31 October 2013

Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club Picks for October

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.

The Last Present by Wendy MassLast year I reviewed Wendy Mass's 11 Birthdays, an early Scholastic book club pick, which is when I first met Amanda and Leo, birthday twins and (usually) best friends. In The Last Present, Mass gives us another time-bending tale involving the likable young teens.

In this adventure, Amanda and Leo must go back in time to help their town's oldest citizen correct a mistake she made years earlier. They soon realize their task isn't going to be all that easy. Not only do they have to be careful about not introducing any anachronisms when they are in the past but they also discover that someone may have been sabotaging the older woman.

Wendy Mass hasn't lost her touch when it comes to creating believable young characters. I love how she allowed Amanda and Leo to grow up and that their relationship is beginning to mature. Plus there are plenty of great themes to keep book club members engaged, such as becoming a teen, changing relationships between boys and girls, and the different phases of friendship. See the thoughtful discussion questions over at the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site for more ideas plus a yummy recipe for apple cinnamon bars.

The Wolf Prncess by Cathryn ConstableCathryn Constable's The Wolf Princess stars young Sophie, an orphan, who has always dreamed of having an exciting life in the cold north forests, just like in the stories her father used to tell. When she and her two best friends are given a chance to visit St. Petersburg, Sophie can hardly believe that her dreams may be coming true. After some travel mishaps put the girls in danger, they are rescued by a new friend. Anna tells them she's a real-life Russian princess, but her winter palace has an evil feel, and the wolves are howling in the woods.

The Wolf Princess is a fun adventure story with fantasy or fairy tale elements. Constable has created sympathetic characters with clear personalities and particularly shines when developing the setting. Her descriptions of the Russian winter will have you shivering from both the cold and the underlying unease the girls feel under Anna's care.

Book club members will likely talk about what the girls learn about friendship and discovering their individual strengths. The questions available on Scholastic mother-daughter book club site cover trust, travel, and specific events in the novel. The suggested recipe is for home-made raspberry jam, which is the perfect accompaniment for Russian tea.

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

The Last Present: Scholastic / Scholastic Press, 2013; ISBN-13: 9780545310161
The Wolf Princess: Scholastic / Chicken House, 2013; ISBN-13:9780545528399
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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29 October 2013

Wordless Wednesday 261

Happy Halloween, 2013

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Celebrating The Book Thief Movie: A Talk with Author Markus Zusak

The Book Thief: MovieEarlier this fall I was given the exciting opportunity to be part of a group interview with Markus Zusak, author of the multi-award-winning novel The Book Thief. He graciously answered our questions about his book, the newly released motion picture based on it, and his life as a reader and writer.

In celebration of the movie The Book Thief, which opens in theaters nationwide on November 15, I want to share Markus's thoughts about the process of transforming his powerful book from print to screen.

The Book Thief is an emotionally strong story all on its own, but its effect on the reader was enhanced by the particular way the words were presented on the page: from the formation of the paragraphs to the size of the margins and the surprise of the artwork. I was curious how the impact of the unique design of the book would be captured by the fluid medium of film.

Markus Zusak: Every visual aspect of the book is something that I concerned myself [with] when I was writing it. . . . It's really nice that you mentioned just the way even the words are set on the page. I always wanted gaps between the paragraphs in certain ways because I wanted every little paragraph to almost be a story of its own. So [they] all add up to one big story, and a lot of little pictures that add up to one big picture.

I think, for me, the best thing I can say [about changing the medium] is I was really comfortable handing the material over to Brian [Percival], the director. . . . I hoped that the film [would] be different from the book in a whole lot of ways. But I think it'll have the same heart. And . . ., as the writer of the book, you can't really ask for any more than that.
Many of my fellow interviewers were curious whether Death would have a part in The Book Thief movie, seeing that his perspective is so important in the book.
MZ: I can definitely say that Death will narrate the film, just as happens in the book. I haven't seen the film yet. I just want to pay the respect to the producers and Brian [Percival, the director] to see it when it's 100 percent. . . . I'm just as curious [as you are] about how Death is going to make his mark on the story just the way he does in the book. So we'll see what happens.
Although Markus did not write the screenplay or see the dailies or first cuts of The Book Thief movie, he did have some input with the writer (Michael Petroni) and the producers. In particular, they discussed which scenes from the book Markus could live without seeing on the big screen. He was philosophical about these kinds of changes.
MZ: You've only got couple of hours [for a movie], whereas in a book, you can kind of keep writing forever. And that's the luxury of being an author I think. . . . As a writer of novels, you're going to have a bit more room to sort of go on tangents and just to move around a little bit more, whereas I feel like it's a lot more constricting in a film, just mainly because of time.
When I read The Book Thief, I thought one of the major themes was the power of reading and the power of words and just how far-reaching the effects of what people say to each other can be. I asked Markus if he thought this theme was still an important part of the film. [Note: I understood that although Markus hadn't seen the movie at the time of the interview he had read at least one version of the screenplay.]
MZ: Some colleagues of mine from Knopf or from Random House, all really trusted people I know, have seen a rough cut of the movie. A publisher [who was] there wrote to me and said, ". . . the film is magnificent. It's all about the words. It's really about the words."
Markus was understandably happy to hear this "affirmation of what we're going to see."

When asked about his thoughts about how the actors will be able to convey the internal thoughts of his characters, Markus was enthusiastically optimistic, commenting particularly on Emily Watson, who plays Rosa Hubermann:
MZ: I think [Watson will] be absolutely be perfect. She'll be brilliant. . . . I saw the international trailer, [which] is quite different from the one here. I think you see more of [Watson] in that. I looked at her, and I thought, "I bet she's going to be, as I expected, just totally amazing."
By now, I'm sure Markus Zusak has seen the film. I'm confident that his (and our) expectations have been more than met.

Thanks to Markus for taking the time to talk to us and to Twentieth-Century Fox for asking me to participate in the interview. I can't tell you what a thrill it was to meet Markus through the phone lines and how warm and kind he was to all of us.

Take a look at the beautiful trailer for the movie version of The Book Thief:

Can't get enough of The Book Thief movie? Be sure to visit the official website, like The Book Thief movie on Facebook, like author Markus Zusak on Facebook, and follow @BookThiefMovie on Twitter.

Thanks to Fox studios and for the movie stills that appear in this post (click images to see them full size). All right are retained by the original copyright holders.

