30 September 2013

Review: Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony CliffIn 1807 a young woman sails into the harbor at Constantinople with the intention of stealing valuable scrolls from the sultan's library. Imprisoned before she can complete the deed, Delilah Dirk is interviewed by Erdemoglu Selim, a low-level lieutenant in the sultan's army, who happens to speak English. When Delilah escapes her bonds and robs the sultan, Selim is blamed and faces the executioner's hatchet. Delilah, however, loves Selim's skill at blending tea and whisks him away with her, sailing off on her flying ship.

For the swashbuckling Delilah, it's a just another adventure, but for poor Selim, life will never be the same again.

Tony Cliff's Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is the first installment in a new graphic novel series based on his award-winning webcomic starring the delightful Delilah Dirk. From childhood, Delilah traveled the world with her lenient parents (he was an English diplomat; she was a Greek artisan), learning a variety of fighting techniques and methods of survival. She is brave, a little reckless, and full of self-confidence.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony CliffSelim, however, is used to the city and the court and all the pleasures they have to offer. He doesn't take quickly to the hardships of life on the sea and in the woods. Yet, he is obligated to Delilah for saving his skin, and so he endures, offering her a stabilizing influence. When he's given a chance to start over and become a farmer, will he give up his pirate ways and say good-bye to Delilah?

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is a fun romp through early-nineteenth-century Turkey and Europe and introduces two likable characters whose partnership is never dull. Readers from early teens to adults will fall for Delilah and hope that Selim soon toughens up for his new adventurous life.

Tony Cliff's artwork is gorgeous, with a beautiful earthy color palette. He allows us to see his characters' emotions and feel the action through his expressive drawings (see the scan from Chapter One; click to enlarge). I can't wait to see what scrapes Delilah gets into next.

Roaring Brook Press / First Second, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781596438132
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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28 September 2013

Weekend Cooking: Cozy Up to Some Killer Cooking

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.

As you know I love a good culinary cozy. For me, the combination of a light mystery with some good food scenes and fun characters equals the perfect escape book. Even better is when I can get in on a series from the very beginning. October must be my lucky month because three new foodie series are set to hit the bookstores next week. I bet at least one of these will whet your mystery appetite. 

Drizzled with Death by Jessie CrockettDrizzled with Death, the first entry in Jessie Crockett's Sugar Grove mystery series, is a great cozy for getting ready for fall here in the Northern Hemisphere. Dani Greene's family has been making maple syrup on their New Hampshire farm for generations. As part of the town's fall festivities, the fire department hosts a pancake-eating contest, and Dani's family provides the syrup. The fun times turn sour, however, when one of the contestants ends up dead at the table and suspicion falls on the Greene family. Will Dani be able to find the true killer and get her loved ones out of a sticky situation? This fun mystery has all the right elements: great townsfolk, a beautiful setting, a love interest, and multi-generational family life. Don't miss the recipes at the back of the book, including one for the Who'd a Thunk It sandwich:
I sandwiched maple cheddar cheese, caramelized apples, and crispy bacon strips between two whole grain waffles then toasted the whole thing on the griddle. It's best drizzled with syrup so eat it with a fork. (p. 151)
Available October 1 at a bookstore near you: Penguin USA / Berkley Prime Crime; ISBN-13: 9780425260005.

Murder and Marinara by Rosie GenovaRosie Genova's new Italian Kitchen series starts off with Murder and Marinara. Our hero is mystery writer Victoria Rienzi, who decides to take a hiatus from her successful career and spend some time with her family, helping out at their Jersey Shore restaurant. But all is not calm in Oceanside Park; a television film crew has tapped the town as the setting for a new weekly show. When the TV producer dies after eating a meal at the Casa Lido restaurant, Vic gets involved in trying to solve the murder before the summer tourist season heats up. You'll love Vic's Italian family, the restaurant staff, and their friends and neighbors. The beach setting adds to the charm, and the food scenes will make you hungry. Look for recipes at the back of book, and enjoy Nonna Rosie's wonderful sauce:
The secret to Nonna's sauce was the fresh tomatoes she put up every August; our pantry shelves were lined with Mason jars full of bright red-orange pomodori, accented with basil leaves from the garden. I sniffed deeply at the rising steam from my plate, and my salivary glands wept with joy. (p. 13)
Available October 1 at a bookstore near you: Penguin USA / Obsidian Mystery; ISBN-13: 9780451415141.

Chili con Carnage by Kylie LoganYou won't have any trouble warming up to a great new series by veteran cozy author Kylie Logan. Chili con Carnage introduces us to the Chili Cook-Off books, featuring Maxie Pierce and her half-sister Sylvia. When their chili-champion dad goes missing, the sisters must find a way to put their differences aside to cook up a winning dish. But when Maxie's ex-boyfriend turns up dead, the two realize there is more than one kind of heat. Can Maxie and Sylvia finish the cook-off and avoid being charged with murder? The Taos, New Mexico, setting is as wonderful as Logan's humor. You'll love tagging along with Maxie while she juggles solving the murder with finding her father and making a good showing at the cooking contest. The chili recipe at the back of the book includes a surprise ingredient; I may have to give it a try.
Even from so faraway, I could feel the heat of the flames. A breeze pushed it past us along with the combined aromas that were usually commonplace at any cook-off: beans at the boil and meat simmering in pots. Spices. The simmering air was filled with the combined scents of chili powders and herbs, boiling together and wrapping around us like scented cloud. (p. 197)
Available October 1 at a bookstore near you: Penguin USA / Berkley Prime Crime; ISBN-13: 9780425262412

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27 September 2013

Imprint Friday: Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye

Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay FayeWelcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Amy Einhorn 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.

About eighteen months ago, I raved about Lyndsay Faye's Gods of Gotham, noting that she "brilliantly captures the heart and soul of the seedier and more dangerous side of New York in the 1840s." This month, Faye's second Timothy Wilde book, Seven for a Secret, was released, and I can't wait to finish this fabulous novel.

Here's the publisher's summary:

Six months after the formation of the NYPD, its most reluctant and talented officer, Timothy Wilde, thinks himself well versed in his city’s dark practices—until he learns of the gruesome underworld of lies and corruption ruled by the “blackbirders,” who snatch free Northerners of color from their homes, masquerade them as slaves, and sell them South to toil as plantation property.

The abolitionist Timothy is horrified by these traders in human flesh. But in 1846, slave catching isn’t just legal—it’s law enforcement.

