she learned much about the food and people spanning the vast distance between the Far East and Europe.

Let me be frank. I'm not a huge fan of inspirational memoirs in which a woman goes traipsing across the world with half-made plans in search of love or spiritual peace or self-discovery. Fortunately, Lin-Liu had no such goals in mind when she began planning her trip. Neither was she searching for the perfect meal, the best restaurant, or the most secret cafe.

Instead, she wanted to meet with chefs, teachers, scholars, and families to learn regional noodle dishes and document how those foods slowly morphed as one moved across the ancient trading routes. Although she and her husband (who joined her on several legs of the journey) ate street food and wandered a bit to discover local eateries, for the most part, Lin-Liu's trip was carefully planned. She set up cooking classes ahead of time and often stayed in private homes.

On the Noodle Road is a well-written account of Lin-Liu's experiences, both in and out of the kitchen. Some of the most interesting scenes had little to do with noodles and more to do with local customs, women's rights and expectations, families, and marriage. Taking an anthropologist's perspective, Lin-Liu talks about the plight of the women she met in Iran, the fashionable lives of urban woman in Turkey, and the daily routines of country women in the China hinterlands. Yet she never loses sight of the fact that East or West, rich or poor, women everywhere are surprisingly alike.

Food lovers will delight in Lin-Liu's descriptions of the fancy and plain meals she ate over the months of her travel. Not everything was wonderful: some foods were bland and others were just too weird for her tastes. Sometimes she was served variations of the same meal night after night. Reading about Lin-Liu's many hours spent in foreign kitchens, rolling dough, chopping peppers, and making dumplings will have you craving almost everything that can be found along the Silk Road. Fortunately, the book includes some recipes.

On the Noodle Road touches on a number of other themes more personal to the author. For example, travel was not always easy or even safe, and Lin-Liu talks openly about her fears and concerns. She also shares her feelings about her husband and what it's like to be a first-generation American born to Chinese parents.

On the Noodle Road is perfect for anyone who loves to travel, has an interest in food, or enjoys learning about other cultures. I'm thankful Jen Lin-Liu made the arduous journey for me and then was generous enough to share her experiences, introducing me to the gracious people she met and the wonderful dishes she ate along the way.

For those who are so inclined, the unabridged audiobook edition (Tantor Audio; 11 hr, 42 min) was read by Coleen Marlo. Although I cannot truly judge her accents and pronunciations, she seemed comfortable with the many foreign words in a number of different languages and dialects. Marlo's performance was engaging and held my interest. Listeners will miss out on the recipes, however.

For more about Jen Lin-Liu and her cooking school, visit her website.

Riverhead Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, visit the Riverhead website. While there, explore their terrific book list, check out authors in the news, and view some fun videos. Stay in the know by following them on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.

Published by Penguin USA / Riverhead, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781594487262
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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22 August 2013

Review: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy BarkerYou know that kind of book that totally grabs you? I mean the kind that won't let you sleep, feed your family, or get your work done? They don't come around often, but when one does, you're completely under its spell. Emily Croy Barker's The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic entranced me from the start.

Forget what you think you know about magic or wizards or fantasy. Ignore those reviews that mention Harry Potter. Barker's world is like none you've ever encountered. And despite the dangers and the hardships, you'll likely wish you could find your way into the land of magic.

The premise of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic won't sound like much, and that's because the beauty of this novel is in the characters, the world, and the subtleties, which are not illuminated by a short summary.

Without giving anything away, the story centers around Nora Fischer, a struggling graduate student in English literature, who--like Alice--crosses a boundary between our world and another. There, Nora must rely on her own wits and love of learning to find a way to survive. It's not always easy to tell friend from foe, and sometimes those who are beautiful and kind are the worst of enemies.

Finally finding herself under the protection of Aruendiel, a practitioner of real magic, Nora's insatiable thirst for knowledge sets her on a path of apprenticeship. Although she learns the Ors language and begins to master magic, the pull of her own world is strong; if given the chance to return home, will she take it?

So what's so magical about The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic? Lots. On a gross level, Barker has created a believable world, with its own history, language, and creatures. The plot is a prefect mix of action and description, history and magic, love and friendship. But it's on the smaller levels that Barker really shines, especially in the character of Nora.