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28 October 2013

Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Allegiant by Veronic RothI'm not quite sure why so many young adult dystopian stories must be presented as a trilogy. All too often I find that I love the first book, have issues with the second book, and get angry with the third book (see my reviews for The Hunger Games books, for example [click on the "Reviews" tab]).

Veronica Roth's Divergent series follows a similar pattern. In my review of book one, Divergent, I praised Roth's world building, plotting, and characters. I was especially taken with the main character, noting "Tris is one tough, smart young woman, but her weaknesses make her human and win our hearts."

In my review of book two, Insurgent, I wrote "I was pleased that Roth continued to develop Tris's world, introducing additional characters and showing us surprising aspects of individuals we thought we already knew." But I was also disappointed that the teen was becoming obsessed with her love interest, Tobias, and was beginning to show signs of what I refer to as the Bella syndrome (from the Twilight trilogy).

So I approached Allegiant, out last week, with realistic expectations. In the end, I enjoyed it but felt it didn't live up to the potential promised in the first book. Here are my thoughts in Bullet Review form, with minor spoilers for the first two books only.

  • What's it all about? Tris, Tobias, and their friends and family live in futuristic Chicago. People have been divided into groups based on their primary personality trait, such as honesty, selflessness, and violence. In the wake of a bloody rebellion, our heroes decide to go outside the city limits and take their chances with whatever they find. What they discover makes them realize they've been isolated from the true government and from the world at large. They immediately take action to promote their personal beliefs in light of what they've learned.
  • What I liked: That the characters behaved in ways that were consistent with their personalities and background. The ending brought major changes for several of the characters, and I was not disappointed by anything that happened to any of them. The action was nonstop and exciting.
  • What I didn't like: Tris and Tobias's relationship is as rocky as ever: one minute arguing, the next minute kissing. There was a lot happening in the world outside the city limits, so much so that I think Roth should have told this part of the story in two books. I felt the plot was rushed, and I didn't connect well to the new characters, new setting, and new factions.
  • What was new: Unlike the first two books, which were told solely from Tris's viewpoint, Allegiant lets Tris and Tobias share that privilege. Unfortunately, Tobias didn't offer any insights that we couldn't have gotten from Tris. If I had been the developmental editor, I would have suggested that Roth give Tobias a stronger individual voice or perhaps use a different character to share the narrative text. It would have been interesting to see events through a fresh perspective.
  • Note on the audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition (Harper Audio; 11 hr, 51 min) was read by two narrators. Emma Galvin returns to the trilogy to read Tris's chapters. As before, I have nothing but wonderful things to say about her work. Tobias's chapters were read by Aaron Stanford, who did an adequate job, although he was not as strong as Galvin. If you are on the fence about listening to or reading Allegiant, I suggest reading because I found the transition between Galvin and Stanford to be somewhat jarring.
Published by HarperCollins / Katherine Tegen Books, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780062024060
Source: bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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26 October 2013

Weekend Cooking: Melt by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord

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.

Melt by Stehanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCordThe fist thing I need to tell you about Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese is to quit thinking about school lunches and start imagining cheese and pasta, which is the real focus of Stephanie Stiavetti and Garret McCord's new cookbook.

Whether you're a fan of the traditional cheesy white sauce or prefer more modern, brighter flavors, Melt has multiple recipes that are calling your name. The dishes range from classic baked ziti to a Cheddar and avocado entree and from light salads to rich desserts. Even better, Stiavetti and McCord take us out of the American heartland and transport us to Greece, Italy, Asia, and beyond, one delicious dish at a time.

More than just a collection of recipes, Melt includes a mini-course in pasta, cheese, and foundation sauces, all geared to giving you confidence in the kitchen and guaranteeing your success at the stove. Even if you consider yourself an experienced cook, you'll find plenty of new information in the opening chapter and the appendices. I particularly like the cheese chart and pasta glossary.

copyright Matt ArmedarizMany of the dishes will look familiar, such as a Swiss chard and pasta soup; others have clever twists, like the stuffed peppers that use orzo instead of rice. Imagine hosting a late-summer brunch that includes goat cheese pasta salad with grilled peaches or putting together a holiday season dinner centered around crabmeat and blue cheese over fettuccine. I love the modern take on chili mac, with its smokey, spicy flavors and the sharp taste of the fresh greens pesto instead of the more common basil.

The directions are all straightforward and easy to follow, making the recipes accessible to most home cooks. Be warned, however, that there are no cooking times for the pasta, so be sure to check the packaging. Some of the dishes are a little too fussy for a weeknight dinner after a hard day at work, but all are perfectly suited for casual weekend meals with family and friends. In fact, Melt may become your go-to book for this year's company menus.

copyright Matt ArmedarizNote that Stiavetti and McCord call for specific (brand name / artisan) cheeses in their recipes. Because not everyone around the country or around the world will have access to these particular cheeses, the authors have included a list of alternatives for every recipe. Most good grocery stores and farmers' markets will have something suitable. In addition, each recipe includes suggested wine pairings and other foods that go well with the featured cheese.

Stiavetti and McCord have put together a fabulous collection of recipes for almost every taste, from the Indian flavors of the paneer korma with idiyappam noodles to the more familiar baked buffalo chicken with cheesy macaroni, mozzarella-laced mango pasta salad, and down-home tomato soup with star noodles. Don't hesitate to buy Melt and enjoy the new look of mac and cheese. Your family will be forever grateful.

Vegetarians will find quite a number of recipes to use as is or that are easily adaptable; vegans, of course, will want to pass on this cookbook. People on gluten-free diets will appreciate the flourless Mornay sauce and advice on GF pasta.

Note on the photos: The photos were scanned from Melt; all rights remain with the original copyright holder, Matt Armedariz. Click the images to see full size.

Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown & Co., 2013
ISBN-13: 9780316213370
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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25 October 2013

Review: Ansel Adams in the Canadian Rockies

Ansel Adams in the Canadian Rockies I have always associated photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) with the American West, especially Yosemite National Park. What I didn't know was that one of his earliest photography expeditions was to the Canadian Rockies.

In 1928, he was picked as the official (though unpaid) photographer for a Sierra Club trip to Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park in, respectively, Alberta and British Columbia.

That summer marked a time of change for Adams: he was a newlywed and was just beginning to make a name for himself as photographer. The requirements of the Canadian trip forced him to juggle his budding artistic vision with the practical job of recording the sights for the Sierra Club and the paying participants.

