30 December 2013

Best Young Adult and Middle Grade Books from 2013

It's time for my best-of 2013 lists! I will post four this year. Thursday was all about audiobooks, Friday was adult books, Saturday was food and cookbooks, and today is middle grade and young adult. Enjoy!

A note on my selections: The books that appear on this list were read by me in 2013 but may have been published earlier. I picked the books that resonated with me, without regard for the target audience. Books are presented alphabetically by title; links lead to my reviews or thoughts.

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28 December 2013

Weekend Cooking: The Best in Food and Cooking 2013

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

It's time for my best-of 2013 lists! I will post four this year. Thursday was all about audiobooks, yesterday was adult books, today is food and cookbooks, and Monday is middle grade and young adult. Enjoy!

A note on my selections: Missing from this list are a number of good cookbooks and well-written food- and drink-related books that I discovered in 2013. The ones listed here are the cookbooks that I used the most or that inspired me the most, and the food writing books that stuck with me long after I read the last page. Books are presented alphabetically by title; links lead to my reviews or thoughts.

  • Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama's Bacon Nation (Workman), all things bacon
  • William Knoedelseder's Bitter Brew (HarperCollins / Harper Business), nonfiction about the Busch family
  • Stephanie Stiavetti and Garret McCord's Melt (Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown), pasta and cheese, tied for top food book

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27 December 2013

Best Adult Books from 2013

It's time for my best-of 2013 lists! I will post four this year. Yesterday was all about audiobooks, today is adult books, tomorrow is food and cookbooks, and Monday is middle grade and young adult. Enjoy!

A note on my selections: Although I liked and was moved by many books this year, these are the ones that have stuck with me, that I still talk about, that I pushed on highly recommended to my friends and family, and that I gave as presents. Books are presented alphabetically by title; links lead to my reviews or thoughts.

  • Kent Haruf's Benediction (Random House / Knopf), fiction, western
  • Larry Watson's Let Him Go (Milkweed Editions), fiction, western Top read of the year
  • Jo Baker's Longbourn (Random House / Knopf), historical fiction, Pride & Prejudice
  • Philip Caputo's The Longest Road (Macmillan / Henry Holt), nonfiction, travel, social commentary

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26 December 2013

Best Audiobooks from 2013

It's time for my best-of 2013 lists! I will post four this year. Today's is all about audiobooks, tomorrow is adult books, Saturday is food and cookbooks, and Monday is middle grade and young adult. Enjoy!

A note on my selections: The following unabridged audiobooks made my list based on the narrator's skill and other aspects of the production. The books themselves may not make my other lists but came alive for me as audiobooks. Books are presented alphabetically by title; links lead to my reviews or thoughts (here or at AudioFile magazine).

  • Robin Maxwell's Mademoiselle Boleyn read by Suzan Crowley (Brilliance Audio), historical fiction, adult
  • Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane read by Neil Gaiman (HarperAudio), fantasy/magical, for everyone top listen of the year
  • Curtis Sittenfeld's Sisterland read by Rebecca Lowman (Random House Audio), adult

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24 December 2013

Wordless Wednesday 269

Merry Christmas, 2013

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Eight Short Takes to Round Out the Year

Here are eight books I read or listened to in 2013 that I never got around to reviewing on the blog (though reviews and blurbs may have appeared elsewhere). I'm sure I missed some other books this year, but I'm going to count myself caught up and will start the new year with a clean slate.

Enon by Paul Harding follows a father's first year of mourning his 13-year-old daughter, who died in an accident. Much of the book is written with such emotional authenticity, it's difficult to remember it's fiction. Other parts of the story, however, seem to wander. The audiobook, read by the author, was only okay. (Random House, ISBN 9781400069439) Mark Slouka's Brewster was one of my picks for the Bloggers Recommend newsletter. Four teens dream of escaping small-town life and feel the pull of the generation-defining events of 1968. Powerful, haunting, and stunning. (Norton, ISBN 9780393239751) One Hundred and Four Horses, a memoir by Mandy Retzlaff, is an unflinching and heartbreaking view of Zimbabwe's violent government-sanctioned land reclamation. Left homeless and in fear for their lives, the Retzlaffs nonetheless risked everything to save their beloved horses. Unforgettable. (William Morrow, ISBN 9780062204370)

Although I did post my early thoughts about The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, I never did get around to writing a real review of this mix of paranormal and dystopian. Black is a fantastic world-builder and I love her writing and characters. A great audiobook too. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN 9780316213103) Francesca Lia Block's Love in the Time of Global Warming is another dystopian, this one with its roots in Homer's Odyssey. We follow Pen as she travels across the U.S. Southwest in search of her family in the aftermath of an environmental disaster. The audiobook was a little slow, but the story is worth the read. (Henry Holt for Young Readers, ISBN 9780805096279) The second Saga book by Brian K. Vaughan continues the story of the Marko, Alana, and their child as they flee from their enemies and try to find a safe haven. This beautifully illustrated graphic novel combines elements of myth, science fiction, and fantasy. Don't miss this series. (Image Comics, ISBN 9781607066927)

Wild Boy by Lloyd Jones is a Sherlock Holmes-type mystery starring an orphan boy who is part of a traveling freak show. When Wild Boy is accused of murder, he must use his powers of observation to clear his name. Middle grade readers will love the audiobook edition of this action-packed story set in Victorian England. (Candlewick, ISBN 9780763662523) When Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr get together to write a new middle grade fantasy, you know the result will be magic. In Loki's Wolves, the authors combine elements of the hero's journey with Nordic mythology to craft an exciting start to a adventure-filled trilogy. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN 9780316204965)

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23 December 2013

Bullet Review: Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters

Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth PetersAs most of you know, one my last-minute reading goals of 2013 was to finish up Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody novels, which take place in Egypt about hundred years ago and revolve around the archaeological excavations of Amelia's husband, Radcliffe Emerson. Tomb of the Golden Bird is the last book in the series.

