30 November 2013

Weekend Cooking: Southern My Way: Food & Family by Gena Knox

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.

Southern My Way: Food & Family by Gena KnoxAs a native Georgian, Gena Knox grew up fishing in local streams and gathering fruits and nuts from her family's trees. Some of her fondest memories are of cooking with her grandmother and mother and eating field-fresh foods that were both nourishing and comforting.

Her third cookbook, Southern My Way: Food & Family, is a celebration of Knox's own tastes and family favorite recipes. As you would expect, most of the recipes have a traditional Southern feel, but the surprise is that many have been given a twenty-first-century twist. For example, Knox transforms the common fresh-corn hush puppy into a slightly spicy crab-meat treat.

Busy cooks will appreciate Knox's easy approach. No recipe is more than three steps away from your table, and her "From My Kitchen" hints offer tips, time-saving suggestions, and how-tos. Furthermore, all the recipes (except the few game dishes) call for common ingredients, and the fanciest equipment you'll need is a food processor. You'll also love the beautiful full-page photos and Knox's preparation and cooking time estimates, which are a great help to novice cooks.

It's clear by reading the personal recipe introductions, that this collection is close to Knox's heart. She shares many family recipes and is quick to mention which ones are her children's or husband's favorites. Although the focus is on Southern flavors, Knox has also included several dishes with either a Mediterranean feel, such as her grandmother's spaghetti, or a Mexican slant, such as the white bean chicken chili.

I've marked several recipes to try this winter, such as the glazed acorn squash salad, bourbon-spiked bananas, spicy roasted cabbage, and carrot ginger soup. Oh and did I mention the gingerbread with warm lemon sauce? For the summer, I'm looking forward to such dishes as chilled vegetable soup, peach and tomato salad, and lime-grilled chicken. I love Knox's flavor combinations and simple directions.

From shrimp and grits to fresh peach pie, the recipes in Southern Food My Way: Food & Family will appeal not only to readers from Knox's Georgia but also to those from California, Maine, Nebraska, and beyond. If you're looking for new ideas for family meals, give Gena Knox's easy, flavorful recipes a try.

Here's a nibble I plan to serve this holiday season. Note: the photo was scanned from the cookbook; all rights, including the copyright, remain with photographer Brian Woodcock.

White Cheddar-Wrapped Pecans
Copyright Brian WoodcockPrep time: 20 minutes; cook time: 15 minutes
Yield: about 45
  • 1 (10-ounce) block sharp white Cheddar, room temperature
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
  • About 45 pecan halves
FIRST: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grate cheese using a food processor or hand grater. Combine shredded cheese, butter, flour, salt, and pepper in a food processor fitted with blade attachment. Process until dough forms a ball and separates from side of processor.

NEXT: Using hands, roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Place 1 pecan half in center of each ball and press gently so that pecan is embedded in dough.

LAST: Bake for 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow to cool before serving.

Gina Knox Media, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780615836416
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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28 November 2013

Thursday Tea: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Book: I spent most of yesterday and plan to spend a good part of today in the kitchen, preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. A couple of days of cooking call for a light, yet absorbing audiobook to keep me going.

I first heard about Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown this past June at BookExpo America (BEA). I was curious about it for a couple of reasons. First, I really like Black's storytelling, and second, I was interested in her take on the idea of vampires coming out of the closet.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is the story of teenage Tana and how she copes in a world in which humans can become infected by vampire blood. As you would expect from Black, the novel offers a unique perspective on the modern-day vampire story, giving it a sociocultural context, a social media following, and a medical foundation.

I'm only halfway through but I really love what I've listened to so far. Tana is smart and resourceful, yet very human (at least for now!) with a strong survival instinct. I like how she is loyal to her friends and protective of her younger sister. Besides Tana, we have twins who go by the aliases of Midnight and Winter, a mysterious vampire named Gavriel, Tana's ex-boyfriend Aidan, and the citizens of Coldtown Tana meets after she seeks asylum there.

I'll likely finish the novel today while making the turkey, setting the table, and straightening the house. The audio, by the way, is read by Christine Lakin, whose youthful voice is perfect for the teens. I'll talk more about her great performance when I post my review.

The Tea: I drink gallons of strong tea when working hard in the kitchen, and this week I've gone with an old standby: Bigalow's Constant Comment, which is a black tea blended with orange and spices. This is one of my mother's favorite teas, and so drinking it is especially nostalgic for me. Although I drink it without milk or sugar, my husband stirs in a little honey.

The Assessment: Alas, I don't think any of the characters in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown are drinking tea at all. I remember lots of mentions of all kinds of coffee . . . and, of course, blood. But I bet if Tana tried Constant Comment, she would like it.

What About You? Have you read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown? If so, what did you think? For all my American friends, I hope your Thanksgiving is full of family, fun, and food and that you find at least a little time to read or to listen to a great book.

Thursday Tea was the brainchild of Anastasia at Here There Be Books.
Published by Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780316213103
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)
FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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26 November 2013

Wordless Wednesday 265

Church in Snow, 2013

cbl copyright for www.BethFishReads.com

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Review: No Man's Nightingale by Ruth Rendell

No Man's Nightingale by Ruth RendellI guess I've come a long way in getting over my phobia about reading a series out of order. When I was given the chance to listen to Ruth Rendell's latest Reginald Wexford novel, I didn't hesitate to say yes.

I have heard only good things about the Wexford books, and my only regret at meeting the chief inspector in his twenty-fourth adventure, No Man's Nightingale, is that I now need to find the time to read the earlier installments. I'm sure Rendell's fans are cringing at all the character development and background I've missed, but I truly didn't notice any gaps.