The stunning photographs collected in Ansel Adams in the Canadian Rockies are accompanied by sparse text, some of it in Adams's own words (a letter to his wife and an extract from his autobiography). He was clearly moved by what he saw; the wilderness and majesty of the Canadian mountains offered such a contrast from the California Sierras.

Ansel Adams: in the public domainThe black-and-white photos collected in Ansel Adams in the Canadian Rockies are simply beautiful and awe inspiring. In addition, these amazing images provide a glimpse of Adams as a young artist as well as offer a record of what has been lost to climate change and development.

Ansel Adams in the Canadian Rockies would make a special gift for the photographers and art lovers on your holiday list. I plan to keep this one for myself, however, allowing Adams's work to transport me to a place of timeless beauty.

Note on the photo: Photo of Ansel Adams taken by J. Malcolm Greany in about 1950; in the public domain (click image to view full size).

Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780316243414
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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24 October 2013

Review: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen I originally featured Jennifer A. Nielsen's The False Prince a year ago because it was one of the initial picks for the Scholastic Mother-Daughter book club. At the time, I received the first few months' selections and didn't have time to read each book. I regret not reading this gripping story sooner.

Before I tell you about The False Prince, let me first tell you what it isn't. This is not a fantasy book: there are no dragons, wizards, or walking dead. Second, there are no dystopian elements to the story. And, finally, although there may be a love interest developing, there is no obsession; in fact, I don't think there is even a kiss.

The story takes place in the fictional medieval kingdom of Carthya, which is barely holding off its enemies. When rumors spread that the king, queen, and crown prince have been murdered, Lord Conner, one of the country's regents, decides to hatch a plan of daring and deceit. It will bring him much power and riches, but first he must find the perfect accomplice. Thus he scours the country's orphanages seeking boys who look like the king and queen's younger son, who was thought to have been killed by pirates only a few years earlier. Once Conner picks his candidates, he'll teach them everything they need to know to assume the role of Prince Jaron; the most promising boy will survive to rule, the others will face death. Conner is sure he can convince the other regents that young Jaron still lives.

Sage, Tobias, and Roden are the chosen teens, but Sage is our hero (and the narrator of the story). Sage is a thief and pickpocket, who has found success on the streets by being cunning, observant, and always defiant. He is not at all sure he wants to be king. Tobias and Roden are more power hungry, and each works hard to learn all he can about the royal family, to better pull off the deception.

The False Prince is full of adventure, secret plotting, and politics. There is a little bit of mystery and even a few red herrings and twisty surprises. Most readers will know right away which boy will be tapped to impersonate the prince, but even the most astute will be surprised at least a couple of times.

I loved all the characters, especially Sage and his manservant, Mott. But even the evil Lord Conner was complex enough to catch my attention. The False Prince is Sage's story, and his voice and personality are utterly believable. He hides a world of hurt behind his tough exterior; yet there is really no other way for a barely educated orphan to survive. The plot moves quickly, and Nielsen builds the tension perfectly. Although it's easy to root for Sage, you'll be less sure of the other characters, and you'll wonder whom the boy can trust.

Book clubs, educators, and parents will appreciate the deeper themes of the novel, including loyalty, family, duty, self-preservation, public and private personas, and honesty. The Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club website has a great set of discussion questions, and the main Scholastic site has a teaching guide.

The False Prince has been the recipient of many awards, among them a New York Times Notable Children's Book, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, and a Cybil Best Middle Grade Book of 2012. Besides numerous starred reviews and other praise, the trilogy has found a place in Hollywood, and I believe a screenplay is under development.

The unabridged audiobook edition (Scholastic Audio, 8 hr, 14 min) is read by Charlie McWade, whose performance is somewhat stilted, although he did an adequate job. The audiobook, however, includes two extras not found in the paperback edition of The False Prince. One is a short story, which provides some background into Sage's character. The other is a short piece read by the author, in which she discusses her influences and inspiration for the trilogy. Both are worth the listen.

Scholastic Press, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780545284134
Source: Review (print), bought (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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22 October 2013

Wordless Wednesday 260

Beaver Stadium (Penn State), September 2013

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Today's Read: Boleto by Alyson Hagy

Boleto by Aylson HagyWhat if you were the youngest of three sons looking for a way to escape your family's small ranch in central Wyoming? Although there's work for him at home, Will Testerman has a restless, independent spirit; besides, he's just about to fall in love with a two-year-old:

She was a gift, though he did not think of her that way for a long time. He paid twelve hundred dollars for her, money that came straight from his single account at Cabin Valley Bank. She was halter broke, and trailer broke, and she had been wormed for the spring. Someone had taken a rasp to her feet. He had seen her dam, Sally's Quick Ticket, win more than one prize in cutting horse competitions. He had no knowledge of her sire. The man who bred her kept good horses at his ranch outside of Cody, on the South Fork of the Shoshone River. The man did not use his horses much, but he had an experienced manager, someone who knew how to care for foals and weanlings. When the man chose to sell some of his animals, the manager, a careful fellow by the name of Campion, asked around. Campion did not go in for the commotion of stock sales. He had four horses he needed to sell, and the prettiest one was a quarter horse filly that was barley two years old. She was nicely balanced. There was a decent chance she had inherited her mother's speed.
Boleto by Alyson Hagy (Graywolf Pess, 2012, p. 5 [opening paragraph])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: rural western ranches; southern California polo clubs
  • Circumstances: Will Testerman, an ex-rodeo competitor, is determined to make his name as a horse trainer; he's been told that trained polo horses can command a good price
  • Characters: Will, twenty-three years old; Boleto, two years old; Will's family, friends, and enemies; other trainers and buyers
  • Genre: contemporary western; character study; literary fiction
  • Major themes: the new West; strong bond between cowboy and horse; social divides (wealth, class, region); changing way of life; hard dose of reality; non-romantic view of today's cowboy
  • Writing style: beautiful, poetic, descriptive, unforgettable; many reviewers compare Hagy to Kent Haruf, Cormac McCarthy, and Annie Proulx
  • Miscellaneous: Indie Next pick for May 2012; finalist for the Reading West Book Award; now out in paperback
  • Novel's origins: story inspired by a chance meeting with a horse trainer
ISBN-13: 9781555976637
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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21 October 2013

Bullet Review: The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent

The Outcasts by Kathleen KentKathleen Kent's newest historical novel takes place in post–Civil War Texas. For the South, especially, it was a time of starting over and adjusting to a new world and changed fortunes. Families mourned their losses, and men found ways to cope with nightmares and missing limbs.