Elizabeth Peters always meant to end her Peabody-Emerson books with the 1922-1923 season and the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb by Howard Carter. Thus the book has a feeling of endings and concludes on a satisfying note, although Peters did leave the door open for future adventures.

One of the reasons I love this series is Peters's attention to historical detail and archaeological accuracy. Her portrayals of the real people (Howard Carter, for example), the Egyptians, and the way of life before and after World War I are fascinating in themselves, but seeing them through the eyes of the Peabody-Emersons is a real treat.

  • What's going on? As Howard Carter returns to the Valley of the Kings to have one more try at finding an unlooted royal tomb, the Emersons and their colleague Vandergelt prepare to continue their own excavations nearby. Besides the excitement and professional clashes surrounding the discovery of King Tut's tomb, the family is drawn into plots of political intrigue, which put them in immediate danger.
  • Highlights. I loved how the Emersons dealt with the press, who were eager to learn about the discovery of Tut's tomb and the burial goods found within. I especially liked their interactions with Margaret, considering their complicated relationship with her. I was glad that David returned for this final installment and to see how he sorted out his conflicting loyalties. I loved the descriptions of the finding of Tutankhamen's tomb, the artifacts, and the attitude and behavior of Carter's team. The only thing I'm not sure about, is where Sethos is heading; I don't quite see it.
  • General thoughts. Tomb of the Golden Bird is heavier on archaeology and Egypt than some of the earlier books. Although I felt a strong sense of finality, Peters didn't slack off on the novel. She allowed her characters to continue to grow, age, and change and gives us a hint of their future lives. I'm very sorry to say good-bye to the series, but I'm grateful that Peters was able to complete it according to her own vision.
  • Where to go next. I've already ordered a copy of Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium, edited by Elizabeth Peters and Kristen Whitbread. This is a nonfiction look at early-twentieth-century Egypt and the world that Amelia Peabody knew well. It includes numerous historical photos and drawings as well as some never-before-published entries from Amelia's journals. I may also give Peters's Vicky Bliss novels a try. Bliss is a descendant of the Emersons, although her story is more modern and involves the world of art.
  • Final note on the audiobooks. As I've said before, these novels are meant to be listened to as read by Barbara Rosenblat. Rosenblat brings out the best of these stoies, and they remain some of my favorite audiobooks of all time.
HarperCollins/ William Morrow, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780060591809
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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21 December 2013

Weekend Cooking: Somm (Film)

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

Somm (documentary)I know I've approached my desire to learn more about wine in a casual way: taste some wines, pay attention to what I like, and taste some more. But I had no idea of what it takes to be a sommelier. Of course, there's huge difference between the wine guy at the local family-owned restaurant and a certified somm and master somm.

Jason Wise's documentary Somm follows four young men and their quest to take one of the most difficult career tests ever devised. In order to be a master sommelier, you need to know every growing region, grape, varietal, and vintage from around the world. You also need to know the ins and outs of service, how to deal with customers, and wine and food pairings. But hardest of all, you have to have developed the ability to taste six unknown wines and describe all the aromas and flavors and then determine the exact grape, growing region, and vintage.

Somm is a fascinating look at four guys, their relationship with each other, and the grueling hours they put into studying for their master sommelier diploma. Before they even walk into the room for the first part of the test, they know there is about a 95 percent chance of failure. Some people take the test four, five, or six times. In fact, in the forty-year history of the certification program, fewer than two hundred have earned the right to be called master sommelier.

Pour yourself a glass of wine, admit that you'll never really know anything about wine, and get a newfound respect for the profession of sommelier. This is one of those don't-miss films for anyone who has ever opened a bottle of wine.

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19 December 2013

Holiday Gift Guide: Four for Young Readers

There are still six more days of shopping before Christmas. If you're looking for that special book for the young reader on your list, I have four great suggestions.

Love You When . . . by Linda KranzEarlier this year I reviewed two books by Linda Kranz, who illustrates her heart-felt children's books with her fun rock paintings. Her newest book is called Love You When . . . and is the response to a child who asks, "Do you think of me during the day?" and then says, "Tell me when." The answers cover the seasons of the year, the earth and sky, and early morning to late at night. Each spread is illustrated with photographs of Kranz's painted rocks, and if you look closely, you'll find at least one heart-shaped rock on every page. This sweet book is the perfect bedtime or anytime story to share with your little ones. I have a copy of the hardcover, but a board book version hit the stores this month. (Taylor Trade Publishing, ISBN-13: 9781589797031)