We've all read books in which a modern woman finds herself, perhaps as the result of time travel, in a repressive society. But unlike many such protagonists, Nora is not stupidly head-strong or unsympathetic to social norms. She is absolutely colored by her expectations in the modern world, but because she's smart and observant, she doesn't protest against (for example) the need to do hard work in order to keep a roof over her head. Naturally, she makes mistakes in decorum; however, despite being frustrated by her situation, she tries to take the time to learn how to behave in the society in which she now lives. Yes, there are some things she won't accept, but she's realistic and down to earth.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic is not about waving wands and hiding from muggles. It's about how a twenty-first-century woman makes the transformation to a world in which the rules have changed and where looks can be dangerously deceiving. It's also a book about friendship, learning, thinking, family, and love as well as jealousy, infidelity, murder, and a deadly war. Oh, and there's also magic and the casting of spells.

Set aside a weekend to read Emily Croy Barker's The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic. Warn your family and friends. Once you start, there will nothing else in your life except Nora's adventures in a strange, new world. The novel was an Indie Next Pick for August 2013 and is a serious contender for my most memorable book of the year.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Recorded Books, 26 hr, 21 min), read by Alyssa Bresnahan, in just five days. I truly found it difficult to turn off my player. My full audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine, but let me say here that Bresnahan's performance is outstanding. Buy the audio; you won't be sorry.

Penguin USA / Pamela Dorman Books, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780670023660
Source: Review (both print and audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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20 August 2013

Wordless Wednesday 251

Stone Bridge, 2013

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Today's Read & Giveaway: Three Little Words by Susan Mallery

Three Little Words by Susan MalleryWhat if you got the chance to see a childhood crush again, and right when you just happened be newly single? Isabel Carlisle is back home working at her parents' boutique when learns the still-handsome Ford Hendrix has returned to town. She's not sure if he'll even want to talk to her, but if she can get him to pretend to be her boyfriend, then her mother will stop pestering her about dating.

Dear Ford, I can't believe my sister was stupid enough to cheat on you with your best friend two weeks before your wedding. With you joining the Army so suddenly, I didn't get a chance to confess in person. I know I'm only 14, but I love you. I'll love you forever and write every day. Or at least once a week. I cried and cried when you left. . . . I wish you didn't have to leave. I really will love you forever, Ford. I promise.
Three Little Words by Susan Mallery (Harlequin HQN, 2013, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Fools Gold, California, a small town where everyone knows everyone
  • Circumstances: Isabel, 28, wrote to Ford, 33, for years although he never wrote back; now that their paths have crossed again, can they be friends or perhaps something much more?
  • Characters: Isabel, divorced, dreams of moving to New York and being part of the fashion scene; Ford, an ex-SEAL poses as a personal trainer, although he's really bodyguard; their parents, siblings, and friends in Fools Gold
  • Genre: romance, light women's fiction
  • Themes & plot lines: love, family, friendship, dreams, life in a small town; some humor
  • Miscellaneous: this is the 12th book set in Fools Gold and the third book to feature a bodyguard; Mallery garners rave reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Romantic Times
  • Learn more: for more on the setting, visit the Fools Gold website; for more about the author, visit her website
The Giveaway

Thanks to Book Trib, I can offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address her very own Susan Mallery Foolproof Bridal Kit. Don't let that word bridal throw you off; this giveaway is open to any one who wants to be a little pampered for a special occasion or just for no reason at all. The gift bag includes the following and is valued at $40:
  1. A wedding-themed bottle of OPI nail polish
  2. Not Your Mother’s® Rise & Shine™ Silky Smooth Shine Mist
  3. Manicure set (includes emery board, small and large nail clippers, tweezers, cuticle stick and nail polish remover pad)
  4. Heart-shaped compact mirror
  5. 12-piece E.L.F. eye shadow kit
  6. Travel makeup brush set
  7. Makeup remover wipes
  8. Lip gloss
  9. Travel sewing kit
  10. Kleenex®
  11. Secret® deodorant
  12. Razor and Gillette® Shave Gel
  13. Nivea Creme
  14. Wisps toothbrushes
  15. TRESemmé® hairspray
All you have to do to enter for a chance to win this awesome prize pack is fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner using a random number generator on August 29. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck and, here's to indulging in a little beauty session.

For book reviews, Q&As with Susan Mallery, and even more chances to win the bridal kit, visit the BookTrib website to see the other blogs in the Three Little Words tour.

ISBN-13: 9781410462060
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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19 August 2013

Movie Feature & Giveaway: Heart of the Country

Heart of the Country (Movie)Just out on BluRay/DVD (tomorrow!), Heart of the Country has a few things going for it that caught my attention. First and foremost, it was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, very close to the town I visited when Safe Haven was being filmed. As you'll see in the guest post from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, North Carolina, is a very popular place with filmmakers; it's hard to resist the beauty of the state, whether you're on the coast or in the mountains.