In the late 1800s Texas was a crossroads of diverse cultures, including American Indians, Mexicans, freed slaves, and ex-plantation owners. Despite the Texas Rangers and local sheriffs, the inevitable conflicts among these peoples were usually solved by a knife or gunfire. In The Outcasts, Kathleen Kent brings together three lawmen, a couple of killers, and one prostitute, whose lives become tangled in complicated ways.

  • The plot: Lucinda is a prostitute who has pinned her hopes on William McGill, a brutal killer who can be charming when it suits him. Nate, a brand-new state police officer is ordered to help two veteran rangers track down McGill and bring him to justice.
  • The good: Kent's abilities to capture a setting are showcased in The Outcasts. Whether writing about specific buildings or the vast expanse of the Texan wilderness, her descriptions are vivid and centered me solidly in the story.
  • The not as good: Although I found it easy to understand Kent's characters and thought they were consistently portrayed and mostly believable, the three principal individuals were just this side of being stereotypes. Lucinda is smart and has a thirst for knowledge; prostitution is simply her means of survival. Nate is a police office of impeccable ethics. McGill is as cold-hearted a killer as you've ever seen. The characters' back stories give them a few unique traits, but there were no real surprises in their basic personalities.
  • The epilogue: I'm not always a fan of the epilogue, but I think it serves a good purpose in The Outcasts. Kent allows us to see a bit into the future but still gives us room for conjecture.
  • The audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition (Hachette Audio; 9 hr, 14 min) was read by Ellen Archer, who did a wonderful job with the action, mood, and descriptions. Although she didn't give every character a distinct voice, I had no problem following the dialogue. The jumps in time and point of view were sometimes a bit jarring in the audio (not Archer's fault), but I was always able to adjust quickly.
Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780316206129
Source: Review (print & audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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19 October 2013

Weekend Cooking: Sunflower Taco Salad

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.

copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.com
If you follow me on Twitter then you know I've had one heck of a busy (and difficult) workweek. I don't know about you, but when the stresses of life begin to loom large, I crave comfort food. And last night, I had the sudden desire to make a dish I haven't made for years: taco salad.

There are a ton of variations on taco salad. Some recipes call for salad dressing and others for tortilla bowls. I've seen recipes mimicking the seven-layer dip that was so popular about fifteen years ago and some that seem more like nachos than a salad.

My version is a take-off on a dish I used to order often at a family-owned Mexican restaurant when I was in college. They called it "Sunflower Taco Salad," for obvious reasons, if you look at the photo. Kids always love this salad because of the fun tortilla chip ring. Hope you enjoy it too.

Some notes: (1) I usually make this with what I have on hand. In this case, the meat was ground lamb. Use ground beef, chunks of chicken breast, or no meat, if that suits your pantry or diet. (2) While it's best to use a sturdy lettuce, like Romaine or Iceberg, all I had was spring mix, so that's what you see in the photos. (3) Feel free to use whatever spice mix you'd like, such as taco seasoning or a Penzey mix (my preference). (4) Use whatever toppings you like. Some recipes call for olives, green onions, tomatoes, and even corn.

copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.comSunflower Taco Salad
Serves 4-6

For the meat
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (14-oz) can black beans, drained
  • 1 (4-oz) can chopped green chiles
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.comToppings and garnish
  • Guacamole
  • Salsa
  • Sour cream
  • Cheddar cheese, grated
  • Lettuce, shredded or chunked
  • Tortilla chips, triangle shaped
copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.comFor the meat: Brown the meat in a large skillet over medium high heat. (Add a little oil if your meat is fairly lean.) Just as the meat begins to lose its pinkness, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring until the onion softens. Add the beans and green chiles and stir to combine. If the mixture is very dry, add a few tablespoons water or broth. Add the spices and let simmer about 5 minutes to heat the beans and combine the flavors. Turn off the heat and let the meat sit while you prepare the toppings and plates.

For plating and serving: Place the guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and cheese in small serving dishes to pass at the table. For each serving, place a bed of lettuce on the bottom of a large dinner plate. Top with several spoonfuls of the meat mixture. Tuck the tortilla chips all around the plate with the points facing out (forming the petals of a sunflower). Serve, allowing each diner to add toppings according to individual taste.

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18 October 2013

Three Great Reads for Jane Austen Fans

I'd like to continue my Jane Austen theme from last week (see my review of Longbourn and my feature of The Pursuit of Mary Bennet) by introducing you to three more recent books inspired by or celebrating Austen.

Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley AdkinsRoy Adkins and Lesley Adkins's Jane Austen's England (Viking, ISBN-13: 9780670785841) is a fascinating look at everyday life in England at the turn of the nineteenth century. I am particularly drawn to this book because of the authors' reliance on firsthand records. They scoured "letters, diaries, travelogues, accounts of criminal trials and newspapers" to bring Austen's world alive. The variety of witnesses--the clergy, a man of means, a poor woman, husbands and wives, and tourists--gives us a wide perspective on social customs, politics, the military, the economy, and day-to-day chores. The chapters cover major events, such as births and weddings, as well as everyday concerns, such as childhood, religion, and fashion. I plan to read this book in stages, one chapter/issue at a time, so I can fully absorb the material. Jane Austen's England will appeal not only to Austen fans but also to those interested in history, culture, anthropology, and English customs.

Did you know there was a Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA)? Author Deborah Yaffe, a lifelong Austen fan, first joined the organization when she was barely a teen. Her recent book, Among the Janeites (Mariner Books, ISBN-13 9780547757735) brings to light the many faces of the modern-day Austen enthusiast. Relying on personal interviews and her own observations and participation in events, Yaffe offers a journalist's perspective on Austen's continuing popularity in the twenty-first century. From websites to YouTube spoofs, blogs, and clubs, Austen has found a surprisingly active presence in social media. Off line, fans watch Austen-inspired movies and mini-series, devour the abundant spin-offs, partake in Austen-based tours of England, attend $5000-a-head balls, and buy patterns to make their own period clothing. As one would expect from a diverse group of people drawn together for a single purpose, being a Janeite is not without its drama, but the Austen community has also been a source of friendships and bonding for people all over the world. Entertaining and informative.