Cool Creations in 35 Pieces by Sean KenneyIf you have kids, know kids, have taken care of kids, or have seen kids, then you know Legos! You don't have to be young, however, to be fan, as world-famous Lego artist Sean Kenney can attest. In fact, he owns almost 2 million Lego bricks. Fortunately, you don't need a huge collection to build really fun things. In fact, in his Cool Creations in 35 Pieces, Kenney shows us a ton of creatures, buildings, aliens, furniture, bugs, and more that can be built with just a few Lego bricks. I think my favorites are the "goofy faces" because they made me smile. My nephews, however, would have gone straight for the robots. One good thing to know: All the projects are built from the same 35 pieces, so you can get building without a big investment. (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, ISBN-13: 9780805096927)

Frog Trouble by Sandra BoyntonAlthough I have been a fan of Sandra Boynton's forever, I didn't know she was a Grammy-nominated (with Mike Ford) songwriter. If you or your kids like country music, the blues, folk music, or good music, then you must get a copy of her new book, Frog Trouble. It starts off with a CD of 12 songs. Put that in your player without delay. While listening, look at Boynton's signature illustrations for each tune and read some of the lyrics. And don't forget to learn how to do The Alligator Stroll (sunglasses are required)! The second part of Frog Trouble is a song book: so all you piano players, guitar strummers, and banjo pickers can learn to play right along with the CD. Finally, get to know the musicians who perform Boynton's songs. And, yes, you've heard of them: Alison Krauss, Dwight Yoakum, and Darius Rucker, for example. Although I like all the tunes (really!) "Deepest Blue," performed by Linda Eder, is my favorite. Buy this for music lovers of all ages. (Workman, ISBN-13: 9780761171768)

Angel Island by Russell FreedmanI love middle grade nonfiction so when I had a chance to read Russell Freedman's Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain, I didn't hesitate to request a copy. I'm embarrassed to admit I knew very little about the West Coast's entry point for immigrants traveling across the Pacific Ocean. More than 1 million Chinese passed through Angel Island hoping to find a new life in the United States. Unfortunately, many of them were detained for weeks or months before they were admitted to the country or deported. Although immigrants from Japan, Korea, Russia, and elsewhere passed easily through the island's processing center, the Chinese were treated poorly--interrogated and held in limbo for no apparent reason (except prejudice). One moving record of the Chinese who were detained on Angel Island is found in the hundreds of poems the detainees carved into the walls of their crowded barracks. Easy-to access text and fascinating historical photographs make this an unforgettable story. (Clarion Books, ISBN-13: 9780547903781)

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17 December 2013

Wordless Wednesday 268

Snowy Creek, 2013

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Today's Read: Rivers by Michael Farris Smith

Rivers by Michael Farris SmithWhat if the Gulf Coast became so battered by storms that the United States just gave up on it? Your choice: move above the Line and retain your rights or stay put and survive in the new watery frontier. For Cohen, who lost his family to the endless storm, there was never a thought of leaving home. Until there was.

It had been raining for weeks, maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn't rained, when the storms gave way to the pale blue of the Gulf sky, when the birds flew and the clouds were white and the sunshine glistened across the drenched land. It rained now, a straight rain, not the diagonal, attacking rain, and it seemed that the last of the gusts had moved on sometime during the night and he wanted to get out. Had to get out of the house, away from the wobbling light of the kerosene lamp, away from the worn deck of cards, away from the paperbacks, away from the radio that hardly ever picked up a signal anymore, away from her voice that he heard in his sleep and heard through the storms and heard whispering from all corners of the short brick house. It rained hard and the early, early morning was black but he had to get out.
Rivers by Michael Farris Smith (Simon & Schuster, 2013, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: the not too distance future; Gulf Coast of Mississippi, in unclaimed territory
  • Circumstances: after years of superstorms and hurricanes, the U.S. government has drawn a new southern border; lands below the Line are no longer under government protection; Cohen lives in his home, alone, waiting out the never-ending rain
  • Characters: Cohen, who lost his family to the storm; his neighbors; Aggie, a cult leader, and the women he has under his power; other survivors; animals; the environment
  • Genre: dystopian; adult; scarily believable
  • Themes: hope, secrets, family, freedom, love, loss, humanity, survival, violence, betrayal
  • What I know so far: it's really, really wet (will the rain never stop?), Cohen sets off on a personal journey of survival and revenge but soon must grapple with questions of his ethical obligations to help those in need, even at his own peril
  • Thoughts on the writing: powerful sense of place; vivid images of the world below the Line; complex characters with many shades of gray
  • Extras: an Indie Next pick for September 2013; Smith, the son of a preacher, was born in Mississippi, lived in Europe, and has returned to his home state; see his website for more.
In the following short video, Michael Farris Smith talks about Rivers:

ISBN-13: 9781451699425
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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15 December 2013

Reading Challenge: What's in a Name? 2014

It's that time of the year! No, not Christmas, the signing up for reading challenges! I used to be a reading challenge addict, but in the last couple of years, I've gotten away from them and now I do just one. My very favorite challenge: What's in a Name?

As you know, I was the host of this challenge for four years. I have now passed the torch on, and the challenge has a new home. You can find the sign-up post and all the information over at The Worm Hole.

I'm so happy this challenge has a future thanks to the generosity of Charlie. I encourage everyone to jump in and sign up. I love the categories this year, and I'm already thinking about my strategy. I always start out the year with a list of possible books to fit each category, but the most fun is seeing how many I can complete just through my regular reading. In September or so, I review my status and, if necessary, make a focused effort to complete the challenge.