This review includes no spoilers for No Man's Nightingale, but I don't know what I might be giving away from earlier novels in the series.

  • What's the mystery? When his housekeeper discovers the dead body of the local female vicar, Reginald Wexford is called out of retirement to act as a consultant. It appears that, for a number of reasons (she's a woman, she's modern, she's biracial, she's a single mom), the Reverend Sarah Hussain was not universally liked in her parish. As Wexford interviews suspects and digs into the vicar's life, he discovers a complicated mesh of petty crime, secret pasts, and hidden relationships.
  • The chief investigator: I liked Wexford's personality: He seems very grounded and has a kind streak, but at the same time, he's no pushover. He also seemed to be at peace with his retirement, but when asked to take a look at the crime scene, he was more than happy to oblige. Rendell did a great job conveying Wexford's struggle with remembering that he is now a civilian, with no real authority.
  • The other characters: I liked that we get a glimpse of Wexford's wife, daughter, and grandson because it allows us to see the man in his different roles. The witnesses, suspects, and red herrings are all convincingly developed, and I was unable to work out the murderer on my own.
  • The audiobook: The unabridged audiobook was produced by Simon & Schuster Audio (8 hr, 44 min). Although my full audiobook review will be published by AudioFile magazine, I'll give you a hint now: I loved narrator Nigel Anthony's characterizations. This is my first experience with Anthony, and I was impressed.
Simon & Schuster / Scribner, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781476744483
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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25 November 2013

Scholastic Mother Daughter Book Club Picks for November

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.

One of the great benefits of reading is introducing us to people and places and situations that may be foreign to us. Both selections this month foster a greater understanding of people who are different from mainstream, middle class Americans. Young readers will have a lot to mull over as they compare and contrast their lives with those of the characters in November's novels.

Freak the Mighty by Rodman PhilbrickIt's hard to believe that it's been twenty years since Rodman Philbrick first published his multi-award-winning book Freak the Mighty about an eighth grader who makes an unlikely friend and gains a brain.

Max Kane has had it tough from the very start. Not only is he miles bigger than every other kid in his grade but his dad is in jail, his mother is dead, and he's been labeled learning disabled. When the Freak (aka Kevin) moves in a few doors down, Max realizes he may have met his match for outcasts. Kevin is the size of the three-year-old, though he's really twelve years old.

When Kevin's genius is added to Max's brawn, the two become Freak the Mighty: righters of wrong, saviors of damsels in distress, and fighters of dragons. Philbrick's moving story of friendship, overcoming bullies, finding acceptance, and dealing with heartbreak will bring tears to your eyes, even as you cheer the boys on.

Besides the general themes I just listed, the discussion questions over at the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site cover other aspects of the novel, such as learning new words and Kevin's methods of coping with his condition. The recipe for hot chocolate is the perfect winter accompaniment for a book club meeting and has a special meaning for Freak the Mighty.

Serafina's Promise by Ann E. BurgSerafina's Promise by Anne E. Burg transports us to recent years in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Young Serafina has few opportunities because her family is poor and her family needs her help out, even if she is only eleven years old. But work doesn't stop the girl from dreaming, and Serafina's secret dream is to go to school and become a doctor.

When Serafina shares her wish with her papa, he tells her there is no money for a uniform or for books. But then he tells her that if her mama says it's okay and if she can earn all the needed money before the new term starts, then he will let her go to school. Serafina is determined.

Burg's Serafina's Promise is a special book in many ways. This is my first experience with a novel written in free verse, and I was surprised at how much I loved this format, and I bet your readers will love it too. By including French and Creole words in the text (don't worry, there's a glossary), Burg helps us relate to Serafina and her world. Finally, Burg makes it easy for readers to understand how Haiti's history combined with recent natural disasters have a direct impact on Serafina's life: her choices, her dreams, her family, her future, and even her friendships.

Book clubs will find plenty to talk about, including comparing and contrasting their own dreams and opportunities with Serafina's. The questions on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site focus on family, education, and overcoming adversity. The suggested recipe is for strawberries and mint whipped cream, which remind us of one of the ways Serafina raised money for her schooling.

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

Freak the Mighty: Scholastic / Blue Sky Press (20th-anniversary edition), 2013; ISBN-13: 9780545566452
Serafina's Promise: Scholastic Press, 2013; ISBN-13: 9780545535649
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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23 November 2013

Weekend Cooking: The Kitchen Journal 13

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.

Because of travel and work and other events, this was my first real week of cooking since our summer CSA ended. As much as I love getting my box of veggies, its always feels so freeing to be able to plan meals without the restriction of the weekly harvest.

New Recipes: I tried several new recipes this week, and the two winners were both from Bon Appetit.

Eggplant Parmesan with Fresh Mozzarella is perfect for family meals, but I wouldn't hesitate to serve it to company. The recipe calls for roasting the eggplant in the oven, but if I served this in the summer, I'd likely roast it on the grill. The seal of approval came from Mr. BFR, who claims not to like eggplant; for this meal, however, he went back for seconds. The leftovers heated up beautifully and tasted just as good the second night.

Black Bean Soup with Roasted Poblano Chiles made a wonderful warming casual dinner with enough left over for our lunches the next day. I made two changes to the recipe: I added some chopped cilantro and threw in a second dried hot chili (we like the spice!). Oh, and I used my immersion blender instead pouring the hot soup into the blender. The recipe calls for chicken broth, but vegetarians could easily substitute a flavorful vegetable broth.