When the beautiful and terrified Lucy Adams staggers into Timothy’s office to report a robbery and is asked what was stolen, her reply is, “My family.” Their search for her mixed-race sister and son will plunge Timothy and his feral brother, Valentine, into a world where police are complicit and politics savage, and corpses appear in the most shocking of places. Timothy finds himself caught between power and principles, desperate to protect his only brother and to unravel the puzzle before all he cares for is lost.
Although I haven't yet finished Seven for Secret, I'm completely caught up in Timothy's conflicted emotions in this novel. Despite being loyal to the fledgling police department and respectful of the law, he has his own ideas of what is morally and ethically right. This can be a problem for a copper of any era, but for Timothy, the dilemma is particularly difficult and personal.

I can also assure you that Faye has avoided the all-too-common sophomore slump. Seven for a Secret once again brings New York—its people, sounds, and smells—to life, allowing me to easily visualize the characters and setting. I am particularly fascinated with the political and social climate of the pre–Civil War city; for example, some people found it easier to talk the talk of abolition than to expend energy helping their black brethren.

Fans of the Wilde brothers will be happy to know that the relationship between Timothy and Val is still central to the plot. In addition, Faye reveals details about their background and gives some of the recurring secondary characters more page time.

I don't know how the novel ends or how all the plot lines come together, but I love being in Timothy's world. Faye's writing is so evocative of the times, with its spot-on dialogue and vivid period details. Here's Timothy describing the behavior of some of the political big-wigs they were charged with protecting:
My chief's voice was thunder-dark and thick with worry. I didn't blame him. Vices in and of themselves are almost badges of honor amongst the scoundrels of the political machines—you whored down the Bowery like a kitchen maid doing the marketing, you gambled away hundreds in rooms with locked doors and then earned it back in bribes the next morning, you drank enough champagne for your brains to feel they were melting come daybreak and then drove off the tremors with a hot mug of rum. (p. 239; uncorrected proof)
Makes you wonder if anything has changed over the last 170 years, doesn't it?

Lyndsay Faye's Seven for a Secret will appeal to a wide range of readers, from mystery lovers to fans of historical fiction and literary fiction. I have no doubt Seven for a Secret will end up being one of my top reads of 2013.

To learn more about Lyndsay Faye,visit her website, where you can see her tour schedule and discover her full range of writing. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Beer and cooking enthusiasts won't want to miss her Beer Meets Food blog.

Amy Einhorn Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010, or click the Amy Einhorn tab below my banner photo. To join the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge, click the link.

Published by Putnam / Amy Einhorn Books, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780399158384
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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26 September 2013

Review: The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. HoughSometimes I decide to read a book for the strangest reasons. I took a chance on Jason M. Hough's The Darwin Elevator because it is set in Australia and has dyspotian elements. Plus the audiobook is read by the fantastic Simon Vance. Unfortunately, I didn't pay close enough attention to the rest of the publisher's summary of this first entry in Hough's Dire Earth Cycle.

More than 200 years from now, humans have finally had contact with aliens, who constructed an elevator into space near the city of Darwin. Of course, earthlings didn't fully think through what this "gift" might mean and so were totally unprepared for the virus that turned pretty much everyone into zombie-like creatures. Only those in close proximity of the elevator and a few people who are immune to the virus remained alive.

Among the people we meet are politicians, technicians, inventors, investors, scavengers, military personal, and the hoity-toity. When news leaks that the aliens may be building a second elevator, all scramble to be in the best position to exploit the power, wealth, and safety that will come with the new construction. The Darwin Elevator focuses on a handful of characters who take sides in what is essentially a struggle of good vs. evil.

Although Simon Vance's performance of the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 14 hr, 27 min) was wonderful (perfect pacing, consistent characterizations, believable accents), I had a difficult time staying connected to the novel. The principal problem is that I've never enjoyed science fiction, with its space vehicles and technological advances. Thus as soon as the characters started talking about data cubes and orbiting, my mind began to wander.

Regardless, I appreciated the fact that The Darwin Elevator had good action mixed with some excellent humor, secret plans, and a little bit of love. None of this, however, was enough to make me want to listen to the other books in the series. But because Hough writes a good story, I'm sure sci-fi fans will likely zip through the Dire Earth Cycle in no time.

If you do decide to give Hough a try, I recommend picking up the audiobooks. Oh, and be sure to tell me how it all it turns out; even the minor cliff hanger can't draw me back to future.

Random House / Del Rey Mass Market Paperback, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780345537126
Source: Review (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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24 September 2013

Wordless Wednesday 256

Rosemary after the Rain, 2013

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Today's Read: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Vaente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherine M. ValenteImagine you were a lonely farm girl with a vivid imagination who wished for the types of adventures you find in story books. What would happen if your wishes came true? September is about to find out.

Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents' house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver's cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds in the shantytowns where the Six Winds live.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (Macmilian Childrens / Feiwel & Friends, 2011, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Nebraska and Fairyland
  • Circumstances: September is given a chance to visit Fairyland, where she meets strange, yet friendly, creatures; makes friends; solves puzzles; learns the rules, and goes on quests
  • Characters: September, 12 years old from Nebraska; the Green Wind, who rides a flying leopard; Ell a Wyverary (a kind of dragon); Saturday, a Marid boy; plus witches and weres, a marquess, a key, and more
  • Genre & audience: fairy story, magic, adventure, fantasy; middle grade and up
  • What I loved; September is realistic, brave, and kind; the references to other fantasies and fairy tales; the terrific world building; the humor; the sheer fun of this novel
  • Miscellaneous: first in a series (yay!); won the Andre Norton Award; was a Publishers Weekly Best Children's Fiction title for 2011; has awesome illustrations by Ana Juan
  • Audiobook thoughts: the unabridged audiobook (Brilliance Audio; 7 hr, 17 min) was read by the author. Although Valente didn't have the polish of a professional, her performance was well done and reflected her obvious love of and familiarity with her characters and world

ISBN-13: 9780312649616
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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23 September 2013

Review: The Never List by Koethi Zan

The Never List by Koethi ZanSometimes art imitates life in eerie ways. That was the case for Koethi Zan and her debut novel, The Never List, which is about three women who were kidnapped by a sadistic man and held hostage in his cellar for years before one of them escaped. Just weeks before the novel was released this summer, three women in Cleveland escaped from their basement prison and the men who held them captive for nearly a decade.

The backdrop of the real-life case makes The Never List all the more scary. Zan's novel begins ten years after Sarah, Tracy, and Christine were returned to the world and when their abductor is getting ready for parole hearings. Because the police never found the body of Sarah's best friend, Jennifer, who was also kidnapped, Jack was not given a life sentence.