Here are the 2014 categories with a few suggested titles from Charlie:

A reference to time (Eleven Minutes, Before Ever After)
A position of royalty (The People’s Queen, The Last Empress, The Curse Of The Pharaoh)
A number written in letters (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, A Tale Of Two Cities)
A forename or names (Rebecca, Eleanor & Park, The Unfinished Work Of Elizabeth D.)
A type or element of weather (Gone With The Wind, Red Earth Pouring Rain)

Be sure to read the sign-up post for all the rules and to join in the fun.

I want to thank everyone who participated in this challenge in the past: I appreciate your support and hope you had fun with it. I also want to thank Charlie for agreeing to be the new host. And I want to thank all of you in advance for continuing to make this one of the most popular challenges around.

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14 December 2013

Weekend Cooking: A Passion for Bread by Lionel Vatinet

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 Passion for Bread by Lionel VatinetMaster baker Lionel Vatinet grew up on the wonderful breads of his native France, where fresh-baked loaves took the place of honor at the center of the table for every meal. Although he tried several trades, the moment he started work at a local bakery, he knew he had found his passion.

In his new bread book, A Passion for Bread, Vatinet shares both his story and his knowledge. He learned his art through the rigorous apprenticeship program at Les Compagnons du Devoir, which includes years of study, perfecting many techniques under a variety of situations. After baking his masterpiece loaf, Vatinet was admitted into the guild as a true Master Baker.

At the heart of this wonderful cookbook are Vatinet's "seven steps to making great bread." His detailed instructions, accompanied by the numerous clear photographs, guarantee that anyone--and I mean anyone--can bake wonderful bread in his or her own home kitchen. Even if you are afraid of yeast or have tried and failed at baking bread in the past, you will find success under Vatinet's guidance.

He developed his seven steps to great bread while teaching friends, family, and customers how to bake, both in casual settings and in monthly classes at his North Carolina bakery/cafe. There is no mystery to the steps (measuring, kneading, rising, dividing, shaping, rising, and baking), but the path to great bread is found in how those steps are carried out and the ingredients used.

Unlike most bread books, Vatinet spends about 30 pages explaining the process through words and photographs. He uses bullet lists of tips, he presents multiple techniques to match your equipment and skills, and he holds your hand every step of the way.

Even better, his recipes and methods are geared to the home cook. You don't need any fancy equipment whatsoever, just some big bowls, an instant-read thermometer, some pans, a baking stone, and a few other items. Vatinet, however, does recommend other kitchen tools, which you can accumulate as you get into baking more often. For example, you might end up wanting a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook, rising baskets, and dough scrapers.

The recipes themselves cover all the basic breads, including farmhouse breads, whole grain loaves, baguettes, rolls, focaccia, sourdough breads, and flavored loaves. The last chapter takes you beyond the loaf to croutons, crumbs, stuffings, sandwiches, and more.

Each recipe follows the seven-step plan and includes multiple cross-references to the master chapter, in case you forget a technique or need even more photographs. Pretty much every page of the book contains multiple photos showing you what to do from measuring to kneading to preparing the dough for baking.

Experienced bakers and baker wannabes will refer to A Passion for Bread over and over. Lionet Vatinet has generously shared the keys to good baking that he has learned and developed through years of experience. This is one of the best bread books I've seen in years. Get a copy for yourself and a couple to give as gifts.

I'm not going to share a recipe because you really need to see the photographs and read the basic seven-step chapter to get all the benefits of Vatinet's technique and instruction. The photos on this page show my first experience with A Passion for Bread. I made the Frenchman's Cornbread, which is a yeasted loaf that has about a third coarse cornmeal to two thirds white bread flour. Vatinet's recipe called for three types of onions, but I left them out and used red pepper flakes and some Parmesan cheese instead (it suited our dinner better).

For more on Vatinet and to see some great photographs, visit his website. If you're in the North Carolina area, stop in his shop or sign up for a baking class. I sure wish I could do both.

Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780316200622
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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13 December 2013

Bullet Review: Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Midnight in Austenland by Shanon HaleWay back in September 2008, I posted my first book review on Beth Fish Reads. In it, I failed mention the name of the book or the author (they were in the post title) and I also failed to mention anything about the audiobook production, though I labeled the post as an audiobook.

That review was of Shannon Hale's Austenland, a book I recommended as "perfect for a lazy Saturday or to read on the beach or in a airplane." I recently finished Hale's second Austenland book, Midnight in Austenland, and although its plot is little more complicated than the first book, it still counts as great escape reading, especially for Austen fans like me.

  • General idea: Charlotte Kinder needs to restart her life and get over the fact that her husband, feeling threatened by her enormously successful online business, left her for a younger woman, but not before manipulating her into giving up some of her assets. Having just discovered Jane Austen, Charlotte decides a trip to Pembroke Park and a few weeks of Regency reenactment fun is just what she needs before regrouping. Despite the harmless flirting, all is not happy in Austenland. When people go missing and a cottage is burned down, Charlotte can't stop herself from investigating the mysteries.
  • Thoughts: I loved this mix of woman's literature and cozy mystery. Hale weaves Austen references, Regency manners, and the characters' real and pretend lives into a fun, fun bundle that took my mind off the real world for the entire book. Although Charlotte was a capable woman, I liked that she still had room to grow and wasn't afraid to see where her adventure would take her. The love story in Midnight in Austenland is realistic too and had some similarities to the love story in one of Austen's big novels (I'm not telling which one!).
  • Important to know: Although Hale wrote two books about Austenland, they are absolutely, completely standalone books. No need to read them in any particular order.
  • Movie alert: Shannon Hale's Austenland is now a major motion picture! If you missed it this fall, no worries, the DVD will be coming out soon-ish.
  • Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Recorded Books, 9 hr, 6 min), narrated by Stina Nielsen. I loved her accents, pacing, and ability to transmit Hale's humor. Recommended audiobook.
Bloomsbury USA, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781596912892
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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12 December 2013