I also love that Heart of the Country is based on a novel (as are the other movies mentioned below) and stars ACM's New Female Vocalist of the Year for 2013, Jana Kramer. With good scenery and good music, you can't go wrong. Here's the premise of the movie (from the studio):

Based on the novel by Rene Gutteridge and John Ward, Heart of the Country is a love story starring country music singer Jana Kramer (One Tree Hill), Randy Wayne (True Blood), and Gerald McRaney (Major Dad). Faith (Kramer) and Luke (Wayne) have it all. Faith is a beautiful singer and Luke is an up-and-coming businessman. When their life together is shattered and she is forced to return home to the family she turned her back on years ago, she must find the strength to love again. Watch Jana Kramer in her first leading movie role in the year's most inspirational and romantic movie event when it debuts on DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment on August 20.
A rainy summer night is the perfect time to head indoors to watch a sweet love story mixed with family drama. Watch the trailer, and read the guest post. Then be sure to see how you can enter for a chance to win a copy of both the movie and the book!

North Carolina in Movies

North Carolina is certainly not the state that springs to mind when you think about locations where movies are filmed. Most people immediately think of California or New York, but North Carolina has surprisingly made a name for itself as a fantastic location for filming. Over the years, the number of films shot in the eastern state has grown and now there are a wide variety of genres included on the list. Here, we count down some of the most picturesque movies filmed in North Carolina.

Heart of the Country: Many members of the cast and crew for Heart of the Country likely felt right at home while filming in Wilmington. The singer and actress Jana Kramer had previously spent many years filming scenes for One Tree Hill in the beach town. Director and writer John Ward grew up in Wilmington and began his career there. In fact, some classmates of Ward’s from Cape Fear Academy helped out with the movie. Ward clearly captured the beauty in the coastal region of North Carolina through this film.

A Walk to Remember: The majority of the movies based on Nicholas Sparks' books are located and filmed in North Carolina including Safe Haven and Message in a Bottle. But, A Walk to Remember stands out among the rest as it really captures the southern beauty of NC. Even the houses and white church where Landon and Jamie are married represent the feel of living in this coastal state. The movie was filmed in Wilmington and used many of the sets from Dawson’s Creek.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood was filmed in Wilmington at the same time as A Walk to Remember and Dawson’s Creek. Seven other small towns in the state were used for various scenes in the film. The scenic Orton Plantation, which has been spotted in over 20 films, also makes an appearance. Visitors to Fort Knox might recognize the winding roads from the scene where ViVi is driving along the coast.

The Secret Life of Bees: The Secret Life of Bees was shot entirely in North Carolina in the small towns of Lumberton and Watha. The film captured the true essence of old southern homes. The audience gets a true picture of the plants and flowers that are often seen throughout North Carolina. The Secret Life of Bees not only told a beautiful story but also portrayed a beautiful image of this southeastern state.

The Giveaway: Thanks to Think Jam and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I am pleased to offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address a copy of both the BluRay/DVD of Heart of the Country and the book the movie was based on. All you have to do for a chance to win this prize pack is fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on August 29. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good Luck!

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17 August 2013

Weekend Cooking: Bacon Nation by Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama

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

Bacon Nation by Peter Kaminsky and Marie RamaWho doesn't love bacon? Doesn't it seem to make just about everything taste better? Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama agree, and they've shared their love in their new cookbook, Bacon Nation.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Bacon is fatty and salty and so I rarely eat it. Do I really need a whole cookbook devoted to bacon?" Well, yes, you do. And here's why. Kaminsky and Rama are not of the school that says more is better. They're after that perfect balance in which the bacony goodness enhances a dish without necessarily being center stage.

In fact, Bacon Nation doesn't suggest that you eat a pound of bacon three times a day. Instead, the authors have done something different. Although bacon is featured in all 125 recipes, almost every one calls for just about a single slice per serving, and often less. Thus you can eat well and have your bacon too when you're eating it for flavor and crunch.

Workman Publishing's designers never let me down when it comes to cookbooks, and I love Bacon Nation's clean fonts and appealing colors. I especially like the little touches, such as notes and tips printed against a butcher paper–like background and the colorful numbers in the directions.