NOTE: The photos come from the Bon Appetit website and all rights and ownership remain with them.

New Toy: Last week, Sue over at Couscous & Consciousness made pot stickers using a nifty gadget called the Chef'n Pocket Maker. Fortunately, the plastic machine is available around the world, because I just had to have one! Right from the start I was thinking empanadas, which I plan to make one of these days. My first experiment, however, was pizza bites.

I made a regular white bread dough with a bit a of extra butter and used milk instead of water. I let it rise only once before I divided the dough into one-ounce pieces. I rolled each one out and cut it as instructed by the Pocket Maker.

The little machine was so easy to use and my appetizers turned out perfectly! My filling was mozzarella cheese, black olives, onion, and pizza sauce. They were so good and really not very difficult to make at all. Thanks so much to Sue for introducing me to a fun kitchen gadget.

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21 November 2013

Thursday Tea: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries by Eleanor CattonThe Book: I'm currently reading Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries. Although I'm about 3.5 hours into the audio (about 100 pages of print), I'm still trying to figure out what's happening. I don't mean that in a bad way: I'm in the stage of getting to know the characters and the circumstances and waiting to see how everything is going to interconnect. I have a long way to go: the audio is 26 hours long (800+ print pages).

Here's what I do know: In the 1860s, New Zealand was the place to be if you wanted to make your fortune panning for gold. But what sorts of people risked the long and dangerous voyage, leaving everything familiar behind, to land at the ends of the earth and try to create a complete new life?

Thomas Moody has his own reasons for taking on the journey, some of which he reveals on his very first night in Hokitika to a diverse and secretive group of twelve men. As the storytelling begins, Moody is quickly drawn into a series of local mysteries (murder, possible false identities, theft, deceit, disappearances, and hidden riches) and finds himself bonding with the men who are determined to solve them.

The Tea: I'm always happy when cool weather sets in and I can once again enjoy a pot of tea in the afternoon. This week Mr. BFR brought home Zhena's Gypsy Tea coconut chai, which is a spiced green tea. The company describes it has having "full notes of cardamom, ginger and clove [with a] hint of coconut." I never find green tea to be bold enough for me, but this is a pleasant tea for an afternoon pick-me-up. As always, I drink it without sugar or milk.

The Assessment: Although the men Thomas Moody meets do indeed drink tea (and even trade in it), I sincerely doubt any of them would choose coconut chai on purpose. In fact, they would just as likely go for wine or spirits as for dark, black tea, even during the day.

What About You? Have you read The Luminaries? If so, what did you think? Booker Prize worthy? Are you drinking anything interesting these days? And what are you reading this week?

Thursday Tea was the brainchild of Anastasia at Here There Be Books.
Published by Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown 2013
ISBN-13: 9780316074315
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)
FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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19 November 2013

Wordless Wednesday 264

On My Walk, November 2013

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Today's Read: Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave by W. C. Jameson

Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave by W. C. JamesonIf you know the legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or perhaps saw the wonderful movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, then you likely know that Cassidy died in a shootout in Bolivia in 1908. But what if Cassidy had survived that attack and made his way back north to live out his days under another name? That's the premise of W. C. Jameson's biography, Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave.

In a variety of ways, the life and times of the outlaw Butch Cassidy remain among the most compelling and mysterious of all America's Western bad men.

For one thing, Cassidy's outlawry did not result from general meanness or shiftlessness as was often the case with many other notorious crooks of the time. Cassidy's sister, Lula Parker Betenson, once offered the opinion that . . . Cassidy's lawbreaking activities might have been borne of equal parts mischievousness and youthful boisterousness along with a well-developed disgust and resentment of the manner in which large corporations . . . grew wealthy at the expense of the common man and others who possessed little in the way of power, prestige, or money. Cassidy's disgust might have led to a desire for revenge, or perhaps at the very least a perceived need to remind the moneyed interests from time to time that they could be thwarted.
Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave by W. C. Jameson (Rowman & Littlefield / Taylor Trade, 2012, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Premise of biography: exploring the possibility that Cassidy survived Bolivia and lived out his days under an alias in the state of Washington
  • Difficulties: teasing out fact from fiction; even his own time, Cassidy was credited with crimes he didn't commit so it's difficult to find the truth
  • Characters: Cassidy and his family; fellow outlaws such as the Sundance Kid and the Wild Bunch; law enforcement including the Pinkertons
  • Genre: nonfiction, biography; some terrific historic photos
  • Writing style & author: Jameson, a seasoned author, has also appeared on the History Channel and the Discovery Channel; an entertaining and accessible style; easy to read
  • Controversies: much of the evidence is anecdotal; family recollections and Pinkerton records indicate that Cassidy may have lived past 1908; the authenticity of one possible autobiography has been questioned
  • Thoughts so far: fascinating account; I won't know until I finish whether Jameson will convince me of Cassidy's long life and natural death
ISBN-13: 9781589797390
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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18 November 2013

Bullet Review: The Serpent on the Crown by Elizabeth Peters

The Serpent on the Crown by Elizabeth PetersElizabeth Peters's The Serpent on the Crown is the penultimate book in the Emerson-Peabody saga. When Peters conceived this series, she had a specific timeline in mind. The books start in 1884 when Amelia Peabody meets her Radcliffe Emerson in the Egyptian desert. The series ends in 1923, the year of a significant archaeological find in the Valley of the Kings.

The Serpent of the Crown is the first of two books set in 1922-1923. Although there is certainly action and mystery in this installment, it was clearly intended as a transition novel to the series finale. The convergence of real people in the history of Egyptian archaeology with Peters's fictional characters set the stage for the historical discoveries to come.