As the date of Jack's hearing approaches, Sarah decides her only hope for inner peace and to keep Jack locked away is to prove him a murderer. Eventually enlisting the help of Tracy and Christine, Sarah sets off on a journey that ultimately forces her to face her biggest fears.

Koethi Zan knows how to write a thriller, making The Never List the perfect audiobook for a recent road trip. Both Mr. BFR and I were taken in by the story, cringing at women's life in the cellar, wondering about Jack and his associates, and trying to guess at how the whole thing would play out. We even learned a new term: BDSM, which is the acronym for bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism.

The plotting and range of characters gave the two of us plenty to talk about during driving breaks: who was telling the truth, who was hiding something, whom should Sarah trust? Although we often figured things out on our own, neither of us anticipated the ending. Zan did a terrific job capturing our attention and keeping us guessing.

On the other hand, several story arcs were left hanging. Characters and situations were introduced and even developed but were never concluded. In fact, red herrings and extraneous information were given in the final quarter of the book and then were dropped without explanation and without tying them into the overall plot. Perhaps we are being set up for a sequel that will provide the answers, and if that's the case, I wish Zan had made this clearer.

Regardless of my issues with The Never List, I'm looking forward to more from Koethi Zan. She has great potential, especially if her work is given a stronger, tighter edit.

As I mentioned, we listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Penguin Audio; 8 hr, 39 min), read by Kristen Sieh, a new-to-me narrator. Her performance was excellent. Although she did not infuse her reading with too much drama, she still managed to up the tension and augment the creep factor. We both appreciated her consistent characterizations and her ability to keep us engaged.

Penguin Group USA / Pamela Dorman Books, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780670026517
Source: Review (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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21 September 2013

Weekend Cooking: Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Film)

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.

Jiro Dreams of SushiAbout a month ago one of my blogging, tweeting, photographing, cooking buddies, Christine from The Happily Ever After, shared the foodie aspects of her recent trip to the Philippines and Asia. You may have seen that post because she linked it up to Weekend Cooking.

In that post, she shows a photo of the famous Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in a subway stop below the streets of Tokyo. I knew about Jiro because he is the only sushi chef to have earned three stars from Michelin. Christine's post reminded me that I've meaning to watch the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (directed by David Gelb), which introduces us to the chef, his sons, and his staff. I watched it this week and just loved it.

Once you see this film, you'll have a crush on Jiro, whose personality is a wonderful mix of kind and exacting and humble yet proud. He has spent his life with a single focus, which is making the best sushi in the world. Although he's eighty-five, he still works every day. Although he's won the highest of honors, he still strives to better himself and to learn and invent new techniques.

Despite his narrow passion, Jiro has much to say about life outside the kitchen. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, he talks about parenting, the work ethic, respect for the people he works with, his childhood, environmental issues, and his hopes for his sons. After watching the documentary, you'll agree that Jiro embodies the essence of shokunin (roughly translated as master craftsman or artisan), and you'll be inspired to reach for the same.

This movie won't teach you how to make sushi, but you'll see Jiro and his staff fashion the beautiful, creative items served in his little restaurant. If you want to taste sushi made my Jiro, make your reservation now; he's booked months in advance. It will cost you about $300 for his set sushi menu, which, according to Jiro Dreams of Sushi, will take you less than a half hour to eat.

This is a don't-miss film for everyone, not just those who have an interest in food. Take a look at the trailer and add this documentary to your watch list.

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20 September 2013

Triple Visit to the Funny Pages

Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round by Richard ThompsonLittle Alice Otterloop is just four years old but she has all the wit and wisdom of a girl about three times her age. Her adventures take place at preschool, when playing with friends, or at home with her family. Although Richard Thompson ended his syndicated comic strip Cul de Sac because of health problems, he has continued to put together collections of past strips so new readers can meet the force known as Alice.

Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round is a terrific introduction to the world of Cul de Sac and will appeal to most readers from about fourth grade to adults. I love how Thompson's humor can be read on several levels, making it accessible to both kids and their parents.

Through the strips in Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round, Thompson touches on a number of themes, such as brother-sister relationships, school, friendships, and family life. It's fun to tag along with Alice as she learns about Halloween, talks to the classroom guinea pig, celebrates Christmas, gets sick, and discovers the secrets of the world from her friend Dill and big brother Petey.

Beginning Pearls by Stephan T. PastisI'm already a fan of the comic Pearls before Swine, and I'm pleased that Stephan T. Patis's latest collection of strips is geared to middle grade readers. Youngsters will readily laugh at the animal characters' antics, from Rat's huge ego to the Crocs' never-ending schemes to capture Zebra and have him for dinner. Although Patis sometimes writes about politics, Beginning Pearls was compiled especially for kids, so the humor is all within their reach.

The book is divided by character, allowing newcomers to meet each animal up close and personal. I think my two favorite characters are Goat, who fancies himself an intellectual, and Zebra, who is trying to make peace with the fact that his nearest neighbors think of him as food. Rat and Pig have a complicated relationship, and educators and parents may want to talk about the former's selfishness and the latter's self-esteem issues.

Snoopy Cowabunga! by Charles SchulzWho doesn't love Snoopy? When Charles Schulz published the first syndicated strip of Peanuts in 1950, I'm sure he had no clue how popular his characters would become. Although Charlie Brown is the human hero of the comic, it's his dog, Snoopy, who takes center stage in the latest collection, Snoopy Cowabunga!.

I doubt I need to introduce Snoopy or his friends to any of you, so I'll skip that part. Instead, I'll give you a hint of the many roles the loveable beagle takes on in Snoopy Cowabunga!, some of which are favorites of mine. The two main themes in this book are Snoopy trying to be a writer and Snoopy as an athlete (playing all kinds of sports). There are also a few strips of Snoopy in the Boy Scouts and, of course, it wouldn't be a Peanuts collection without Lucy's psychiatry booth and Linus's blanket. Snoopy Cowabunga! makes great family reading for fans and newcomers alike.

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

Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round (ISBN-13: 9781449437213), Beginning Pearls (ISBN-13: 9781449423032), Snoopy Cowabunga! (ISBN-13: 9781449450793)
Andrews McMeel, 2013
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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19 September 2013

Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevens

The Innocent by Taylor Stevens The Innocent is a strong second entry in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series by Taylor Stevens. Although it shares several common elements with Stevens's debut, The Informationist, this book shows us a different side of Munroe.