Giveaway: Debut Novels from Candlewick Press

copyright Candlewick PressCandlewick: Do you know Candlewick Press? If you read young adult, middle grade, or children's books, I'm sure many of their titles have crossed your path, such as the best-selling I Want My Hat Back, the Clarice Bean books, and Owl Babies. Since 1992, this small independent press has published quality books in a variety of genres and for young readers of all ages.

Whether you're an old friend of Candlewick's or have just discovered them, you have a lot to look forward to this coming spring with the publication of five strong novels from five promising debut authors.

The Giveaway: Just in time for the holidays, and thanks to Candlewick, I can offer one of my readers with a U.S. or Canada mailing address a sneak peak at all five debut novels. You read that right! The prize pack consists of five advance reading copies and one fun accordion bookmark.

Here's a little bit about each book. If you want to know more about the authors, take a look at Candlewick's Pinterest board dedicated to these "First Pages."

Sarah Combs's Breakfast Served Anytime (ISBN-13: 9780763667917) is about the summer Gloria went to Geek Camp for gifted students. Although she's excited about spending the summer on a college campus, she is still mourning her grandmother's death and knows she'll miss her best friend, especially because all electronics are banned from camp. A contemporary coming-of-age story set in beautiful Kentucky. In The Chance You Won't Return, by Annie Cardi (ISBN-13: 9780763662929), sixteen-year-old Alex is struggling to overcome her fear of driving and is negotiating the rocky world of high school crushes. But when her mother begins to lose her grip on reality, Alex's real challenge is to find a way to hold on to the woman who used be mom. A moving look at delusional disorders and how they can disrupt a family. Ryan Gebhart's There Will Be Bears (ISBN-13: 9780763665210) is part adventure and part family story. Thanks to ADHD, thirteen-year-old Tyson struggles in school and has grown apart from his childhood friends. After his grandfather moves to assisted living because of failing kidney function, Tyson is lonelier than ever. So when Grandpus suggests they go on a clandestine hunting trip, despite reports of a man-eating grizzly, Tyson agrees. An exciting story with some good lessons for middle grade readers.

Skila Brown's Caminar (ISBN-13: 9780763665166) takes us to 1981 and war-torn Guatemala, where young Carlos's life is turned upside down when soldiers come to his village. This emotionally strong novel, written in verse, reveals the horrors of war as the boy is forced to become a man and protect his loved ones. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (ISBN-13: 9780763665661)--a mix of family saga, coming-of-age, and magical realism--tells the story of what happens when Ava, who was born with wings, decides she wants what every other teenage girl wants: friends and love. This magical book explores family, love, and finding one's true self.

So there you have it:
Five strong novels + five debut authors + 1 fun accordion bookmark = one great giveaway.
How to enter: All you have to do to enter for a chance to win all five books (ARCs) is to have a U.S. or Canada mailing address and fill out the following form. This is going to be a quick giveaway so Candlewick has time to send out the books before they close for the holidays. I can't promise you'll get the books before Christmas, but I hope you do. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on December 18. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal data from my computer. Good luck!

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10 December 2013

Wordless Wednesday 267

Winter, 2013

copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.com

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Today's Read: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene WeckerWhat if you were not human but were forced to spend your life in one of the biggest cities of the world pretending to be a man or a woman, hiding your secret at all costs? This was how it was for the golem Chava and the jinni Ahmad, neither of whom chose to be in New York City in 1899.

The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship. The year was 1899; the ship was the Baltika, crossing from Danzig to New York. The Golem's master, a man named Otto Rotfeld, had smuggled her aboard in a crate and hidden her among the luggage.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Weckler (HarperCollins / Harper, 2013, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: 1899, New York City (Little Syria and the Lower East Side), the Syrian dessert, Prussia; centuries earlier in the Mideast
  • Circumstances: a newborn golem (a woman made of clay) without a master and an ageless jinni freed from centuries of imprisonment couldn't be more different, yet they are bound together in complex ways
  • Characters: Chava and Ahmad; their human friends and enemies
  • Genre: historical fiction with elements of Jewish mysticism and Arabian tales
  • Themes: friendship; the meaning of bondage or being beholden; personal sacrifice; desire & longing; compassion; power; death; free will; freedom
  • Thoughts on the book: Fascinating and moving; you can't help but empathize with the two creatures who struggle to find their place in the strange human world they've been forced to inhabit. A novel that can be read on many levels: great story, allegory, commentary on religious beliefs or humanity or the craving for independence. Begs to be discussed, thought about, and re-read. One of my top reads of the year.
  • Thoughts on the audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition (Harper Audio, 19 hr, 43 min) was read by George Guidall, who was absolutely fabulous. He handled the multiple accents with ease, brought out the personalities of the characters without being dramatic, and augmented the emotional impact of Weckler's story. Guidall's performance is spectacular, making this an unforgettable audiobook experience.
  • Extras: For more on 1899 New York City, an author video, and an interesting and informative Q&A, visit the author's website; for book club discussion questions, visit Reading Group Guides; the novel was an Indie Next pick for May 2013 and a Bloggers Recommend pick; the audiobook won an earphones award from AudioFile magazine
ISBN-13: 9780062110831
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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09 December 2013

Review: The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana TrigianiIt's no secret that I love Adriana Trigiani, who is generous, kind, funny, and full of life. It's also no secret that I love her writing: the way she makes her characters seem real and the true emotions she brings out in her readers.