Sense & Sensibility by Joanna TrollopeI am endlessly curious about contemporary takes on Austen's novels, and for reasons I haven't investigated, Sense & Sensibility seems to be one of the more popular foundations for reimaginings. Joanna Trollope's modern-day version (Harper, ISBN-13: 9780062200464), complete with mp3 players and cell phones, tells the story of the Dashwood sisters after they've fallen on hard times. Staying true to Austen's plot, Trollope's job, as part of the Austen Project, was to modernize the details just enough to bring a twenty-first-century perspective to the story. What's particularly interesting to me is how many themes of S&S remain important today: family duty, the power of money, and the effects of making bad choices in love, for example. On the other hand, what was shocking behavior in the early 1800s is not so bad today, but social media makes it so much more difficult to hide our mistakes. So Trollope was faced with making believable changes that would ring true to both die-hard fans and new readers while retaining the enduring essence of Austen's beloved novel. I'm looking forward to both this version and the entire Austen Project series.

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17 October 2013

Bullet Review: The Golden One by Elizabeth Peters

The Golden One by Elizabeth PetersAs I mentioned in my review of Elizabeth Peters's Lord of the Silent a couple of weeks ago, I plan to finish the last few installments of her wonderful Amelia Peabody books fairly quickly. It's not my usual style to race through a series, but my current work schedule (insanely busy) demands some fun reading. Elizabeth Peters fills the bill.

This Bullet Review is focused on The Golden One, the sixteenth Peabody book; for a quick look at the series, see my review of the previous entry (click on the link above). Peters created such a fun and entertaining premise with fabulously unique characters and a fascinating setting that I'm sorry there are only three books left.

  • What's happening in The Golden One: It's 1917 and World War I is winding down but still very much on everyone's minds. The Emerson-Peabody family decides to remain in Egypt for a long stay rather than risk the dangers of sea travel during wartime. The bulk of the action takes place in Luxor and involves antiquities theft, betrayal, and rumors of untouched tombs.
  • Amelia Peabody's quirks: Amelia prides herself on being prepared for all emergencies--a good thing because the family is constantly getting into scrapes. She almost always carries one of her trademark "stout parasols" (one of which has a hidden dagger), and there are a couple of hysterical parasol scenes in The Golden One. She is also rarely without her belt, which is adorned with her "useful accoutrements." I love it that the Emersons' young Egyptian friend, Jumana, has fashioned her own belt in emulation of Amelia.
  • Family matters: One of the successful decisions Peters made when writing this series was allowing her characters to age, mature, change, and grow. Emerson himself seems to be mellowing a bit professionally, and it's good to see. Nefret and Ramses's relationship continues to develop, and I like the way they are coming to terms with what kind of marriage they will have.
  • What's ahead: The book ends with the expectation of further changes for the family, both personally and professionally. I can't wait to see what happens in both arenas.
  • Audiobook notes: I have to be careful where I listen to the Amelia Peabody books because the main characters' antics and comments often have me laughing out loud. The combination of Peters's sense of humor and narrator Barbara Rosenblat's impeccable timing leaves me smiling. Such a great company when I'm on a walk or cooking.
HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2002
ISBN-13: 9780380978854
Source: Borrowed (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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15 October 2013

Wordless Wednesday 259

Flower in Black & White, 2013

copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.com

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Today's Read: Red by Alison Cherry

What if you were the one of the most popular girls in high school, thanks to your beautiful coppery tresses. Now suppose someone found out that you've been a lifelong fake and is threatening to reveal you're a natural strawberry blond. For Felicity St. John, such exposure would destroy her life and dreams, seeing that her home town gives preferential treatment to redheads.

Every town has a dirty little secret. Some have underground drug rings. Others look away while prostitution flourishes. A select few shelter branches of the Mob.

Scarletville's secret was Rouge-o-Rama.

There was rampant speculation among the town's residents over where the underground hair salon was located and what it looked like.
Red by Alison Cherry (Random House Children's Books / Delacorte Press, 2013, p. 20; uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Scarletville, Iowa, the National Redhead Sanctuary
  • Circumstances: Redheads have all the advantages in Scarletville; Felicity is pretty, kind, and popular but has a secret: she's not a natural redhead; if her secret is revealed, she will lose the Miss Scarlet beauty pageant and with it the money she needs to attend art school; a blackmailer makes her rethink the town's priorities
  • Characters: Felicity St. John; Ginger St. John, her mom; Haylie and Ivy, her BFFs; Brent, her football-playing boyfriend; various classmates and their parents; other townsfolk
  • Genre: contemporary young adult; satire; humor
  • Major themes: the superficiality of prejudices; friendship; mother-daughter relationships; staying true to oneself; secrets; navigating the high school social scene; peer pressure
  • Miscellaneous: although the premise seems silly, substitute hair color with weight or religion (for example) and you'll see that the novel makes some serious points
  • Thoughts so far: fun quick read that will appeal to younger teens and their parents; good mother-daughter book club pick
ISBN-13: 9780385742931
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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14 October 2013

Review: Runaways: Pride & Joy by Brian K. Vaughan

Runaways: Pride & Joy by Brian K. VaughanThere were two kinds of comic book readers when I was a kid: those who read about superheroes and those who liked Archie. I was always in the latter group. So when I picked up Runaways: Pride & Joy at the suggestion of my Internet friend Kelly (The Written World), I wasn't sure what I'd think. But because we--along with SuzieQOregon (Whimpulsive)--decided to read a graphic novel series more or less at the same time, I gave it a go.

Brian K. Vaughan (of Saga fame) wrote the Runaways series for middle grade readers and up who are looking for a fresh, modern take on the superhero genre. Although the books don't feature Spider-Man, Superman, and the Invisible Woman, they do star teens who are somewhat more than they appear.

Ever since they can remember, Alex, Gertrude, Karolina, Chase, Molly, and Nico have been forced to spend one evening a year together at Alex's house while their parents meet in private to discuss their charity work. One year, bored and not happy with each other's company, the kids decide to spy on the meeting.

What they discover is that their parents are part of a secret intergalactic group called the Pride. Instead of doing good for the less fortunate, the six couples are really plotting the takeover of the world. Their children are naturally horrified and band together, hoping to thwart the Pride's plans. Once the adults realize they've been exposed, they cast aside all parental feelings and go after the children with a vengeance, protecting their own interests at all costs.