Although Munroe's clients pay her millions to gather information about people and corporations, when her best friend, Logan, asks her to help him rescue a teenage girl who was abducted by a cult five years earlier, she can't say no. Munroe knows better than to burst into The Chosen's Argentinian headquarters, guns blazing, to try to steal the child back. Instead, she relies on careful planning, a trusted friend, and her knack for languages to infiltrate the compound and locate Hannah.

The Innocent is an action-packed thriller that shows us the dark side of religious cults, including links with organized crime, monetary greed, and child abuse. It also furthers Munroe's personal story, revealing the vulnerable woman behind the hard, cold, calculating informationist, who doesn't hesitate to kill to protect the weak.

One of the overriding themes of Stevens's second novel is facing the evils of one's past, as several characters, including Munroe, confront their own demons. Logan, for example, was ejected from the cult he was born into and was left to fend for himself, despite his being a minor with little education and no resources. The mission to reunite Hannah with her mother dredges up memories that are almost too much for him to handle.

Stevens has created a complex, intelligent character in Munroe. In addition, her novels go beyond the standard shoot-em-up thriller to touch on a range of topics, such as loyalty, friendship, cults, child abuse, and organized crime. Finally, Stevens's novels are informed by her own difficult childhood, which brings a unique authenticity to her stories. Although The Innocent can be read as a stand-alone, I encourage you to start with the The Informationist and then continue (as I plan to) with Stevens's newest installment, The Doll.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Random House Audio; 12 hr, 26 min) read by Hillary Huber, who narrates all the Munroe books. Her wide range of believable accents and subtle characterizations bring the story alive and her good sense of pacing kept me engrossed in the action.

NOTE: this post was deleted by mistake and was reposted. Comments were restored.

Random House / Broadway Books, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780307717139
Source: Bought (audio) (see review policy)
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17 September 2013

Wordless Wednesday 255

Flower, 2013

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Today's Read: After Her by Joyce Maynard

After Her by Joyce MaynardDo you remember what it was like to be fourteen, feeling as though you were on the brink of womanhood and wondering why everyone still treated you like a kid? During the summer of 1979, Rachel Torricelli got more than she bargained for when she figured she was old enough to secretly help her detective father catch a serial killer.

A little over thirty years ago, on a June day just before sunset—alone on a mountain in Marin County, California—a man came toward me with a length of piano wire stretched between his hands, and the intention of ending my days.  I was fourteen years old, and many others had already died at his hands. Ever since then I have known what it is to look into a man's eyes and believe his face is the last thing you will ever see.

I have my sister to thank that I am here to tell what happened that day. Two times, it was my sister who saved me, though I was not able to do the same for my sister.

This is our story.
After Her by Joyce Maynard (HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2013, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: rural Marin Country, California, 1979
  • Circumstances: a serial killer finds his victims in the woods; a detective's reputation and psyche are breaking as the murders continue and the victim count threatens to reach two dozen; two sisters, daughters of the cop, decide to trap the murderer
  • Characters: Rachel and her younger sister, Patty; Detective Tony Torricelli; the Sunset Strangler; the Torricelli's neighbors and friends; the victims
  • Genre: mystery, thriller, family drama, coming of age
  • Themes & plot lines: sisters, family, first love, loss of innocence, parenthood, stress, 15 minutes of fame
  • Miscellaneous: inspired by the true-life case of the Trailside Killer from the 1970s; the author met the real-life detective's daughters and became interested in the might have beens; an Indie Next pick for this month
Want to Know More?

In the following short video, Joyce Maynard talks about the story behind her novel and introduces us to the sisters who inspired the characters in After Her.

ISBN-13: 9780062257390
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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16 September 2013

Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season by Samantha ShannonThe much-hyped The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is a difficult book to summarize because there is so much going on in this first entry in a projected seven-book series. Shannon must tell us about 2059 alternate-history England; make us familiar with a new vocabulary (amaurotics, Shoels); introduce us to a large cast of characters of different species (races? variant beings?); and then set up the premise, conflicts, and mysteries that will hold our attention over the next few years.

Our hero, nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney, is living a secret life. She's a voyant (i.e., clairvoyant), and in her UK, that's a bad, bad thing. Scion rulers arrest or kill her kind, but Paige can't help who she is. Although her family thinks she's a waitress in an oxygen bar, she really works for the Seven Seals, a voyant group whose members use their powers in London's criminal underworld. When voyants are picked up by the authorities, they disappear forever.

When Paige is finally detected and arrested, she learns there are worse things than death. Voyants aren't executed; they are sent to the lost city of Oxford to serve the Rephaim--ancient beings who prey on voyants for their very existence. Every ten years, the Rephs gather new victims; the reaping time is called the bone season.

The bulk of the book is about what happens to Paige once she is taken to Oxford. The biggest plot points revolve around whether Paige will be able to escape the city and determining the true nature of her Reph keeper, who is known as the Warden. At the same time, flashbacks fill us in on the alternate history and the characters' backgrounds; contemporary passages tell us the rules of this strange world.

Shannon's The Bone Season is a mix of genres that bake up to something new yet familiar. You'll definitely be thinking Hunger Games when learning about the bone seasons; perhaps you'll be reminded of Harry Potter because Paige's world is divided by those who have psychic powers and those who don't. There is definitely a dystopian feel to the book as well as elements of urban fantasy.

On the other hand, the many different kinds of psychics and their reliance on reaching out to the aether is fresh. As are the Rephaim and Emim beings. In fact, from describing the city streets to setting up the rules of survival, Shannon does a great job with world-building, albeit with quite a bit of telling, not showing. The world is complicated enough that (so I understand) the book contains a glossary of new terms and a list of the types of beings.

This first in series is an ambitious novel that covers quite a bit of ground. The Bone Season, however, promises much action and intriguing personal interactions ahead. If you can forgive some bumpy debut / start-of-new-series issues, I think you'll like joining Samantha Shannon for an exciting and extended visit to Paige Mahoney's futuristic London.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Audible for Bloomsbury; 14 hr, 57 min) read by Alana Kerr, who did a fine job with accents, emotion, and characterizations. Her voice is sometimes  breathy, but I like the quality of her subtle Irish lilt for Paige and her ability to pull me into the story. While I was listening, I was unaware that the novel included addenda, but I didn't miss them.

Bloomsbury USA,, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781620401392
Source: Bought (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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14 September 2013

Weekend Cooking: Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer

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.

Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan IyerJust days after Raghavan Iyer arrived in the American Midwest to attend college, he was sorry he never learned to cook. He missed the warm spiciness of his native Indian cuisine, which was conspicuously absent in Minnesota. Fortunately, his dorm had a kitchen, and it was there, Iyer began his culinary journey.

In the early days, one of the most challenging things for Iyer was finding ways to re-create familiar flavors using the types of ingredients found in mainstream Midwest supermarkets. As he notes in his new cookbook, Indian Cooking Unfolded, he experienced firsthand the frustrations that many cooks have when trying to buy ethnic ingredients in small towns.

Thus in Indian Cooking Unfolded, one of Iyer's goals was to show us that authentic Indian flavors and cooking techniques are within the reach of all of us who have access to a decent-size grocery store. The book can be used on several levels, depending on the home cook's experience and comfort in the kitchen, and is set up as a kind of cooking school in eight chapters.

Workman's cookbook designers were on the top of their game for Indian Cooking Unfolded. Within the covers, you'll find beautiful photographs, colorful sidebars, and attractive icons. I love the large step numbers in the directions, and I especially appreciate the step-by-step photographs that appear with some of the recipes. I immediately homed in on the "Extra Credit" sidebars, which offer tips for variations, serving ideas, uses for leftovers, and storage information, as appropriate.

The brilliant parts of the book design, though, are the unfolded sections, which start off each chapter. By opening up the flaps, the home cook can see the important information, directions, and photos all at once. Even better, the unfolded recipes work together to create "the perfect get-started Indian meal."

If you like to read your cookbooks as much as you like to cook from them, then Indian Cooking Unfolded is sure to become a favorite. Iyer offers lots of information about the history of Indian cooking and its influences over thousands of years. In addition, each recipe begins with a great blurb that places the dish in the context of his native country. The opening chapters help you stock your pantry with needed ingredients and even show you how to make your own spice mixes.

The recipes themselves are easy to follow and are written casually and with personality, so you feel as if Iyer were standing next to you in the kitchen. Besides the unfolded recipes, I was attracted to so many dishes in this book. The bread and relishes chapter had me hankering for naan dipped in spicy roasted yellow split pea tapenade. The cardamom lamb chops and gingery kheema will likely become regulars on my table. I particularly loved the Indian kick Iyer gives to mac and cheese and potato leek soup. I may never make the classic versions again.

Almost every dish calls for warm spices and/or chiles. If you like your food a little milder, check out the sidebars for sweeter chiles or simply cut back. As for me, I'm going with the full-on spices. Vegans, vegetarians, and gluten free eaters take note: every recipe is flagged so you can tell at a glance which dishes will fit your diet.

Whether you live in the city or country, Raghavan Iyer has made sure you can reproduce authentic Indian flavors in your own kitchen with little fuss. And even better, Indian Cooking Unfolded was created to be a learning tool, so no need to feel intimidated by new techniques. I can whole-heartedly recommend this book; I know many of these dishes will grace the table at my house.

Instead of typing out a recipe, I'm going to share the following widget, which shows you a recipe for chicken curry and gives you a peek at how Indian Cooking Unfolded is set up. Scroll all the way to the end to see how the unfolded pages work. I think you'll agree that it's a cool idea.

Workman Publishing, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780761165217
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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13 September 2013

Reflections on My 5-Year Blogoversary

© cbl for www.BethFishReads.comWhen I wrote my first post to Beth Fish Reads, I took it as a given that I'd quit this venture before the week was up. Here I am, 5 years later, with about 2000 posts under my belt and over 1 million page views. Who could have guessed?

My original idea for the blog was to write about my nightly habit of listening to audiobooks while cooking or baking. I also thought I'd throw in a photograph or two. I never had any notion of writing a personal blog (and I still don't), but I remained flexible and slowly found my rhythm as a blogger.

Unlike so many people in the book blogging world, I have no desire to publish a novel; I don't ever, ever want to own a bookstore; and I hate to write. Furthermore, I didn't start blogging to enter the industry--I'm already in it. In fact, 2014 will mark my 30th year as a full-time freelance editor, and I couldn't be happier with my career choice.

Wait a minute! What was that? I hate to write? Yes. And I'm also the world's slowest writer. If you can believe it, it often takes me 3 hours to write a blog post. Really. I'm pathetic. This leads me to the main point of this blogoversary post: Where I am and where am I headed?

© cbl for www.BethFishReads.comStaying the Same First, I am not joining the rest of the class of 2008 and jumping offline. I plan to keep Beth Fish Reads up and running as far as I can see into the future. I miss the old days of zillions of comments, lots of community events, and a full feed reader. I particularly miss the people who have disappeared off the face of the earth, some of whom I met in person and considered true friends.

Oddly enough, though, as the number of comments on this blog decreases, all my other stats (page views and subscribers) continue to steadily increase. So although I find that blogging is less interactive than it once was, my audience is still there and growing. Thanks to all of you for sticking with me!

I'm also pleased with the general schedule of Beth Fish Reads: two to three reviews, a photo, a teaser, Imprint Friday, and especially Weekend Cooking (and I encourage all of you to participate in that -- no need to cook, just share a quote, a photo of your favorite ice cream parlor, or even a movie review). I don't see that changing much either.

© cbl for www.BethFishReads.comNature of My Reviews As I mentioned, I'm a horribly slow writer. As a result, writing reviews can be painful, and sometimes I actually resent the burden of putting up a new post six days a week. Here's the deal. I've kept notes on my reading off and on since I was in first grade. I like jotting down my thoughts and thinking about the books I've read. Quite often I have a lot to say, but not always.

So I have a problem: The worst part of blogging for me is the pressure to say something worthwhile about every book I've read; I "need" to do this because one of my blogging goals is to keep a record of everything I've read. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I'm caving under the stress. I don't know about you, but sometimes I don't really want to write up a thoughtful, intelligent review of a book, and here's why:

  • Sometimes I'm reading for pure entertainment. I'm not expecting brilliant writing and profound thoughts. I just want to be lost in another world for a little while. What more can I say about such a book than "I liked it; it was fun"?
  • Sometimes I read a book that I'm dying to discuss with others, but the things I want to say involve spoilers. Then I'm stuck with something like this: "I can't say much without spoiling the book, but I'm still thinking about the decisions one character made." Kind of unsatisfying for me, though it might make you read the book.
  • Oh and then there are the series. I might have a lot to say about the first couple of books, but the 15th entry into Fables or the Hamish Macbeth books, I have nothing much more to say than "Not the strongest in the series" or "I love the changes in the main character's life."
  • Then come the books that are too personal to discuss. These are books that I loved to death, that resonated with me as few other books have. I hate writing in depth about those novels because a review puts distance between me and the experience. I'd rather post something like "just read it" than to force myself to be analytical.
  • Finally, I write freelance reviews for websites and print media and blurb for Bloggers Recommend. Once I've written up a review for another venue, I'm usually done with that book in terms of trying to write about or discuss it further. That means there are a number of books I've read that don't appear on Beth Fish Reads. That kind of makes me sad.
© cbl for www.BethFishReads.comSo what are the solutions? I want to put less pressure on my myself to have to write a full, in-depth review of every book I read. I am hoping that some of my reviews here will begin to take on a different look or feel, depending on the type of book. So a review for a book in a series may be short and to the point. A book I read for pure entertainment might consist of a few bullet points. A book that is too personal to pick apart may include nothing more than a summary and two gushy sentences.