  • What happens? A grieving widow of an antiquities collector brings the Emersons a stunning golden statue of an Egyptian king. She claims it carries evil and wants Emerson, known as the Father of Curses, to exorcise it. The main plot of The Serpent on the Crown surrounds this statue, which is the cause of deaths and robbery as well as physical injuries to the Emersons. Meanwhile, the family and their colleagues are on the hunt to figure out the provenience and significance of the statue and the possible location of the tomb from which it was taken.
  • Growth of characters: Although Amelia still has all her spunk, she is beginning to show her age, no matter how hard she tries to hide it. Ramses in particular finds ways to save her pride when they're out gallivanting in the desert heat. In addition, she and (reluctantly) Emerson are beginning to accept that their children are adults with families and interests of their own; the couple struggles with the bitter sweetness of letting Ramses, Nefret, and David pursue their separate paths.
  • A note on the author: Because Elizabeth Peters (the pen name of Barbara Mertz) herself had a PhD in Egyptology the details of the Emersons' archaeological work are spot-on. I love the combination of her brilliant storytelling mixed with the authenticity of her descriptions of the artifacts, the environment, and the scholarly theories that color the series.
  • The audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio, 12 hr, 8 min) is read, as is the entire series, by Barbara Rosenblat. She is truly amazing in these books, deftly and skillfully switching among the many accents, males and female, and young and old with nary one falter.
HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2005
ISBN-13: 9780060591786
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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16 November 2013

Weekend Cooking: The New Wine Country Cookbook by Brigit Binns

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.

Although southern California has a reputation for pollution and traffic mixed with Hollywood glamor, there is plenty of countryside left in the state. In central coastal California, you'll find lush farmland blessed with a mild climate and a long growing season. From sea to fields, from vineyard to dairy barn, the bounty of this region is almost unparalleled.

For cookbook author Brigit Binns, central coastal California offers the perfect setting in which to marry fresh, wholesome foods with the many varieties of local wines. Her The New Wine Country Cookbook celebrates this beautiful part of the country, allowing all of us to bring a little bit of old California into our own kitchens.

As the cover promises, this cookbook is chock-full of simply gorgeous photographs printed on low-gloss paper so they really stand out. Even before you get cooking, you'll want to linger over the mouth-watering photos of the finished dishes and the breath-taking views of the California countryside.

Next, take some time to get to know the people who help nurture the area's flora and fauna, brightening our tables with unforgettable flavors and colors. In illustrated features, we are introduced to dairy farmers, honey producers, almond growers, winemakers, and more. In fact, Binns has made it easy for the traveler in all of us by providing "If You Visit" information. On the other hand, if a trip to California isn't in your immediate future, don't despair; Binns included URLs so you can take a virtual tour of the vineyards and ranches.

As you'd expect, the recipes reflect regional tastes and ingredients, although little is out of reach for cooks around the world. The dishes are very contemporary while remaining accessible to traditionalists. Quite a few recipes call for meat or fish, but you won't find many sauce-laden or heavy dishes in The New Wine Country Cookbook. I like the casual feel of the recipes; although many are company worthy, few are fancy.

Here's an idea of what you'll find:
  • Braised pork with figs and wine
  • Risotto with scallops and bacon
  • Rosemary polenta cake with plums
  • Black olive and pine nut biscotti
  • Soft eggs served over spinach with a chipotle sauce
In addition there are recipes for rustic pizzas, simple side dishes, wine-braised brisket, zucchini frittata, yummy nibbles, and light desserts.

What's a wine country cookbook without information about wine? Each recipe is accompanied by wine recommendations made by wine sellers and producers, sommeliers, and restauranteurs. Of course, regional wines get center stage, but to make the wine pairings useful to cooks everywhere, recommendations for other wines are also provided. Binns did not include prices, so you'll have to look them up yourself.

The recipe directions are well written and include tips and hints to help you find success. The ingredients should be easy to find for most people. Even the seafood chapter includes enough shrimp, sole, and salmon dishes to be useful for those of us who don't live by the ocean.

You don't have to be a wine drinker to fall head over heels in love with The New Wine Country Cookbook. The recipes are fresh and modern, allowing the flavors of the simple ingredients to come through. If you're like me, though, you'll appreciate the thoughtful wine pairings, which are sure to enhance the best of both plate and glass. Put Brigit Binns's newest cookbook on your holiday gift list.

Note on the photos: The photos were scanned from The New Wine Country Cookbook; all rights and credits remain with the photographer, Colin Clark.

Smoky Sizzled Almonds
Serves 6 to 8
  • ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground chipotle or 1½ teaspoons hot or mild pure chile powder
  • 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter, preferably cultured or Irish
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably from the central coast of California
  • 1 pound (about 2½ cups) whole raw almonds
Combine the smoked paprika, ground chipotle, and salt in a heatproof bowl. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the butter and olive oil. When the butter foam has subsided, add the almonds and stir occasionally for 6 to 7 minutes, until aromatic and beginning to brown (they will make little popping noises). Dump the almonds and all the oil into the spice-salt mixture and keep tossing until the salt has dissolved (this will take a minute or three).

Serve warm, or let cool completely, tossing every 5 minutes or so. Toss once again right before serving to distribute the spicy oil. (Or, cool and place in an airtight container, then freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the same container, then spread on a baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes in a 275F oven ro re-crisp before serving warm or at room temperature.)