Besides the expected chapter divisions (appetizers to desserts), Bacon Nation includes the nitty-gritty of all things bacon: how to buy it, how to store it, how to cook it, and what to do with the drained fat. The authors have even included a section aimed at inspiring you to create your own bacon-licious dishes. Cooks who like to try the best of the best will be pleased to find a list of the authors' favorite brands of bacon, complete with mail-order information.

The recipes range from extremely classic (spinach salad) to more common (bacon-wrapped asparagus) to more surprising (bacon s'mores). True meat-lovers will like the meat, poultry, and fish chapters; others may be more drawn to the soups, salads, pastas, veggies, and appetizers. Whichever way you like your bacon, you'll be happy to know that the recipes call for common ingredients and the directions are straightforward and easy to follow.

Most home cooks will find success with Bacon Nation. The recipes don't require fancy equipment or tricky techniques. The recipe introductions contain good information about the origins of the dish as well as tips about the ingredients and hints for success.

Here are some of the dishes in Bacon Nation (plus the amount of bacon per serving):
  • Butternut squash soup (5 slices of bacon for 6 servings)
  • Bacon and egg salad (3 slices of bacon for 3 sandwiches)
  • Chicken Marsala (6 slices of bacon for 4 servings)
  • Bacon shrimp risotto (3 slices of bacon for 3 serving)
  • Bacon-roasted cauliflower (2-3 slices of bacon for 4 servings)
  • French toast bread pudding (6 slices of bacon for 8 servings)
Pretty much every dish is the book sounds good to me. Thanks to Kaminsky and Rama, I'm now going to make sure there's bacon in my freezer at all times. Our generally healthful diet can absolutely include a slice of bacon every now and then, and really, who can resist a little saltly, crunchy goodness to spark up a salad or soup?

Here's a yummy dish that's good all year round. I add hot red pepper flakes, but that's just me.

Pasta Alla Gricia
Serves 6 as appetizer; 3 as a main dish
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if necessary
  • 5 slices of bacon, diced
  • Salt
  • 12 ounces linguine or other long, thin pasta
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese, plus extra for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring 4 to 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pasta or soup pot.

2. While waiting for the water to boil, heat the olive oil in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until browned and most of the fat is rendered, 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often and adjusting the heat as necessary. Turn off the heat and set the skillet aside.

3. Salt the boiling water. Add the linguine, stir to separate the strands, and cook until al dente, following the package instructions. Set aside about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the linguini and return it to the cooking pot.

4. Add the bacon with its fat to the drained linguini and stir in the cheese. If the pasta mixture seems too dry add a little of the pasta cooking water or a little more olive oil. Season the linguine with plenty of pepper and serve, passing the extra cheese.

Workman, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780761165828
Rating: B+
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright 2013 cbl for www.BethFishReads.com

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16 August 2013

Imprint Friday: Introducing Algonquin Young Readers

Algonquin Young ReadersWelcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Young Readers. 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.

Did you know that Algonquin Books launched a new imprint this month? I can't tell you how excited I am about Algonquin Young Readers and the five books that are coming out in their first season. Before I introduce the books, let me share what Algonquin has to say about their new venture:

Algonquin Young Readers, launching Fall 2013, features books for readers seven to seventeen. From short illustrated novels for the youngest independent readers to timely and topical crossover young adult fiction, what ties our books together are unforgettable characters, absorbing stories and superior writing.

Our imprint is dedicated to publishing works of the same literary merit and enduring quality that are the hallmarks of our parent imprint, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
It's this commitment to outstanding books, no matter the age of the audience, that makes me thrilled to feature Algonquin Young Readers. Visit the imprint's website, and you'll quickly notice the sincerity behind their tag line "A Well-Read Life Begins Here." Motivated readers of all ages as well as parents, teachers, homeschoolers, and book clubs will find plenty of resources for learning and for reinforcing the idea that reading is fun and broadens your horizons.

The extra materials vary by title, and include essays by the authors, guides to the main characters, videos, educator guides, and reader guides. The materials are available as printable PDFs that are eye-catchingly designed with colorful graphics and fun fonts. Young or old, don't miss these great resources.

Now let's take a look at the initial catalog. I think you'll be as impressed as I am.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan & The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick

August. If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (ISBN-13: 9781616202514) is like no book you've ever read. It's the story of two teenage girls who have been in love for most of their lives. But the stumbling blocks for Sahar and Nasrin are insurmountable. In their native Iran, homosexuality is a state crime, punishable by imprisonment or death. When Nasrin's parents make arrangements for her marriage, Sahar seriously contemplates sex reassignment surgery because, oddly, this is a legal choice in Iran. Farizan's debut novel, written for high schoolers, examines homosexuality, transgender identity, contemporary life in Iran, gender roles, love, marriage, families, and cultural expectations.