In addition, if I'm on an editing deadline or I don't feel well or I'd rather be out walking or gardening or cooking, I'm going to try to give myself permission to skip a day of posting (except Weekend Cooking) if that makes sense for the way my day is going. I'm not sure this will really happen, but, hey, you never know.

Where to Find Me I really want to regain some of my lost offline life. I rarely make lace anymore and my gardens are a mess. Why? Because every spare minute is going into this blog and social media. I've already cut back on Twitter and have felt the relief. I am also going to try some experimenting to find the best way to read the blogs in my feed reader. Sometimes it's easier to read and not pop through to comment. Sometimes I have the time to make more personal connections. Sometimes I like to reach out on Twitter. No matter how sporadically you hear from me, rest assured that I am still here and still reading what you have to say.

© cbl for www.BethFishReads.comOne new thing I've discovered this year is the Instagram community. There I participate in photo challenges and have made several new online friends. I post one to four photos a day, and I'm loving how much fun it is to find things to photograph and to play with editing apps. I'd love it if you followed me (@BethFishReads) or let me know your instagram handle so I can follow you. Most of the photos in this post first appeared on Instagram (click the images to enlarge).

Thanks again to all of you who have made my 5 years as Beth Fish Reads so satisfying and fulfilling. Here's to 5 more!

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12 September 2013

Review: The Bat by Jo Nesbø

The Bat by Jo NesbøDare I admit that I haven't read Jo Nesbø until recently? I'm glad I waited, though, because I was able to start with the first entry in the Harry Hole series, meeting both the writer and his famous detective in their early days.

As many of you likely know, Nesbø is a native of Norway and is one of the lead authors in the current wave of Scandinavian crime fiction. Thus I admit to being surprised that The Bat takes place in Australia, mostly in Sydney.

Harry is sent down under to assist in the investigation of the brutal murder of Inger Holter, a Norwegian ex-pat. The Australian authorities make it clear that Harry's role is to help Detective Andrew Kensington, and he's not to act without orders or knowledge of the local police. Right from the start, however, Harry sees things the Sydney team missed, and he can't help but put out some feelers of his own.

As Harry gets pulled deeper into the case and the city's underworld scene, he falls off the wagon and drinks to oblivion, takes drugs, hooks up with a couple of women, gets into fights, and misses his plane home. It's a good thing he stayed in Sydney, though, because once he sobers up (kind of) he begins to put the pieces together, ultimately catching the killer.

Harry is a complex character who has self-destructive tendencies and a dark past. Yet, despite his personal problems, he's smart, observant, and dedicated to the job. I'm looking forward to seeing how he develops over the course of the series.

I liked Nesbø's writing and plot development, although I thought there were a few instances of unnecessary tangents into the history of Aboriginal-European relations and information about regional theater productions. On the other hand, the extras gave the book more depth and firmly placed it in Australia.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Random House Audio, 9 hr, 39 min), read by John Lee. It should come as no surprise that I loved Lee's performance. His characterizations were clear and consistent, and he was equally adept at handling the action scenes as he was at reading Harry's more introspective, darker moments. I was touched that Lee dedicated his performance to fellow narrator Robin Sachs, who died much too young.

Thanks to Random House Audio, I can share a sample of the audiobook:

Vintage Paperback, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780345807090
Source: Review (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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10 September 2013

Wordless Wednesday 254

Tonder, Denmark

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

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Today's Read: The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

The Paris Architect by Charles BelfoureWhat if you were asked to put your life in danger to help a group of people you had no love for? What if you were offered lots of money in return? How would your life be changed by becoming a savior to others? Architect Lucien Bernard cared little for the Jews in occupied France, but after he accepts a commission to design hidey-holes for people escaping the Nazis, he slowly begins to have compassion, even as he comes closer to danger.

As part of a special pre-publication blog tour, here are the opening pages of Charles Belfoure's The Paris Architect:

Just as Lucien Bernard rounded the corner at the rue la Boétie, a man running from the opposite direction almost collided with him. He came so close that Lucien could smell his cologne as he raced by.

In the very second that Lucien realized he and the man wore the same scent, L’Eau d’Aunay, he heard a loud crack. He turned around. Just two meters away the man lay face down on the sidewalk, blood streaming from the back of his bald head as though someone had turned on a faucet inside his skull. The dark crimson fluid flowed quickly in a narrow rivulet down his neck, over his crisp white collar, and then onto his well-tailored navy blue suit, changing its color to a rich deep purple.

There had been plenty of killings in Paris in the two years since the beginning of the German occupation in 1940, but Lucien had never actually seen a dead body until this moment. He was oddly mesmerized, not by the dead body, but by the new color the blood had produced on his suit. In an art class at school, he had to paint boring color wheel exercises. Here before him was bizarre proof that blue and red indeed made purple.

“Stay where you are!”

A German officer holding a steel-blue Lugar ran up alongside him, followed by two tall soldiers with submachine guns, which they immediately trained on Lucien.

“Don’t move, you bastard, or you’ll be sleeping next to your friend,” said the officer.

Lucien couldn’t have moved if he’d wanted to; he was frozen with fear.

The officer walked over to the body, then turned and strolled up to Lucien as if he were going to ask him for a light. About thirty years old, the man had a fine aquiline nose and very dark, un-Aryan brown eyes, which now stared deeply into Lucien’s gray-blue ones. Lucien was unnerved. Shortly after the Germans took over, several pamphlets had been written by Frenchmen on how to deal with the occupiers.

Maintain dignity and distance, do not talk to them, and above all, avoid eye contact. In the animal world, direct eye contact was a challenge and a form of aggression. But Lucien couldn’t avoid breaking this rule with the German’s eyes just ten centimeters from his.