Central Coast Wines: Denner Vineyards Rose, Paso Robles (Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise)
Farther Afield Wines: Muga Rose, Rioja, Spain

Andrews McMeel, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781449419127
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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15 November 2013

Eight Great Reads for November

Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended and the nights are long and cold, I'm getting ready to spend my evenings hunkered down with a pot of tea and a stack of good books. Here are some of my must-read titles from November's releases.

Dark Tales for Dark Nights

Although Watchers of the Dark by Joseph Nassie (Tor; ISBN-13: 9780765327208) may be a little scary for me, I don't think I'll be able to resist its intriguing genre mix of urban fantasy and thriller. In this third Jeremiah Hunt book, our hero finds himself at the gates of hell, hoping he can survive the cost of keeping them shut forever. A different kind of darkness is found in Ronald Frame's Havisham (St. Martin's Press / Picador; ISBN-13: 9781250037275), which imagines how young, wealthy Catherine Havisham was transformed into the mysterious Miss Havisham of Dickens's Great Expectations. I'm curious about what changed her from a carefree girl into a woman who haunted her own mansion. Keeping with the dark theme, I'm looking forward to Charles Palliser's new Gothic tale, Rustication (Norton; ISBN-13: 9780393088724). When seventeen-year-old Richard Shenstone is sent down from Cambridge, he relocates to a ramshackle mansion with his mother and sister. Soon after, the village experiences a number of disturbing incidents from petty crime to gruesome murder. All eyes turn to Richard, an opium addict who can barely control his sexual urges.

Family in All Its Guises

I don't know if I need to tell any of you how much I love Adriana Trigiani. She is one of the nicest, most generous people I've ever met. Her newest novel, The Supreme Macaroni Company (HarperCollins / Harper; ISBN-13 9780062136589), focuses on some of my favorite themes: family, love, and emigration. I can't wait to revisit Valentine and travel the world through Trigiani's words. I was thrilled to have had the chance to meet Wally Lamb at BEA this year, and his We Are Water (HarperCollins / Harper; ISBN-13: 9780061941023) is on the top of my reading list. This contemporary novel explores issues of sexuality, parenthood, class, and politics. I particularly love the fact that the story is told from multiple points of view, giving us a well-rounded perspective of a family in crisis. Inappropriate teacher–student relationships is a popular theme this year and is also at the core of Kristina Riggle's The Whole Golden World (HarperCollins / William Morrow; ISBN-13: 9780062206459). The story explores the consequences not only of the affair once it's discovered but also of seventeen-year-old Morgan's decision to stand up for her schoolteacher/lover.

A Nonfiction Duo

After reading the summary of Wendy Lawless's memoir, Chanel Bonfire (Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books; ISBN-13: 9781476745480), I was surprised she survived her childhood with enough groundedness to have had a successful acting career. Lawless shares the difficulties of dealing with a horribly disturbed mother while protecting her younger sister and of her ultimate, painful decision to find her own path. Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie, edited by Peggy Wolff (University of Nebraska Press; ISBN-13: 9780803236455) was another great BEA discovery. In this collection of essays a variety of Midwest authors share stories and thoughts on food, from small town to city to county fair. I can't wait to settle in with this slim volume and then share my thoughts with you in a Weekend Cooking post.

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14 November 2013

Review: Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt

Mister Max & the Book of Lost Things by Cynthia VoigtIf you can believe it, until last week I had never read a book by Cynthia Voigt. Many people have recommended her contemporary series that focuses on the Tillerman family. Two of those books received a Newbery award or honor. Besides other series, Voigt has also written a number of stand-alone books, one of which won an Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things is the first in a planned trilogy. It takes place about a century ago in a small coastal town in England. Max is just twelve years old, but he wishes he were more independent and grownup. Good thing he's smart and resourceful, because his life is about to change.

  • Book summary: Young Max Starling is the only child of two actors who own a theater and manage a successful theatrical troupe. One day they get a letter inviting them to perform for an Indian maharajah, and Max's parents are happy to accept the all-expenses-paid journey to an exotic land. But before Max can meet them at the dock, his parents have disappeared, leaving him behind. Fortunately, Max's grandmother lives next door, and he moves in with her until he can solve the mystery of his parents' fate.
  • Questions: What happened to Max's parents? Were they tricked or kidnapped? Did they run away? How can Max earn enough money to help out his grandmother until his parents can be found?
  • Answers: Max discovers he's good at finding lost things and solving problems and decides he will become a solutioneer.  He even acquires a few paying clients. As for his parents . . . no spoilers!
  • Characters: Max is a good kid who is on the verge of being old enough to live on his own. He keeps up with his schooling and loves his watercolor lessons. He is kind, smart, and clever. Grammie is a retired schoolteacher and is now the town librarian. She loves to do research. Although she's supportive of Max's desire to be independent, she keeps a close eye on him. Pia, the twelve-year-old daughter of a self-made man, befriends Max and likes to help him with his solutioneer work.
  • Thoughts: The mysteries Max has to solve are not very difficult but are made fun because of Max's problem-solving techniques. He's a decent actor and makes good use of his parents' props and costumes to take on different roles while he searches for lost people, animals, and items. The supporting characters are a nice mix of personalities and add color to the story. Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure if the Max books will be a hit with middle grade readers: there isn't much action and many of the theater references will be lost on kids (and some were lost on me!). Despite appealing characters and an intriguing premise, Mister Max didn't fully draw me in.
  • Audiobook notes: The unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 11 hr, 4 min) was nicely read by Paul Boehmer, who seemed to be well aware that his target audience was young readers. His performance verged on the overly dramatic but in a way that will appeal to children. I too enjoyed the audiobook; I just wish the story had been a bit stronger. Note that although the print book is illustrated with charming black-and-white drawings I didn't feel as if I had missed out by listening instead of reading.
Random House / Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780307976819
Source: Review (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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12 November 2013

Wordless Wednesday 263

Lake Reflection, November 2013

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11 November 2013

Bullet Review: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement by Amy TanOne of my favorite writers of historical fiction is Amy Tan. I think I've read all her fiction (except her children's books) and have always wanted to read her nonfiction. What's more, I'm fairly sure that her Joy Luck Club was pretty much the first book on tape I listened to, so you know I have a fondness for her work.