Amy Herrrick's The Time Fetch (ISBN-13: 9781616202200), written for middle grade readers, is an exciting fantasy adventure. When Edward disturbs a Time Fetch by mistake, the creature sends out his foragers, whose sole mission is to snatch up moments of time. When things get out of hand, and the entire structure of the universe threatens to collapse, Edward and three friends must find a way to defeat the Fetch and put things to right. Kids and adults alike will love the relationship among the friends and will be fascinated by the concept of missing time. Other themes revolve around ancient tales of the winter solstice as well as family, environmental issues, and teamwork.

September. Author Hollis Seamon took her own life experiences and put them into her novel, Somebody Up There Hates You (ISBN-13: 9781616202606), which explores the serious issue of childhood cancer. In all but one respect, Richard Casey is a regular, sometimes annoying, teenage boy. That one thing, though, is huge: he has terminal cancer and has moved into a hospice. Although you might think the story of a sick boy would be depressing, Seamon shows us that life goes on, even for the very sick. Richard meets Sylvie, another teen resident of the facility, and their friendship, hopes, and dreams show that, as the author says, teens will be teens no matter what the circumstances. This is a surprisingly uplifting and inspiring story, written for high schoolers.

Early readers (and adults!) will fall in love with Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise's Three-Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On! (ISBN-13: 9781616202446). When circus owner Sir Sidney decides he'd rather sleep than travel, he puts an ad in the paper looking for a new manager who "must love children, popcorn, and animals." Barnabas Bumbles, a trained animal trainer, is sure he can keep the show going. Unfortunately, his ideas are too grandiose to be practical. The good news is that Leo the Lion, Elsa the Elephant, and the rest of the gang pull to together and save the circus. Kids will love the pencil drawings, short cartoons, and other cute illustrations that break up the text, making this delightful story loads of fun to read. Talking animals, silly jokes, and a few underlying messages of friendship and working together make this a winner.

Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea by Valerie and Lisa MartinOctober. Sea-loving Cecil and land-lubber Anton are brothers who live in a coastal town and star in the exciting new novel Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea by Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin (ISBN-13: 9781616202460). When finicky Anton is captured by sailors and pressed into service as an on-board ratter, the more easygoing Cecil jumps aboard another ship, hoping to rescue his brother. Middle grade readers will be entranced by the world of the cats and their adventures at sea, all the while hoping that the siblings are somehow reunited. This beautifully written story of high-seas adventure, with its marvelous cast of cats, rats, dolphins, and whales is sure to become a classic, read and reread by young and old alike. Maps and charming black-and-while drawings illustrate the story.

For more about Algonquin Young readers, visit their website, like their Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter.

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15 August 2013

Review: Me before You by Jojo Moyes

Me before You by Jojo MoyesSometimes I hate myself for not reading certain books the minute they appear on my doorstep. Jojo Moyes's Me before You was one such book. Many people I trust told me how much they loved the novel and how much they cried while reading it. Although I didn't know the particulars of the story, I knew enough before I even started reading to make some educated guesses. And that's the problem. I was prepared and thus lost most of the emotional impact.

Here's the premise: When Louisa Clark lost her job at the local cafe, she and her family were desperate for her to find something new because her donations to the household budget were sorely needed. After several false starts, Louisa takes a job with the town's most prominent family as a caregiver to their son.

But there's a catch. This is no ordinary mother's helper position; Lou is to be a companion to Will Traynor, a handsome, successful young man who was stopped short after an accident left him wheelchair bound. Life as a quadriplegic is particularly difficult for Will, who once climbed mountains and rode motorcycles, seeking as much adventure as his high-powered London business allowed.

Lou and Will's relationship is at the heart of the novel, but Me before You is not a simple love story. The two come from opposite sides of town and have had different opportunities and expectations. As a consequence, there is no fairytale instant connection that erases the gap between them; Lou is not Cinderella, and Will is hardly Prince Charming.

As they slowly find common ground and mutual respect, they face a number of practical, philosophical, and spiritual issues. And here again, Moyes rises above the crowd; sidestepping the usual arguments, she presents the various sides to these dilemmas through the eyes of her vividly rendered characters, letting us see how their personal agendas affect their hopes and dreams for Will's future.