Pride & Joy sets up the premise for the books to follow. We are introduced to the two rival gangs, and see the teens' transformation as they begin to discover their own powers and learn the truth of their parents. I particularly liked how Vaughan captured the teenage mind and gave each kid a distinct personality. There is a tiny bit of sexual attraction between two characters, but it's a minor part of the story, so we are saved the drama of all-consuming teen love.

I never would have guessed that I'd look forward to reading a graphic novel series with a foundation in classic Marvel comics. But Brian K. Vaughan has caught my interest. Plus I love the tag line:

At some point in their lives, all young people believe their parents are evil . . . but what if they really are?
copyright Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian AlphonaDon't be thrown off by either the target audience (middle grade readers) or the superhero aspects of Runaways. Pride & Joy holds the promise of much more than simple action-packed good vs. evil. I'm looking forward to seeing how the teens mature into their new roles and learn to get along so they can work as a team.

The artwork, penciled by Adrian Alphona, is detailed enough to provide a clear sense of the environment, action, and emotions without being distracting. The quirks of each character seem to be consistently rendered, making it easy to recognize people at a glance. I love the color scheme of dark greens and blues, sparked by muted orange and purple. The scan (click the image to see full size) comes from early in the book (the pages aren't numbered), when we are being introduced to the six families on the evening of the annual get-together.

Marvel, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780785157328
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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12 October 2013

Weekend Cooking: Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

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.

Isa Does It by Isa Chandra MoskowitzDo you follow the Post Punk Kitchen blog? If not, you're in for a treat. Isa Chandra Moskowitz has a funky and friendly personality that is evident both on her blog and in her new cookbook, Isa Does It. If you ever eat vegetarian or vegan or if you are allergic to eggs or dairy, you should take a look at the way Isa cooks.

Unlike many cookbook authors, Isa doesn't have childhood memories of generations of her family gathering in a big kitchen, cooking ethnic dishes for hours in preparation for Sunday dinner. Instead, she is the product of convenience foods, and only after deciding to become a vegetarian did she learn to cook, relying on cookbooks, spunk, and some help from her mother and sister.

Because she's a city gal, Isa's recipes can all be made in cramped urban kitchens, on old appliances, and with little counter space. In fact, the focus of Isa Does It is to show how easy it can be to put together healthful meals without breaking the bank, needing tons of fancy equipment, and taking more than 30 minutes of cooking time.

from Isa Does It by Isa Chandra MoskowitzThe pastel color scheme, fun fonts, and cute line drawings found throughout the book seem to reflect Isa's easygoing, open personality. But after looking at the gorgeous photographs and reading the informative recipe introductions and notes, you can tell this cookbook offers seriously good advice on how to create delicious meals.

Isa believes that anyone can cook and bake vegan, and she offers chapters full of tips and tricks, techniques and tools as well as solid pantry advice. There are almost no "weirdo" ingredients, and when she calls for one, she makes sure to provide an alternative. Although a good number of recipes use tofu or tempeh, many recipes are soy-free. In addition, Isa doesn't use fake, store-bought meats. If she wants to replicate a specific texture or flavor, she does it using simple ingredients, sometimes building on a soy product, but not always.

Isa Does It starts with soups, which are some of the easiest dishes to make. It's also the chapter I'm likely to use most often. Her salads are beautiful to look at, go together in a snap, and are extremely versatile. Try a greens and roasted vegetable salad as a main dish or bring a grain or pasta salad to a picnic or pot luck. I was in awe of the great variety of veggie burgers, wraps, and tacos. No need to be bored eating the same old bean burger for every cookout.

from Isa Does It by Isa Chandra MoskowitzTrue to her roots in a small kitchen, Isa includes chapters of fabulous one-dish meals, including stews, chilis, curries, stir-fries, and oven dishes. There's a world of flavors here, from French to Indian, Mexican, and Italian. I love her tricks, such as creating creamy dairy-free sauces for a vegan mac and cheese and roasting tempeh for a hearty Belgian stew. I was also happy to see that her directions are direct, clear, and well thought out, making it easy for any level cook to create healthful and flavorful meals.

Whether you're a full-time vegan or a once-in-a-while vegetarian, Isa Does It is likely to become one of your favorite cookbooks. Boring hippie food and ultra-fussy New Age gourmet recipes need not apply; Isa is all about weeknight eating for real people who don't have time to spend hours shopping and cooking.

Instead of sharing just one recipe, I decided to direct you to Isa's fabulous blog, Post Punk Kitchen, where you can find all kinds of dishes to try, from breakfast to dessert. Don't miss the fun, spooky Halloween treats and videos that she posted this month.

Note on the photos: The photos were scanned from the cookbook. The Babushka Borscht is from page 40 and the Everyday Pad Thai is from page 178. The photographer is Vanessa Rees, and all rights are as stated on the copyright page of the cookbook.

Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown & Co., 2013
ISBN-13: 9780316221900
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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11 October 2013

Imprint Friday: Three from HarperTeen

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: HarperTeen. 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.

This week at Imprint Friday, I'm highlighting three recently released books from HarperTeen, which publishes quality fiction for young adults (and older adults) in a wide range of genres, including contemporary, dystopian, romance, fantasy, and literary. If you've read Meg Cabot, Melissa Marr, Chris Crutcher, Veronica Roth, or Candace Bushnell, then you're already familiar with HarperTeen's strong commitment to excellence.

The Brokenhearted by Amelia KahaneyThe Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney (ISBN-13: 9780062230928): Set in a dystopian urban environment, this first in a series introduces us to Anthem Fleet, a smart teen who is on her way to becoming a professional ballerina. One night, however, she attends a party in a questionable part of town and her life takes a new turn. Saved from death thanks to a mechanical heart, Anthem discovers she has gained not only a second chance at life but also superhuman abilities. Now leading a dual existence, she pretends to be a regular teen in public while hiding her involvement with the darker elements of the city. Action, love, and girl power pump up this futuristic take on the classic superhero story.

No Angel by Helen KeebleNo Angel by Helen Keeble (ISBN-13: 9780062082275): A teenage boy never had it so good! Rafael Angelos arrives at his new boarding school to discover he's the only male enrolled at St. Mary's. What could be bad about having the dorm--and the girls--to himself? Actually, quite a bit. As Raf soon learns, his name is no accident, and when he sprouts wings and a halo, he's understandably freaked out. Then when he realizes the students of St. Mary's are really she-demons, things really begin to heat up. Can this newly fledged angel keep his typical teen-boy thoughts and feelings under control long enough to help the weak without succumbing to the temptations around him? This story of angels and demons is purposely campy; get ready for some devilish fun.