When I was given the chance to listen to her newest novel, The Valley of Amazement, I couldn't wait to get started. This book takes us to turn-of-the-twentieth-century Shanghai, a time of political and social change in China, and focuses on one Tan's favorite themes: the relationships between mothers and daughters.

  • Principal plot: This is the story of Chinese-American Violet Minturn who grew up in her American mother's high-class courtesan house in Shanghai in the early 1900s. When she was barely a teen, Violet was separated from her mother through a betrayal and forced into a courtesan's life, while her mother was on a ship to San Francisco. The novel follows Violet's journey as she adapts to her new life, balances her dual heritage, searches for love, and comes to terms with her mother.
  • Three voices: The majority of The Valley of Amazement is told through Violet's eyes. Although she is determined, smart, and resourceful, Violet is not always a likeable character and has a tendency for self-centeredness. Magic Gourd offers the perspective of an older courtesan who accepted her lot in life more easily than did Violet; she is street smart and takes the young girl under her wing. Lucia, Violet's mother, who has trained herself to rein in her emotions, reveals her own difficult past, life choices, and losses.
  • General thoughts: Despite the focus on mothers and daughters and intergenerational conflict, this wasn't Amy Tan's strongest work. My main issue is that neither Violet nor her mother is a sympathetic character, and I found it difficult to root for them. In addition, because much of Magic Gourd's chapters and the fascinating information about the courtesan life first appeared in Tan's Rules for Virgins (published a couple of years ago), the story didn't feel fresh to me. On the other hand, I was interested in the changing social and political climate of Shanghai after the fall of the Ching Dynasty, and it's clear that Tan did her research.
  • Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Brilliance Audio; 24 hr, 51 min) had three narrators: Nancy Wu read Violet's chapters, Amy Tan herself read Magic Gourd's, and Joyce Bean read Lucia's. Unfortunately, the narrators' performances were not strong enough to keep me invested in the novel. (My full audiobook review will be published by AudioFile magazine.)
HarperCollins / Ecco, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780062107312
Source: Review (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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09 November 2013

Weekend Cooking: Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr

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.

Provence, 1970 by Luke BarrI came to age in terms of the kitchen at a turning point in the American food scene. The food stars of my youth were not celebrity chefs (Julia Child excepted), but men and women who wrote and taught and critiqued while changing the face of the typical American dinner.

Luke Barr's Provence, 1970 captures one of the pivotal moments of, as the subtitle says, the "reinvention of American taste." For varied reasons, in December of 1970, Julia and Paul Child, M. F. K. Fisher and her sister Nora, James Beard, Richard Olney (an ex-pat), Judith Jones, Simone Beck (a French native), and others all found themselves more or less in the same place in France at the same time. Most were facing major changes in their lives and careers and all were connected through food and writing. Although there was no meeting or consensus, soon after that holiday season, almost all of them were treading a new path that sloughed off the fussiness of classic French cuisine to embrace flavor and fun.

Two Towns in Provence by M. F. K. FisherLuke Barr, great-nephew of M. F. K. Fisher (M.F.), relied on his aunt's personal journal of that trip as well as the letters, notes, and papers of the other writers and chefs who were in France that winter. Barr's account is made all the more interesting because of this reliance on firsthand observations.

I was absolutely fascinated by the relationships among the individuals who appear in Provence, 1970. Although some of the material was familiar to me, other stories were totally new. The personalities of Edna Lord and Sybille Bedford, Olney's reaction to Beard, and Elizabeth David's thoughts on M.F. were some of the surprises.

Barr doesn't go into detail on how the American food revolution occurred, but instead tells us about the complex personal factors that prompted both Child and M.F. to see their home country in a new light. Provence, 1970 is the kind of book that will appeal primarily to people who are familiar with the major and minor players. Most foodies have heard of Fisher, Child, Beard, and Claiborne, but not everyone will recognize the names of Olney, Gael Green, Michael Field, and Judith Jones.

From Julia Child's Kitchen by Julia ChildI, however, couldn't stop reading Barr's book. I have read and own almost every book and cookbook mentioned in the text. I mourned Michael Field's early death and remember when Claiborne temporarily left the Times. Plus Barr so wonderfully captured his aunt's voice, it was as if she were once again among us.

I both read and listened to Provence, 1970. The audiobook (Random House Audio; 9 hr, 7 min) was brilliantly narrated by John Rubinstein, who subtly projected each person's personality, while avoiding the dramatic and impersonation. He altered his voice just enough, so it was easy to tell when he was reading a quote or a menu, and his characterizations were consistent. Highly recommended in print or audio.

Clarkson Potter, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780307718341
Source: Review (audio), bought (print) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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08 November 2013

Sound Recommendations: An Eclectic Mix

This edition of Sound Recommendations is an eclectic mix of history, philosophy, and mystery. Two of the books were written for adults and one for middle grade readers. For my full audiobook reviews of these titles, check out the AudioFile magazine website.