“He’s not my friend,” Lucien said in a quiet voice.

The German’s face broke out into a wide grin.

“This kike is nobody’s friend anymore,” said the officer, whose uniform indicated he was a major in the Waffen-SS. The two soldiers laughed.

Though Lucien was so scared that he thought he had pissed himself, he knew he had to act quickly or he could be lying dead on the ground next. Lucien managed a shallow breath to brace himself and to think. One of the oddest aspects of the Occupation was how incredibly pleasant and polite the Germans were when dealing with their defeated French subjects. They even gave up their seats on the Metro to the elderly.

Lucien tried the same tack.

“Is that your bullet lodged in the gentleman’s skull?” he asked.

“Yes, it is. Just one shot,” the major said. “But it’s really not all that impressive. Jews aren’t very athletic. They run so damn slow it’s never much of a challenge.”

The major began to go through the man’s pockets, pulling out papers and a handsome alligator wallet, which he placed in the side pocket of his green and black tunic. He grinned up at Lucien.

“But thank you so much for admiring my marksmanship.”

A wave of relief swept over Lucien—this wasn’t his day to die.

“You’re most welcome, Major.”

The officer stood. “You may be on your way, but I suggest you visit a men’s room first,” he said in a solicitous voice. He gestured with his gray gloved hand at the right shoulder of Lucien’s gray suit.
“I’m afraid I splattered you. This filth is all over the back of your suit, which I greatly admire, by the way. Who is your tailor?”

Craning his neck to the right, Lucien could see specks of red on his shoulder. The officer produced a pen and a small brown notebook.

“Monsieur. Your tailor?”

“Millet. On the rue de Mogador.” Lucien had always heard that Germans were meticulous record keepers.

The German carefully wrote this down and pocketed his notebook in his trouser pocket.

“Thank you so much. No one in the world can surpass the artistry of French tailors, not even the British. You know, the French have us beat in all the arts, I’m afraid. Even we Germans concede that Gallic culture is vastly superior to Teutonic—in everything except fighting wars, that is.” The German laughed at his observation, as did the two soldiers.

Lucien followed suit and also laughed heartily.

After the laughter subsided, the major gave Lucien a curt salute. “I won’t keep you any longer, monsieur.”

Lucien nodded and walked away. When safely out of earshot, he muttered, “German shit,” under his breath and continued on at an almost leisurely pace. Running through the streets of Paris had become a death wish—as the poor devil lying face down in the street had found out. Seeing a man murdered had frightened him, he realized, but he really wasn’t upset that the man was dead. All that mattered was that he wasn’t dead. It bothered him that he had so little compassion for his fellow man.

But no wonder—he’d been brought up in a family where compassion didn’t exist.

His father, a university-trained geologist of some distinction, had had the same dog-eat-dog view of life as the most ignorant peasant. When it came to the misfortune of others, his philosophy had been tough shit, better him than me. The late Professor Jean-Baptiste Bernard hadn’t seemed to realize that human beings, including his wife and children, had feelings. His love and affection had been heaped upon inanimate objects—the rocks and minerals of France and her colonies—and he demanded that his two sons love them as well. Before most children could read, Lucien and his older brother, Mathieu, had been taught the names of every sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock in every one of France’s nine geological provinces.

His father tested them at suppertime, setting rocks on the table for them to name. He was merciless if they made even one mistake, like the time Lucien couldn’t identify bertrandite, a member of the silicate family, and his father had ordered him to put the rock in his mouth so he would never forget it. To this day, he remembered bertrandite’s bitter taste.

He had hated his father, but now he wondered if he was more like his father than he wanted to admit. [To be continued tomorrow at Erica Robuck's Muse.]
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure (Sourcebooks / Landmark, 2013, pp. 1-4)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: 1942, German-occupied Paris
  • Circumstances: Lucien Bernard is asked by a wealthy client to build hiding places for escaping Jews
  • Characters: Lucien, the architect; Manet, the wealthy client, Lucien's wife and mistresses, various Jews, the Gestapos
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Book club themes: greed; ethics; marriage and fidelity; turning points in one's life; humanity; compassion; costs of obeying an oppressor; costs of rebelling
  • Miscellaneous: based on the idea of priest holes, common in Elizabethan England; the author is an architect and made sure all the hidey-holes he wrote about would actually work; excellent period details of life in wartime Paris and the horrors of the Nazi occupation
  • Pre-publication praise: October Indie Next Pick; Library Journal starred review; National Reading Group Month Selection
To follow the rest of tour and to finish reading the pre-publication preview, visit Erica Robuck's Muse tomorrow, Devourer of Books on Thursday, and Linus's Blanket on Friday.

ISBN-13: 9781402284311
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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09 September 2013

September Selections for the Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club

Remember 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.

I absolutely love both selection this month. The graphic novel is a long-time favorite of mine, and the chapter book is an engaging and emotionally strong story.

Bone: Out from Boneville by Jeff SmithI first read Jeff Smith's Bone series in 2009, and I still recommend this great graphic novel fantasy series, which appeals to middle grade readers as well as to adults. Rather than repeat myself here, I'll direct you to my original review.

Bone: Out from Boneville is about three cousins who leave home and set off on an adventure. Fone Bone, our hero and shown on the cover, is a lovable guy who is loyal to his kin and fairly on the ball. Phoney Bone is always looking for the next get-rich-quick scheme and tends to get his cousins into trouble. Smiley Bone is a bit slow but often has a joke up his sleeve; he's also good hearted and offers much comic relief.

This first in the series offers exciting action, great characters, and even a little bit of a love story. The artwork is wonderful, and the characters' faces are so expressive you know just what they're thinking and feeling. Don't miss this series!

Besides the discussion questions on the Scholastic book club site, your readers will likely want to talk about family, loyalty, working versus scheming, and all the different creatures they meet and the places they visit in this engaging fantasy story. The suggested recipe on the book club site is apple pie, which has special meaning for one of the characters and is perfect for the season.

Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela CerantesAngela Cervantes's Gaby, Lost and Found, is a contemporary story that takes place in Kansas City.

Sixth grade is going to be hard for eleven-year-old Gaby Ramirez Howard. Her mother was recently deported to Honduras, and her absent father has suddenly decided to move into her house to take of her. Unfortunately, he is rarely home and can't seem to keep a job for more than a day or two. Even worse, he won't let his daughter live with her best friend and neighbor, although the family has begged Mr. Howard to let them take Gaby in.