Although I was robbed of the gut-wrenching emotions that almost every other reviewer and reader has mentioned, I still loved Me before You. Jojo Moyes blows away the mists of sappy romance to reveal the deeper, stronger, and truer layers of an intense relationship that seems doomed right from the start.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Penguin Audio; 14 hr, 40 min), which was read by Susan Lyons. The bulk of the novel is told by Louisa, and Lyons well captures the young woman's conflicted and changing emotions toward her job as well as her slow transformation as she is exposed to the broader world that was once Will's.

A few chapters are told from the viewpoints of the minor characters, and I found the changes in perspective to be off-putting, although informative. Unfortunately, their jarring effect was especially noticeable in the audiobook because each was read by a different performer. If Lyons had been left to narrate the entire novel, the interludes would have seemed more integrated with the rest of the novel, keeping me fully immersed in Lou and Will's story.

Penguin USA / Pamela Dorman Books, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780670026609
Source: Review (both print and audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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13 August 2013

Wordless Wednesday 250

Yellow Coneflowers, 2013

copyright © cbl for www.BethFishReads.com

For full effect, click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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Today's Read: Lara's Gift by Annemarie O'Brien

Lara's Gift by Annemarie O'BrienHow would you feel if you were fourteen years old and had your dreams dashed, thanks to the birth of your brother? Lara had understood from a young age that one day she would take over the kennels from her father to breed and care for the borzoi dogs on Count Voronstov's estate. But when her mother gives birth to a son, the family's future is focused on him. Lara must hide both her dreams and her special ability to understand and connect to the dogs, especially her favorite, Ryczar.

On the eve my beloved Ryczar was born, under a bright, full moon, the north wind whistled and howled. Like a forest spirit gone mad with merriment, it ripped through the Wornozova Kennel and sprawling grounds of Count Voronstov's grand country estate. All night long, icy flakes of windswept snow drummed against the stable windows until the last pup was born at dawn.
Lara's Gift by Annemarie O'Brien (Random House / Alfred A. Knopf, 2013, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: imperial Russia; 1910, 1914; a count's country estate
  • Circumstances: Lara, a gifted dog breeder and handler is supplanted by her infant brother; she must find a way to follow her dreams, hide her gift of seeing the future, and protect the dogs from danger
  • Characters: Lara, 14 years old, and her father, mother, and brother; Alexander, a friend in the stable, other residents of the estate, the dogs
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Themes & plot lines: girls' traditional roles, family relationships, spiritual connection to animals, care and breeding of dogs, life in Russia 100 years ago
  • Miscellaneous: impeccably researched; winner of starred reviews; author lived in Russia and has owned borzoi dogs
  • Get to know the author: visit O'Brien's website, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page
ISBN-13: 9780307931740
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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12 August 2013

Review (& Recipe): The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses

Iressistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary SimsesSummertime is my time for lighter reading. There's something about relaxing on the deck that calls for escape. On the other hand, I need a little something extra in my books to keep me on my toes.

If you're like me, then Mary Simses's The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe is just the ticket for your August entertainment.

Ellen Branford is a high-powered partner in a Manhattan law firm engaged to a handsome guy from an old-money, political family. Their wedding is the talk of the town, and Ellen should be floating in happiness. Unfortunately, her grandmother's recent death has put a damper on her plans.

Her grandmother's dying wish was for Ellen to deliver a letter to an old friend from Beacon, Maine. Instead of mailing it, Ellen decides to make the drive, wishing to see her grandmother's home town and hoping to learn something about her family's roots. What she discovers changes her life.

Although The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe is a little predictable, it's a delightful story. Ellen gets herself into trouble right from the start and can't quite figure out what to do about the handsome man who comes to her rescue. There are some expected big-city-girl-in-small-town moments and many mouth-watering descriptions of food. There's also a bit of competition between two cute guys.

As I said, I need a little something more than romance in my books, and Simses delivers on a few fronts. I loved her characterizations and the fact that Ellen's transformation had some subsistence and didn't come easily. I found her descriptions of coastal Maine to be realistic and very tantalizing; in fact, I'm already planning our next trip. Finally, there was an underlying tension between city and town, which gave me something to think about . . . and to laugh about.

To help celebrate last month's release of The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe, Mary Simses has kindly shared Ellen's grandmother's famous blueberry muffin recipe. I can't wait to get baking! Click on the image to enlarge it or save it to print out.

Author Mary Simses's Blueberry Muffins

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Hachette Audio; 10 hr, 15 min) read by Erin Bennett, whose characterizations and regional accents helped bring the book alive. Her expressive reading draws us into the story, making it easy for us to connect with Ellen and the people of Beacon, Maine.