Artful by Ali SmithAli Smith is an author I should have at least heard of (she won the Whitbread Award, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and has appeared on best-of-the-year lists), but I was not familiar with her when I agreed to listen to her short book Artful, published early this year. Originally presented as four lectures at Oxford, Artful comes together as a single work. The story is told by an unnamed protagonist, who discusses an amazing range of topics, from Renaissance art to Oliver Twist, from ghosts to music, all the while finding the commonalities among them and tying them neatly into her grief over her recently dead lover. I was surprised by how much I loved this blend of fact and fiction, and Smith's narration is beautifully done. On the other hand, Artful is a book that makes you want to stop and think, to reread paragraphs, and to share with others; thus I suggest reading the print version first or having a copy in hand while you listen. [hardcover: Penguin Press, ISBN-13 9781594204869; audio: Highbridge, 4 hr, 6 min]

Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve SheinkinDid you know that in 1876 there was plot to steal Abraham Lincoln's body and ransom it to free an infamous counterfeiter from federal prison? I didn't either. Steve Sheinkin's Lincoln's Grave Robbers tells this exciting true story geared for middle grade readers. I was absolutely fascinated with this book and learned quite a bit about counterfeiting, the minting of money, the origins of the secret service, and more. This is one of those stranger-than-fiction stories with double agents, crossed communications, and helpful civilians. Never mind the intended audience for this book, I recommend it for everyone. Actor Will Patton does the narration with impressive skill, bringing just the right amount of drama to his performance. He has a great sense of pacing, amping up the tension and keeping the whole family engaged in the story. [hardcover: Scholastic Press, ISBN-13 9780545405720; audio: Scholastic Audio, 3 hr 16 min]

Garden of Stones by Sophie LittlefieldSophie Littlefield's Garden of Stones opens in 1978, when Lucy Takeda, a survivor of the U.S. Japanese interment camp Manzanar, hears about a neighborhood murder. That event and her daughter's impending wedding, cause Lucy to remember her transformation from a carefree young teen to a guarded young woman to an eccentric, yet independent single mother. Littlefield exposes some of the worst aspects of the interment camps as well as the few options open to young Lucy when she has the opportunity to reenter the outside world. Garden of Stones is a genre bender, combing elements of mystery with historical fiction and family drama. Emily Woo Zeller's narration is particularly strong in its consistent, yet distinct characterizations. She brings a reserved emotion to her performance, which allows listeners to form their own opinions and conclusions about Lucy's past and present. [paperback: Harlequin MIRA, ISBN-13 9780778313526; audio: Tantor, 8 hr, 25 min]

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07 November 2013

Bullet Review: Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch

Red Sky in Morning by Paul LynchI've had the great good fortune to have read some absolutely stunning books this fall, and Paul Lynch's debut novel, Red Sky in Morning, is on that list.

In fact, I loved this novel so much, it was my pick for the Bloggers Recommend newsletter this month:

Written in a spare yet evocative style, Red Sky in Morning exposes the sometimes violent core of the conflict between self-preservation and standing by those you love. Lynch’s debut novel is a powerful addition to the canon of Irish tragedy.
I'm forgoing a lengthy review because I don't want to distance myself from this haunting book.
  • What's it about: In the early 1800s, Coll Coyle, a tenant farmer in County Donegal, learns he and his family are being evicted from the only home he's ever known. When trying to reason with the landowner, a terrible accident occurs, which causes Coll to flee and puts his family in jeopardy. But John Fuller, the estate's overseer, cannot let things rest, and he tracks Coll across an ocean to seek revenge.
  • The two men: Each man believes he has the moral high ground, but when the violence of one meets the stubbornness of the other, nothing good can happen. Coll struggles with the enormity of his choices and the consequences of his strong will to survive. Fuller is single-minded and seems to be free of moral dilemmas.
  • The writing: Lynch's language is vivid, evocative, spare, and poetic. The details of the Irish farm, the transatlantic crossing, and life in a Pennsylvania railroad camp bring the action alive. It's difficult to describe how invested I became in this book; Lynch builds the tension perfectly.
  • Recommended for: Lovers of literary fiction and beautiful language. It's inevitable that Lynch will be compared to writers like Cormac McCarthy, both in style and plotting. Although Red Sky in Morning is an Irish story, it will have strong appeal to fans of contemporary western authors such as Watson, Haruf, and Proulx.
Little, Brown, 2003
ISBN-13: 9780316230254
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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05 November 2013

Wordless Wednesday 262

Abandoned Church Door, 2013

copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.com

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Today's Read: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Bellman & Black by Diane SetterfieldWhat if the effects of one small boyhood act waited decades to come back to haunt you? William Bellman's devotion to hard work seems to have paid off: He has a beautiful wife, healthy children, and a successful business. Then one day, bit by bit, his world begins to crumble beneath his feet. What does his past have to do with his current misfortune?

I have heard it said, by those that cannot possibly know, that in the final moments of a man's existence he sees his whole life pass before his eyes. If that were so, a cynic might assume William Bellman's last moments to have been spent contemplating anew the lengthy series of calculations, contracts, and business deals that made up his existence. In fact, as he approached the border with that other place—border toward which we will all find our path turning sooner or later—his thoughts were drawn to those who had already crossed into that unknown territory: his wife, three of his children, his uncle, cousin, and some childhood friends. Having remembered these lost, dear ones and being still some moments from death, there was time for one last act of remembrance. What he unearthed, after it had lain buried some forty years in the archaeology of his mind, was a rook.