The Supreme Macaroni Company, the final installment in the Valentine Roncalli trilogy, opens with Valentine's engagement to the love of her life, Gianluca Vechiarelli, and the ensuing family drama at the traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. For Valentine and Gianluca, the first couple years of married life are filled with the expected ups and downs, plus some added pressures that are at once unique to them and universal to modern couples everywhere.

Although Valentine doesn't doubt her love for Gianluca, she worries about their age difference, his relationship with his grown daughter and ex-wife, and whether he will truly accept her as she is. Gianluca is happiest in Italy, and Valentine is happiest in New York; he is looking forward to relaxing and enjoying life, and she is focusing on taking her family's shoe company to the next level. Finding a balance between work and family is difficult for all women (and men), but it seems to be extra hard for Valentine, who feels personally responsible for the business and its employees.

This struggle is a running theme in Valentine's new marriage. In fact, her choices and how they effect Gianluca are likely to become a central topic for book clubs. There are no rights or wrongs for Valentine, but readers will have strong opinions, which usually leads to fruitful book club discussions.

Trigiani knows family, especially the big, boisterous, sometimes contentious but always loyal family that people from many ethnic backgrounds are familiar with. My favorite scenes in the Valentine books involve her family--both the dramatic large gatherings and the loving heart-to-heart talks between siblings, parents, friends, and spouses. I had to laugh at (and nod in agreement with) the Roncalli clan's attitude toward food: make sure there is enough to feed an army, throw in a bit more just in case, and send everyone home with a goodie bag.

My only disappointment with The Supreme Macaroni Company is purely selfish: I wish I could see Valentine's future life. On the other hand, it's not a bad thing that Adriana Trigiani left me wanting more. I have faith that Valentine will learn from her past and will grow and thrive despite her hardships. I know this is the last planned Valentine book, but I can always hope for a fourth, can't I?

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Harper Audio; 9 hr, 52 min) read by Cassandra Campbell, who is one of my favorite narrators. Campbell's clear, consistent, and believable characterizations had me hooked from the start. Her accents and voices seem so unforced that I sometimes forgot that hers was a solo performance. Campbell's tempered emotional level and thoughtful pacing are a good match for Trigiani's style.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper 2013
ISBN-13: 9780062136589
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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07 December 2013

Weekend Cooking: Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond

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.

Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza DesmondWhen planning your meals--for every day, weekends, casual entertaining, or holiday feasts--do you think one of the hardest parts is coming up with the side dishes? If so, you'll be happy to know that your fretting days are over. Tara Mataraza Desmond's Choosing Sides has come to the rescue.

This exciting cookbook, with its bright teal and orange color scheme, is all about coaxing the veggies, fruits, breads, and grains out from the shadows and into the spotlight. Because today's cooks rely less on showcasing large cuts of meat, the sides have taken on more importance, but many of us have a limited repertoire or lack the confidence to mix and match recipes.

Fortunately, Choosing Sides has you covered, with ideas for salads, breads, savory tarts, pastas, gratins, and new ways to cook fresh vegetables. Even better, Desmond doesn't leave you to fend for yourself when it comes to planning a meal. She offers advice on how to pick the perfect side, matching flavors, colors, and textures to the main dish. Useful charts make it easy to see which of the included recipes complement specific meat, fish, poultry, pasta, and vegetarian meals. Finally, each recipe concludes with a list of "Alongside" suggestions. For example, you could serve the orange and black bean quinoa with chicken and poblano fajitas, chile-dusted shrimp, or vegetarian enchiladas.

copyright Tara Mataraza DesmondThe recipes themselves are a welcoming mix of updated traditional sides and new ideas, which create a balance between comforting and vibrant flavors. The called-for ingredients are a step above common but still easily found in well-stocked supermarkets.

Less-experienced cooks will appreciate Desmond's tips, suggestions, and chatty style. Sidebars and features throughout Choosing Sides help us negotiate grocery store shelves, offer master recipes that we can personalize, and provide the stories behind some of the recipes.

I have my eye on a number of dishes, including andouille bites for a holiday brunch, apple cabbage salad for a fall meal, ginger honey carrots to brighten up a weekday table, roasted red pepper orzo for a summer potluck, and sesame braised bok choy for a dinner with friends. I particularly love the bread chapter (flatbreads, crackers, savory scones), the holiday suggestions (savory puddings, roasted root veggies), and the dinner party sides (grilled eggplant, mustardy lentils, flavorful bulgur).

I predict that Tara Mataraza Desmond's Choosing Sides will become a much-used cookbook in my collection. The well-written recipes make it a snap to prepare outstanding sides for every meal and occasion. And thanks to Desmond's advice, creating balanced, delicious menus has never been so easy.