Find Me by Romily BernardFind Me by Romily Bernard (ISBN-13: 9780062229038): Being in a foster home offers little security or peace for sisters Wick and Lily, especially considering their father's ties to the crime world. The apple don't fall far from the tree, though, and Wick spends her spare time learning the tricks of computer hacking, earning a little side money when she can. So when an old friend goes missing, Wick takes up the case, with a little help from the cute guy next door. Tension builds as Wick hides her activities from both the cops and the suspects and then reaches the breaking point when threats hit close to home. This well-written technological thriller has plenty of creep factor as Wick uses her skills to hunt down the bad guy and protect those she loves.

For more on HarperTeen, visit their website, where you can learn about your favorite authors, sign up for the "HipLit Newsletter," and enter contests. The imprint is active in social media, so you can follow them at your favorite sites: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr.

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10 October 2013

Bullet Review: Buried Prey by John Sandford

Buried Prey by John SandfordMany of my mystery-loving friends have recommended John Sandford's Prey series, featuring the detecting abilities of Minneapolis-St. Paul–based Lucas Davenport. One of the reasons I haven't given any of the books a try until now is that the series is a daunting twenty-three books long.

Until relatively recently, I would have been stopped cold because I had an almost obsessive need to read series in order from first to last. The thought of starting in somewhere in the middle was unthinkable. Fortunately, I've moved beyond that: Yes it's often better to begin at the beginning, but I was missing out on some good reading by being inflexible. I was lucky in picking Buried Prey, a totally fortuitous jumping-off place.

  • Simple summary: Lucas Davenport, who works for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension started his detective career in 1985 when he was a patrol cop in the Twin Cities. Buried Prey takes Davenport back to his very first case, when he was tapped to help find two sisters who were presumably kidnapped and murdered; that case was unsatisfactorily solved. When the girls' bodies are finally discovered about twenty years later, Davenport makes it his business to find the real killer.
  • Lucky introduction: Because this novel shows us two Davenports—one as a young, callow rookie and the other as a harden, respected detective—it is a great place to get a feel for Sandford's Prey series. Although I didn't get to know Davenport slowly over the course of the books, I was given a chance to compare the man he used to be with the one he is now.
  • Characters, plotting, & action: I was fascinated with Davenport as a man. He is intelligent and doesn't make decisions lightly. He may have been (and still is?) a bit of renegade, but his actions are calculated, not reckless. The plotting was tight, the details were just right, and the tension built up beautifully. The interplay between the action of the case (in both time periods) and Davenport's personal life was nicely balanced.
  • Point of interest: I particularly liked the differences in technology and resources from 1985 to the present. Computers, cell phones, electronic data bases, and DNA analysis are drastically different today from what they were almost thirty years ago.
  • Note on the author: John Sandford is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, who spent many years as a reporter in the Twin Cities; his knowledge of the locale brings an authenticity to Lucas Davenport's world.
  • Thoughts on the audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 57 min) read by Richard Ferrone, who narrates (as far as I can tell) the entire Prey series. I'm a Ferrone fan, and he didn't let me down with Buried Prey. His comfort with Sandford's writing and characters comes through in the audio production. Ferrone's characterizations, Midwest accent, and pacing matched the book well.
  • Recommendation: Great choice for mystery/thriller fans who like a tough but personable detective, a tense story line, and vivid details. Perfect entry point for readers who don't want to start with book one of a long series.
Penguin USA / Putnam Adult, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780399157387
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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08 October 2013

Wordless Wednesday 258

End of the Season, 2013

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Today's Read: The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela MingleYesterday I reviewed Longbourn by Jo Baker, which is a sort of Pride & Prejudice spin-off that gives us a glimpse into the downstairs world of the Bennet estate. That book highlighted how Jane Austen's work has withstood the test of time. Centuries after her death, authors are still inspired by her characters and readers just can't seem to get enough

It seems I'm on a P&P bender because when Pamela Mingle's The Pursuit of Mary Bennet arrived on my doorstep last week, I couldn't wait to start reading. I'm only about a hundred pages in and the novel won't be available in bookstores until November, but I'm excited to share my early thoughts with you.

It's been three years since Lydia, Jane, and Elizabeth Bennet married and moved away from Longbourn. Left at home with Kitty, Mary has begun to mature into a well-read, although socially naive, young lady. But lacking self-confidence and filled with resentment, she still struggles to find her place in the Bennet family and in the world. In The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, she takes center stage and tells her own story.

. . . . Why was I loitering outside the upstairs sitting room, eavesdropping on a conversation between my parents? Especially since it aroused such ire in me. That couldn't be healthy. I leaned in closer.

"To see all my girls but one settled. Such joy!" Mama said.

"Is Kitty engaged, then?" my father asked.

"She soon will be, mark my words. We will have another wedding by Michaelmas."
The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle (HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2013, p. 1; uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: three years after Jane and Lizzy Bennet marry; action takes place (so far) at Longbourn (the Bennet estate), Pemberley (the Darcy estate), and High Tor (the Bingley estate)
  • Circumstances: Lydia Bennet Wickham is once again on the verge of disgracing her family, so Mary and Kitty are whisked off to stay with Jane until any hint of scandal dies down
  • Characters: Jane and Bingley, Lydia and Wickham, Lizzy and Darcy, Mary, Kitty, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, a new love interest, children, and various minor characters—both new and familiar
  • Genre: historical fiction; Pride & Prejudice spin-off
  • Miscellaneous: told from Mary's viewpoint; much of the dialogue has a very Austen feel to it and the characters seem familiar, if more mature
  • Major questions so far: will Mary finally find happiness; will Lydia ever settle down; is Kitty really about to be engaged; are Jane's and Elizabeth's marriages still happy; will Mrs. Bennet ever stop meddling
ISBN-13: 9780062274243
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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07 October 2013

Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo BakerWhenever I'm asked to name my favorite book, my mind goes blank. It's kind of like asking a parent to name her favorite child: each one is the best in his or her own way. If forced to choose, I usually say Pride & Prejudice because I do love it, and most people are familiar with the story (usually through the many movie versions).

If you've read Jane Austen's classic novel, then you might remember some of the small staff at the Bennets' family estate, Longbourn. Have you ever wondered about their lives? Author Jo Baker did and provides us with the downstairs-eye-view of the Bennet girls' courtships in her new novel, Longbourn.