Let me explain:
Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (Atria / Emily Bestler Books, 2013, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Victorian England
  • Circumstances: one boyhood act (the killing of a bird) sets in motion the ultimate fate of Bellman and his relationship with the mysterious Mr. Black
  • Characters: William Bellman, his wife, and children; other extended family members; employees and neighbors; Black
  • Genre: Gothic, mystery
  • Themes & plot: every act has a price; there is no escaping your fate; narrative extras: information about rooks, the Industrial Revolution, Victorian mourning customs and fashion
  • Miscellaneous: I loved the author's first book, The Thirteenth Tale, which was one of my top reads the year it came out; I have high expectations for this

ISBN-13: 9781476711959
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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04 November 2013

Giveaway: Boleto by Alyson Hagy

Boleto by Alyson HagyA couple of weeks ago I shared the opening of Alyson Hagy's newest book, Boleto, and some quick facts about this beautifully written novel.

Set in Wyoming and California, Boleto is complex story about a man and his horse, the conflict between following a passion and being pragmatic, and the unglamorous realities of the modern cowboy. It's also about the world of horses and the divide between the haves and have-nots.

Here's the publisher's summary:

Will Testerman is a young Wyoming horse trainer determined to make something of himself. Money is tight at the family ranch, where he's living again after a disastrous end to his job on the Texas show-horse circuit. He sees his chance with a beautiful quarter horse, a filly that might earn him a reputation, and spends his savings to buy her.

Armed with stories and the confidence of youth, he devotes himself to her training—first, in the familiar barns and corrals of home, then on a guest ranch in the rugged Absaroka mountains, and, in the final trial, on the glittering, treacherous polo fields of southern California.

With Boleto, Alyson Hagy delivers a masterfully told, exquisitely observed novel about our intimate relationships with animals and money, against the backdrop of a new West that is changing forever.
The giveaway: Thanks to Graywolf Press I am happy to be able to offer two of my readers with a U.S. mailing address a copy of Alyson Hagy's Boleto. All you have to do to be entered to win is to fill out the following form. I'll use a random-number generator to pick the two winners on November 15. As soon as the winners are confirmed, I'll delete all personal information from my computer and Graywolf will mail out the books. Good luck!

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02 November 2013

Weekend Cooking: A Matter of Taste (Documentary)

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.

A Matter of Taste (documentary)Way back in my young and naive days I actually thought it might be fun to be a chef/owner of a restaurant. Fortunately I saw reality before I even became a waitress. Regardless, stories of the making of a chef and the development of restaurants still fascinate me.

The documentary A Matter of Taste follows the American career of chef Paul Liebrandt from his arrival in New York shortly after 9/11 to 2008 when his TriBeCa restaurant opened to critical acclaim. Liebrandt's rise was hardly the stuff of Hollywood dreams. His eccentric, envelop-pushing culinary style was often hemmed in by the people he worked for, leaving him either unemployed or slinging up-scale burgers.

A Matter of Taste is a frank look at the life of a culinary artist. Liebrandt, trained in France, takes the classic dishes as a foundation but then tweaks and twists them into something totally new. His plates are absolutely beautiful to look at and his standards are exacting. The taste must have been exquisite because his work at Croton earned two Michelin stars and the praises of every restaurant critic in the city.

According to a New York Times article written this summer, Liebrandt and his partner at Croton parted ways, and the chef's website mentions that his newest restaurant is The Elm, in Brooklyn.

For a fascinating look at the rise and fall and rise of a master chef, take a look at A Matter of Taste.

Warning: the opening scene of the trailer and the movie shows butchering and blood. After that, there is no more gore, but I know some people are sensitive, and I didn't want you to be surprised.

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01 November 2013

Bullet Review: Children of the Storm by Elizabeth Peters

Children of the Storm by Elizabeth PetersElizabeth Peters's Children of the Storm is the seventeenth (chronologically, not in order of publication) novel in the Amelia Peabody books. If you're thinking that this late into the series Peters would have nothing new to offer or that the Peabody-Emerson family would become boring, you'd be wrong.

For several reasons, Children of the Storm is one of my all-time favorite entries in the series. Peters's humor is sharp, the characters are growing and maturing, we get to revisit with some long-absent family members, and new friends and foes keep the story lines fresh. There was a lot of action in this novel, some great scenes with Emerson and his car, and a good mystery as well.

If you haven't yet started listening to (or reading) these books, you are missing out.

  • What's happening in Children of the Storm? This book takes place in 1919-1920, after the end of the war. As the Emersons and their colleague Cyrus Vandergelt catalog their finds from the previous season's archaeological digs, several valuable items go missing, along with one of Cyrus's employees. This is the initial setup of the book's mystery, but as it turns out, there are more mysteries to come.
  • New characters: The Emersons, especially Nefret, are being dogged by a mentally confused young man, Justin, who is attended by his grandmother, manservant, and governess. The family is on guard for two reasons: Justin seems abnormally attached to them and the governess is the daughter of the Emersons' old enemy (but now tentative ally), Sethos.
  • Action: There are several attacks on the Emersons' Arab friends and staff, three kidnappings, the theft of the artifacts, and dealings with the Egyptian archaeological authorities.
  • What I loved: It was wonderful to see all the Emersons back in one place again, including Emerson's brother and sister-in-law, Walter and Evelyn; the second generation of Nefret, Ramses, David, and Lia; and the third generation of four rambunctious children. There is quite a bit of action in this book, and one secret that has been haunting Amelia for decades is finally revealed. The last page made me laugh out loud.
  • Audiobook: I really have nothing new say about Barbara Rosenblat's awesome performance.
HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2003
ISBN-13: 9780066214764
Source: Borrowed (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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