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe
Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown, 2013
ISBN-13: 99780316225854
Source: Review (both print and audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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10 August 2013

Weekend Cooking: Woman on Top (Movie)

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

Woman On Top MovieEvery once in a while I like to sit down with a glass of wine and a big bowl of popcorn and indulge in a fun foodie movie. This week I decided to give Woman on Top (2000) a try. It promised Brazil, lively music, Penélope Cruz, and spicy South American fare.

What I got was a few good food scenes and a movie that didn't live up to its potential.

Isabella Oliveira (Cruz) has a problem with motion sickness, and not just from vehicles but from dancing, elevators, and even sex. The only way she can overcome her problem is to be in control.

Although Isabella loves her husband, she doesn't love that she spends her days cooking for their restaurant while he stays out front flirting with the women. When he goes too far, Isabella leaves Brazil for San Francisco, where she's sure she'll find a job working for a fine restaurant.

After a television producer sees Isabella cook, he gives her the chance to have her very own cooking show. She becomes an overnight success, but what is the cost of fame? And what about her husband who is finally willing to relinquish control and is begging her to come back home?

The music had me dancing and the tropical dishes made me hungry, but neither were enough to save this movie. Although Woman on Top was not slap-stick, it was just way too silly for me. The acting was only mediocre and the premise, which should have made for a light, entertaining romantic comedy, fell flat.

You may have better luck than I did. Here's the trailer:

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09 August 2013

Imprint Friday: Soundings by Hali Felt

Soundings by Hali FeltWelcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Picador USA. 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.

I'm always fascinated by the unsung scientific heroes, those whose research affects our lives but whose names we never know. Maire Tharp is one such person, and her story is told in Hali Felt's Soundings, now out in paperback.

Here's the publisher's summary:

Before Marie Tharp’s groundbreaking work in the 1950s, the ocean floor was a mystery—then, as now, we knew less about the bottom of the sea than we did about outer space. In a time when women were held back by the casually sexist atmosphere of mid-twentieth-century academia—a time when trained geologists and scientists like Tharp were routinely relegated to the role of secretary or assistant—Tharp’s work would completely change the world’s understanding of our planet’s evolution. By transforming dry data into beautifully detailed maps that laid the groundwork for proving the then controversial theory of continental drift, Tharp, along with her lifelong partner in science, Bruce Heezen, upended scientific consensus and ushered in a new era in geology and oceanography. "A playful, wildly thoughtful writer" (Oprah.com), Hali Felt vividly captures the romance of scientific discovery and brings to life this "strong-willed woman living according to her own rules, defying the constraints of her time" (The Washington Post).
Oh to be in the right field at just the right moment in history. Tharp was lucky in that way in terms of science, but she was unlucky in her timing as far as society was concerned. Hali Felt's biography explores these and other aspects of the life of this intelligent, strong, and independent researcher.

Felt, a nonscientist, makes it easy for the lay-reader to grasp the significance of Tharp's work, which had far-reaching consequences across a range of fields, from geology to evolution. But Soundings is much more than a recounting of the cartographer's academic work, it's also about Tharp as a person who bucked conventions on several levels: She was a woman scientist who had a lifelong relationship with a man she never married. She was strong willed, feisty, and not afraid to argue or stand up for what she knew was right.

Young women born after, say, 1980 may be surprised by just how difficult it was for Tharp to have the life she wanted. Women in in the mid-twentieth century might be educated, but no matter how many degrees they had earned, the vast majority of them held secondary places in research institutions. In fact, in the early years of her work, Tharp was not allowed on the research vessels because it was considered bad luck to have a woman on board ship. Truly. Thus her male partner gathered data, while she stayed behind to create the maps and interpret results.

Relying on as many firsthand accounts as possible, Felt introduces us to the public and private sides of this one-of-a-kind woman. The author was lucky enough to have had access not only to archival material (photographs, interviews, tapes) but also to Tharp's personal scrapbooks, letters, and memorabilia. Felt skillfully weaves together the facts, sifts through the rumors, and presents a readable, personal story that you won't soon forget.

For more on Maire Tharp, read her obituary from Columbia University. For a look at her maps, check out Google Earth. For more on Hali Felt, visit her website, like her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter.

Picador USA is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, visit the Picador's website. While there, take a look at the Picador book club and reading guides and sign up for their newsletters. For up-to-date news, don't miss their Tumblr site or Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.