Click on the scan of the Brussels sprouts recipe to read it and see the photo. The scan cuts off the "Alongsides," so I'll list them here: Bacon-crusted roast turkey * Apple, pear, and sage stuffed pork loin roulade * Slow-cooked chicken and cippoline * herb-stuffed leg of lamb * Butternut ricotta lasagna

Andrews McMeel, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781449427115
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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06 December 2013

Random Publishing Trends: Twins

Do you ever notice mini-trends in the publishing industry? I'm not talking about the vampire craze or the popularity of dystopian trilogies but the smaller, random themes that seem to spring out of nowhere. This year, everyone seems to be writing about twins. No matter the genre or intended audience, the novels of 2013 are on a multiple birth kick. Here are a dozen that have crossed my desk since June. (Links lead to my reviews or features.)

Contemporary Fiction

The Twins by Saskia Sarginson (Redhook, ISBN-13 9780316246200) is part psychological thriller and part woman's fiction about twin sisters who are torn apart after a disturbing childhood event. The twins in Mary Kay Zuravleff's Man Alive! (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, ISBN-13 9780374202316) are the college-age sons of Owen Lerner, whose life is turned upside down after he survives a lightning strike. Scott Turnow's Identical (Grand Central Publishing, ISBN-13 9781455527205) focuses on the lives of two very different twin brothers: one a state senator and one an ex-con; when a decades-old murder case is reopened, the investigation stirs up secrets and betrayals.

The twin sisters in Curtis Sittenfeld's Sisterland (Random House, ISBN-13 9781400068319) seem to be cut from different molds, but when one is caught up in a media circus after predicting a major earthquake, their lives begin to merge. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's Griffin, ISBN-13 9781250030955), follows twin sisters as they transition from high school teens to college students and begin to form their own identities. In Wally Lamb's We Are Water (Harper, ISBN-13 9780061941023), twins Ariane and Andrew are each given a voice in this multiple-point-of-view look a contemporary family in crisis.

Paranormal, Fantasy, and More

In Francesca Lia Block's Love in the Time of Global Warming (Henry Holt, ISBN-13 9780805096279), which is a kind of dystopian reworking of The Odyssey, our protagonist, Pen, befriends a boy who has been separated from his twin. Eva, the hero of the dystopian fantasy Relic, by Heather Terrell (Soho Teen, ISBN-13 9781616951962), risks everything to honor the memory of her twin brother by taking his place in a dangerous game of survival and power. Alison Cherry's Red (Delacorte Press, ISBN-13 9780385742931) is a fun, light read with a deeper message about the superficiality of prejudices; the twins in this novel are the younger brothers of the super-popular Felicity St. John. While Tana, the hero of Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ISBN-13 9780316213103), is on the run and hoping to hold on to her humanity, she meets up with brother and sister twins who are equally determined to become vampires in this dysptopian-paranormal story.

Historical Fiction

Even Larry Watson, author of Let Him Go (Milkweed Editions, ISBN-13 9781571311023), couldn't resist brother-sister twins in his powerful story of mothers and sons, set in 1951. Anton DiSclafani's The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Riverhead, ISBN-13 9781594486401), set in 1930, is about a pair of brother and sister twins who are separated after a tragic accident.

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05 December 2013

Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries by Eleanor CattonI have never had much luck with major award-winning books, and unfortunately, Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries (Booker Prize winner) didn't break my streak.

As I mentioned in a Thursday Tea post a couple of weeks ago, the novel takes place in 1866 in Hokitika, New Zealand, on the edges of the gold fields. On the first night Walter Moody, a Scotsman, arrives in town, he inadvertently crashes a secret meeting of twelve men who have gathered to untangle a series of interconnected mysteries involving death, disappearance, theft, false identity, women, opium, and hidden riches.

Moody is soon caught up in the men's stories, eventually revealing a few strange occurrences of his own. The novel is told in a nonlinear fashion and from a variety of viewpoints, and each individual episode reveals a bit of the truth behind one or more of the mysteries.

Catton choose a precise structure for her novel, in which the length of each part is consecutively and proportionally smaller, from the 360-page opener to the 2-page closer. In addition, each chapter within the parts is given an astrological title, which is (presumably) related to the events and people taking center stage in the ensuing text. Another clever bit has to do with the names of the people--for example, Mr. Frost is said to have spoken coolly, and Mr. Staines is described as being colorful.

There is a large cast of characters in The Luminaries, and no one, male or female, is without flaws. Each has arrived in Hokitika to make a new start, but no one is able to escape the past. Although I had trouble with the novel as a whole, Catton created complex and fascinating characters who were driven by personal demons.

Because the novel unfolds from different points of view and zigzags through time, we read about the same key events several times. Unfortunately, the repetition began to drag long before I reached page 830 (or rather hour 29), and although the characters were real enough, I soon lost interest in who (if anyone) was telling the truth and how the intertwined mysteries would eventually be solved. I can't help but wonder how many of the lengthy descriptions Catton would have cut if The Luminaries had been written with a looser structure. Were scenes and background stories included just to make sure each part had the correct number of pages?

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Audible, Inc.; 29 hr, 14 min) narrated by Mark Meadows, whose pacing, accents, and characterizations kept me listening until the end. My full audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine.

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)

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03 December 2013

Wordless Wednesday 266

Fence Line, 2013

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

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Review and Giveaway: I Funny & I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

I Even Funnier by James Patterson and Chris GrabensteinHere's a little-known personal fact: I love good stand-up comedy. When I discovered James Patterson's middle reader books about Jamie Grimm, a budding comic, I knew I had to read them--even if Jamie will never actually get to do stand-up.