The best part of fall is the sixth-grade community project. The girls at Gaby's parochial school have decided to help out at a local no-kill animal shelter. There, Gaby and her friends learn how to take care of the dogs and cats, work to keep the cages clean and fresh, and help the animals find new homes. Gaby is given the job of writing up flyers to encourage people to adopt a new pet.

When Gaby goes too far to save a cat from a bad situation, she gets in all kinds of trouble and even jeopardizes her friendship with Alma, her BFF. Will Gaby be able to work everything out, make peace with her parents, and help the animals? More important will she get the courage to stand up for herself?

Young readers will fall in love with Gaby, hoping she finds happiness and a stable home. Their hearts will also go out to the many special dogs and cats that come under the girls' care at the shelter. I'm sure more than one reader (young or old) will tear up at the end, when Gaby learns we can't have everything we want, but sometimes what we get is just fine anyway.

Book clubs will talk about illegal immigration, deportation, friendship, animal shelters, giving back to one's community, helping others who are less fortunate than we are, and the meaning of family. Although the novel contains what may seem like adult issues, Cervantes approaches them in an age-appropriate manner, and middle grade readers will not be overwhelmed. Don't forget to check the Scholastic book club site for more discussion questions. The punch recipe will remind readers of a celebration at the animal shelter and will be a welcome addition to any club meeting.

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

Bone: Out from Boneville: Scholastic / Scholastic Press, 2005; ISBN-13: 9780439706407
Gaby, Lost and Found: Scholastic / Scholastic Press, 2013; ISBN-13:9780545489454
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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07 September 2013

Weekend Cooking: Ina Garten's Plum Crunch

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.

Back to Basics by Ina GartenI love late summer fruit. But last week at the farmers' market I may have gone a bit crazy when I bought a half peck of prune plums (aka Italian prunes). We did our best to eat them up, but yesterday I realized there were still a ton of plums in the fruit bowl.

My first thought? Time to make a crisp. I generally wing it when I make a crisp, but this time I decided to start with a recipe from Back to Basics by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. As is my usual procedure, I made a few changes to suit our tastes and ended up with a bowl full of yummy and a new September favorite dessert.

I'll give you the recipe as it appears on the Food Network website, which I'm sure is wonderful as written, and I'll also tell you what I did differently so you can adjust accordingly.

My changes: I cut the brown sugar for the fruit by half. We like the natural sweetness of the plums more than we like the added sugar. But if your plums are particularly tart, you might want to add all the sugar. I added Chambord because I like it better than Creme de Cassis. I used almonds instead of walnuts because I wanted to share the crisp with a friend who is allergic to walnuts. Finally, I made only half the topping because I don't like to overwhelm the fruit.

Plum Crunch

For the fruit
  • 3 pounds Italian prune plums, pitted and quartered
  • 1½ cups light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons creme de cassis liqueur
For the topping
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

For the fruit, in a large bowl combine the plums, brown sugar, flour, cassis. Pour the mixture into 12 by 8-inch shallow baking dish.

For the topping, combine all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over the plum mixture.

Bake the plum crunch for 40 to 45 minutes, until the plums are bubbling and the top is browned. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream, if desired.

NOTE: Mr. Linky is loading slowly today. If he disappears, leave your link the comments, and I'll add it to Mr. Linky later today or this evening.

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06 September 2013

Imprint Friday: Man Alive! by Mary Kay Zuravleff

Man Alive! by Mary Kay ZuravleffWelcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

Do you remember when I introduced you to Mary Kay Zuravleff's Man Alive!, which I learned about at the Book Group Speed Dating session at BookExpo America? It was my top pick from Farrar, Straus & Giroux because I loved the premise and thought it'd make a fantastic book club selection.

Before I tell you more, take a look at the publisher's summary:

All it takes is a quarter to change pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Owen Lerner’s life. When the coin he’s feeding into a parking meter is struck by lightning, Lerner survives, except that now all he wants to do is barbecue. What will happen to his patients, who rely on him to make sense of their world? More important, what will happen to his family?

The bolt of lightning that lifts Lerner into the air sends the entire Lerner clan into free fall. Mary Kay Zuravleff depicts family-on-family pain with generosity and devastating humor as she explores how much we are each allowed to change within a family—and without. Man Alive! captures Owen and Toni Lerner and their nearly grown children so vividly you’ll be looking over your shoulder to make sure the author hasn’t been watching your own family in action.
On the last day of vacation, just as Owen pauses on the street to watch his family for a little longer before they head into the restaurant for dinner, his life is changed forever in the instant it takes for lightning to course through his body. Although Owen is the obvious victim, everyone in the Lerner clan is scarred by the event.

With a skillful mix of comedy and the profound, Mary Kay Zuravleff explores how one accident can have far-reaching effects. Toni Lerner, worried about money now that they they have two kids in college, is not prepared to be a full-time caregiver to her husband on top of all her other responsibilities. Young Brooke, a budding gymnast, the only daughter, and the youngest kid, is growing up fast, and the lack of parental guidance and attention is taking its toll. The lightning strike even upends the well-honed dynamics between Will and Ricky, identical twins, who react to their changed circumstances in completely unindentical ways.

Besides his visible scars and residual numbness, Owen is a new man. He wants nothing more than to give up his practice and become the next barbeque king. But is this the true Owen or the result of posttraumatic stress syndrome? When he starts digging up the backyard to build his barbecue pit, is he selfish, as Toni sometimes thinks, or has he decided life's too short to waste it on something you don't love?

Man Alive! is told from alternating points of view, allowing us to see how each family member perceives the before and after and how each copes (or doesn't) with life after near death. Zuravleff has written an intriguing examination of family, marriage, and what it means to be truly alive.

For more about Man Alive! visit the book's webpage at FSG, where you can read an extract, download a reading guide, and read reviews. For more on Mary Kay Zuravleff, check out her website; while there, don't forget to look at her tour schedule to see if she'll be at a bookstore near you.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux was founded in the 1940s and is famous for its broad range of excellent fiction and nonfiction for both adults and children. They have published many prize-winning authors, including Hermann Hesse, T. S. Eliot, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Seamus Heaney. You've likely heard of many of their writers, including Michael Cunningham, Jonathan Franzen, Alice McDermott, Susan Sontag, Thomas Friedman, and John McPhee. (Information from the FSG website.) To learn more about FSG, follow them on Twitter, like their Facebook page, like their Book Keeping page, and subscribe to their fabulous weekly newsletter, "Work in Progress."

Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780374202316
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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