Published by Henry Holt & Co. / Picador 2013
ISBN-13: 9781250031457
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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08 August 2013

Sound Recommendations: Five Great Audiobook Productions

Because I've been so busy with work lately, I've been craving audiobooks and going through them like crazy. I recently discovered (no laughing, I'm so slow on the uptake) that when I put audiobooks on my phone, I can remove the headphones and just listen through the phone's speakers. That means I've found some extra time to listen to books, and I don't have to worry about whether I'm damaging my hearing.

This week's Sound Recommendations cover urban fantasy, paranormal, literary fiction, and middle grade fiction. I feel funny using the word recommendations because the first two mini-reviews aren't all that positive about the novels, but I did love the audio productions.

Entice / Endure by Carrie JonesCarrie Jones's pixies series (I already reviewed Need and Captivate) takes place in rural Maine. The quartet started out strong as the teenage Zara (living with her grandmother after her father's untimely death) discovers that the world around us is not as benevolent as it appears. In fact, wicked pixies are out to destroy humankind and were-animals roam the Maine forests. Unfortunately, the final books didn't hold up to the initial potential of the series as Zara and her allies--humans, weres, an elf, and good pixies--take on the challenge to save the world and find true love at the same time. Entice (8 hr, 30 min) and Endure (8 hr, 31 min) were both produced by Brilliance Audio and read by Julian Whelan who does a fantastic job projecting the excitement and action of the plot as well as the conflicting and changing feelings of deep love Zara has for her were-boyfriend and her pixie king. If you like young adult urban fantasy, you'll probably enjoy Zara's story. Excellent audio productions, even if not my favorite series.

Dead Ever After by Charlaine HarrisThere has been a lot of controversy over the last Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead Ever After (10 hr, 11 min). Let me tell you right now, I'm in the camp with the disappointed. First, all the previous books in the series are told through Sookie's eyes, which adds to the fun. This installment deviates from that formula a bit; in fact, when I started listening, I had to check my phone to make sure I had downloaded the correct title--that's how startling the difference was. Second, I felt that Charlaine Harris took the easy way out of finding a way to tie up the series. Some characters were simply sent away, several got married or had babies, and Sookie realized that a good friend might hold the key to her future. As I mentioned the other day, I thought the series was going downhill and I'm not sorry to see it end. I am, however, sorry that the last installment is such a poor entry. The good news is that Johanna Parker once again narrated the Recorded Books audiobook edition. She is such a joy to listen to that I almost forgot how mad I was at Harris.

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'FarrellIn 1976, in the midst of an unrelenting heatwave, Robert Riordan walks out of his house and fails to return. His wife calls their grown children, who all return home to help find their father. Each family member has at least one closely held secret (some big, some not), and as they search for Robert, their pasts and presents come bubbling up to the surface. Maggie O'Farrell's Instructions for a Heatwave (9 hr, 11 min) is a beautifully written novel about the underside of families, revealing the complex relationships between siblings and parents and how each person recalls shared events from a totally different perspective. Although Robert's disappearance is at the core of the story, this is not a mystery. It's a look at how one family balances personal and mutual crises during a time of changing mores and the decreasing influence of the Church. John Lee is brilliant as the narrator of the Random House Audio production. His characterizations are spot-on, and his lyrical cadence is a perfect match for O'Farrell's prose. (My full audiobook review will be available from AudioFile Magazine.)

Summer of Gypsy Moths by Sara PennypackerSara Pennypacker's Summer of Gyspy Moths (6 hr, 28 min) transports us to a Cape Cod summer, when twelve-year-old Stella is sent to live with her great-aunt Louise. Stella's mother is flighty, to put it kindly, always heading off on a new adventure and sometimes forgetting that she has daughter. After only one month with her aunt, however, Stella is starting to let down her guard. All would be perfect except for the foster kid, Angel, who is as prickly and stand-offish as can be. So much for Louise's hope that the girls would be friends. One day the girls come home from school to discover their lives have once again been turned upside down. Will they be able to make a truce and work together to stay in the Cape Cod house? This is a charming story of how two young girls try to find happiness and stability in a world that hasn't been kind to them. You can't help but love their spunk and determination and their growing friendship, despite their many differences. Both middle grade readers and adults will root for Stella and want to race through the book to see what happens. Jenna Lamia, one of my favorite narrators, reads the Listening Library edition of the novel. Stella's story is tailor-made for Lamia, who conveys the preteen's hopes, fears, and frustrations perfectly. This is a don't-miss listen for readers of all ages.

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