Let me explain. As a result of an accident (I'll save the details for Jamie to tell), Jamie is wheelchair bound, and as he himself says:

I want to be a stand-up comic more than anything in the world--even if I don't exactly fit the job description. (p. 14)
Although Jamie's life hasn't been all that funny, he uses humor to help him cope with circumstances that might otherwise be too difficult for a young teen to bear.

In both I Funny (2012) and I Even Funnier (2013), Jamie shares the ups and downs of surviving middle school. He may be in a wheelchair, but that doesn't protect him from bullies, stop him from having friends, or squelch his dreams. In fact, Jamie is just an ordinary kid.

I Funny by James Patterson and Chris GrabensteinWell, okay, he's a regular guy with a gigantic sense of humor and sharp powers of observation. The books are told from his viewpoint (that's belt buckle level, in case you were wondering), and Jamie talks about all kinds of things everyone can relate to: how to tell when a girl friend becomes a girlfriend, how to deal with being teased, the meaning of real friendship, the importance of having people believe in you, and the terror of public speaking.

Because Jamie has the chance to enter some comedy competitions, I learned a lot about how a professional hones his routine. I was fascinated with what it takes to be a stand-up comedian, from coming up with material to testing out new bits.

Humor takes many forms, and one of Jamie's secret weapons is turning it back on himself. By making his handicap the butt of some of his jokes, he helps others stop seeing the wheelchair and notice the kid in the seat. A good lesson for all of us.

Besides laughing at Jamie's jokes, I also loved the black-and-white illustrations that are found throughout the novels. The drawings bring Jamie's vivid imagination to life, and they are sure to make you smile. To get an idea of the humor, the writing style and the drawings, be sure to read the sample of I Even Funnier I've embedded below.

As you can imagine, I Funny and I Even Funnier would make fantastic book club choices for young boys and girls (and even adults!). There are so many great topics for discussion, such as family, personal hardships, friendship, and following ones dreams. If you check out author James Patterson's middle grade books website, you'll find fun activity kits and other pages that are keyed into Jamie Grimm's story.

The Giveaway: To celebrate the release of I Even Funnier (out on December 9), I'm excited to be able to offer one of my readers a copy of both Jamie Grimm books. All you have to do to have a chance to win these two James Patterson middle school books is to have a U.S. mailing address and to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner using a random number generator on December 15. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal data from my computer. The book will be sent out by the publicist.

Thanks to Little, Brown for offering one of my readers a chance to win these fun, funny books. Good luck!

For more about James Patterson, be sure to like his Facebook page and follow him Twitter. For more great books for middle grade readers, like Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

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02 December 2013

Product Review: The Snugg's Real Bamboo iPhone Case

The Snug Real Bamboo Wood Case for iPhoneWhen the nice people at The Snugg asked me if I'd like to review one of their products, I gladly said yes because they have a reputation for making quality tablet, phone, and eReader cases with a hard-to-beat guarantee.

For almost a year, I had been protecting my iPhone with a clunky blue plastic case, and I was ready for a more elegant choice. The Snugg makes a range of leather cases, but when I saw their Real Bamboo Wood Case, I fell in love immediately.

The Real Bamboo case is silky smooth with a semi-gloss finish and nicely rounded edges. Even Mr. BFR (woodcraftsman extraordinaire) was impressed with the quality.  Not only does the case look fantastic but it's well made down to the details. For example, as you can see in the photos, the case is made from a single piece of bamboo, so the split in the back is barely noticeable. See how the grain is perfectly lined up?

The Snug Real Bamboo Wood Case for iPhoneOne of my concerns about getting a nonflexible case sight unseen was that the holes for the speakers, camera, and so on might not be lined up correctly. The Snugg took great care in designing the Real Bamboo case, however, and all the openings are exactly right.

I tested the recharging cord and headphone outlet and had no issues at all. I took photos, turned the phone on and off, and adjusted the volume. I even listened to a song or two without headphones and can attest that the speakers are not blocked by the bamboo.

The Snugg Real Bamboo Wood Case is easy as can be to slip onto your phone It comes in two parts that go together together smoothly. The inside of the case is covered to prevent scratching, and once on, the case fits, well, snugly!

The Snug Real Bamboo Wood Case for iPhoneMy practical side loves that the Real Bamboo Wood case comes with a lifetime guarantee and The Snugg's "quality promise." I appreciate not only the sustainability of bamboo but the way it feels in my hand.

I realize not everyone is into the look and feel of wood, and so does The Snugg. They make beautiful leather pouches in natural and fashion colors as well as more protective bright plastic covers. And don't think The Snugg is only about the iPhone. They make covers for many brands of smartphones, including Samsung and Blackberry.

I love my new iPhone case so much I've been looking at The Snugg's tablet and eReader covers. There are quite a few styles and colors available for many brands, such as the Nook, the Kindle, Nexus, and iPads. I think families would love the tablet cases that come with a headrest mount so kids can watch a movie in the backseat of the car.

If you're looking for a great Christmas present for the gadget-lover on your list, be sure to check out the The Snugg's website. There's a case for everyone in your family.

Thanks to The Snugg for giving me the chance to provide my honest opinion of one of their products.

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2018. All rights reserved.



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