The focus of Longbourn is on the five principal servants for the manor house. Besides getting an inside look at the management of Longbourn, we learn the interesting back story for the formidable Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, and her complex relationship with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Sarah, the under maid, plays a central role, and through her we discover just how difficult it was to be in service at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Fans of Pride & Prejudice (like me) will recognize the details that point to the classic novel. For example, we get to know Mr. Collins from the maids' perspectives rather than from the Bennet sisters'. Baker doesn't re-create the proposal scene; instead, she lets us see the staff's reaction when they learn Lizzy has refused her cousin. Thus Longbourn is not a retelling of Austen's work; it's about the secondary world that moves parallel to the lives of the privileged ladies and gentlemen. In fact, the familiar events of Pride & Prejudice are introduced only when they specifically affect the servants.

In Longbourn, Jo Baker examines the very different opportunities and choices available to young women who go into service compared to those whose fathers inherited estates. Although the novel will appeal most to readers who are familiar with Pride & Prejudice, anyone with an interest in nineteenth-century life or who loved the movies based on Austen's novels will enjoy getting to know the people who keep Longbourn running.

Although I read the first two thirds of Longbourn in print, I finished the novel by listening to the unabridged audiobook edition (Random House Audio; 13 hr, 31 min), read by Emma Fielding. Fielding's performance was wonderfully expressive, and her light British accent added to the ambiance of the novel. Listeners will find themselves immediately drawn into the story, thanks to Fielding's narration.

Random House / A. A. Knopf, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780385351232
Source: Review (both print & audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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05 October 2013

Weekend Cooking: Canal House Cooking Volume 8 by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

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.

Canal House Cooking Vol. 8 by Hirsheimer and HamiltonChristopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, the women who put together the Canal House Cooking collections, have an approachable attitude toward food that comes out in the style of their recipes. But don't be fooled. Their motto may be "home cooking by home cooks for home cooks," yet their roots are hardly ordinary. From food photography to food styling to writing, creating, and editing recipes, this pair has done it all, and for some of the biggest publications in the food business (Saveur, Martha Stewart Living, Cook's Illustrated).

Hirsheimer and Hamilton's newest book, Canal House Cooking Volume 8, focuses on Italy and has a wonderful red and green color scheme with a very Italian feel. Besides the gorgeous photographs of Italy, key ingredients, and many of the completed dishes, the book includes essays on Italian food and wine by experts in their fields.

The chapters are organized in a familiar fashion, starting with drinks and moving to appetizers, pasta, meats and fish, side dishes, pizza, and dessert. What I love about the Canal House recipes is the burst of flavor that is achieved from the simplest of dishes. How about a salad of green olives, fennel, and parsley seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil,  and lemon? You can put this together in a few minutes to create a delicious and beautiful starter that will perk up your appetite.

copyright The Canal HouseThe pasta and pizza chapters feature light sauces and fresh ingredients: zucchini and clams, cherry tomatoes and basil, and escarole and fontina. Easy-to-find ingredients, clear and detailed directions, plus a well-thought-out blend of flavors equals magic on your plate.

The meats, fish, and vegetable dishes are doable for weekday meals but happily serve double-duty for guests and holidays. Pork chops with roasted peppers, grilled swordfish with tarragon, and lamb meatballs warmed with saffron and cinnamon are within the reach of every home cook.

Finally, the dessert chapter is a refreshing surprise: All the recipes are fruit and/or nut based, which suits my tastes just fine. I'm not generally attracted to rich, chocolatey concoctions, but bring on the Canal House raspberry tart, fig gelato, or almond cookies, and I'll be a happy camper.

copyright The Canal HouseHirsheimer and Hamilton may be big names in the food world, but they haven't forgotten that most of the world's cooking is done by regular folks who juggle jobs and family and likely lack fancy appliances. Canal House Cooking Volume 8 shows us how to serve delicious, healthful meals with a minimum of fuss. Pour yourself a Prosecco and get ready to bring a little Italy to your table.

Note on the images: the images come from (and are owned by) The Canal House Cooks Lunch, click through the link to learn more about Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton's take on food. Don't forget to visit their website and blog.

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780982739488
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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04 October 2013

Bullet Review: Death of a Scriptwriter by M. C. Beaton

Death of a Scriptwriter by M. C. BeatonI'll let you in a not-so-secret secret: When I'm slammed with work, I turn to audiobooks and escape reading. One of my favorite authors for a quick read with a high entertainment value is M. C. Beaton (Marion Chesney). Although she is well known for her many, many romance novels, I'm drawn to the author's mystery series, primarily the Hamish Macbeth books.

I love this series because the characters have become old friends, because I'm a sucker for the Highlands setting, and particularly because the audiobooks are read by Davina Porter, who is one of my go-to narrators. I could listen to Porter's Scottish accent forever. And that's a good thing seeing as there are thirty Hamish Macbeth books, and Death of a Scriptwriter is only the fourteenth.

  • Quick look at the series: Hamish Macbeth is a shrewd village copper who has the potential go far in the police business, yet he prefers to remain in his beloved town of Lochdubh. He avoids promotion because he doesn't like the bureaucracy of a large department and hates the idea of living in a city. Besides the murders, the books include returning village characters and Hamish's personal life.
  • What happens in this installment (no spoilers): A long-out-of-print mystery writer who has run out of ideas has moved to the Highlands to find inspiration, which is slow in coming. When a TV producer decides to turn her books into a series, she's thrilled until she learns that the characters have been given a sixties look and are sexually promiscuous. Jealousies between writers, actors, and husbands means there are plenty of suspects when the body count starts rising.
  • My reaction to Death of a Scriptwriter: Perhaps not the strongest book in the series, but I still enjoyed my few hours with Hamish as he interacted with his neighbors, had girl trouble, and puzzled out the murders.
  • Notes on the audiobook: As I mentioned, Davina Porter reads the books and does a wonderful job with all the needed accents. She really draws me into the stories. I borrowed the audio from a friend and forgot to make note of the publisher and the length, but most Hamish books run between 4 and 6 hours, making them the perfect weekend listen.
  • Recommendations: This is a series that is best appreciated from the beginning, but don't hesitate to jump in anywhere. The books make for light, quick reading for people who like quirky characters and village life. The mysteries are a mix of cozy and police procedural.
Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, 1999
ISBN-13: 9780446606981
Source: Borrowed (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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