31 March 2014

March Selections for the Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club

Remember when I introduced you to the Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club for middle readers? I'm committed to featuring or reviewing all the books selected for this club because I think Scholastic has picked winning titles that have broad appeal.

Don't forget that the Scholastic book club site includes more information about the books, recipes, reading guides, and contests. The resources are perfect for book clubs, teachers, homeschoolers, and any one who wants to get more out of reading books with middle grade readers.

Even though the March selections are almost polar opposites, I enjoyed them both. Let's take a look.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie LloydNatalie Lloyd's A Snicker of Magic tells the story of Felicity Juniper Pickle, who has just moved to Midnight Gulch, Tennessee, where her mom grew up. According to local legend, the town used to be hidden from the world because everyone who lived there had a little magic running in their veins. But the magic left almost a hundred years ago, when two brothers quarreled, setting off a curse.

On the first day of sixth grade in her new school, Felicity meets an unusual boy who not only befriends her but trusts her with some of the town's secrets. The more Felicity learns, the more she wants to respark the lost magic, hoping her artistic mother will overcome her wanderlust and set down roots Midnight Gulch.

Part of the charm of A Snicker of Magic is Felicity's special relationship with words. She is, in fact, a collector of words: real words, words that should be real, and words that can be split to make more. Through words, she soothes her sister's fears and even helps her friends.

I imagine that young readers will want to talk about family, magic, sisters, shyness, and the meaning of home. Adults might want to steer the discussion around to the power (magic?) of words, the concept of community, and strength of memory. Other great questions can be found on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site. The suggested recipe is for blackberry ice cream, which plays a very special role in Felicity's story.

The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy GownleyIn The Dumbest Idea Ever!, author Jimmy Gownley recalls, in graphic novel form, the defining years of his youth in a coal-mining town in eastern Pennsylvania. In junior high, Jimmy was not only the top student in his small Catholic school but also a star basketball player. He studied hard and had a group of good friends. But he also had a love of graphic novels and comics.

When chickenpox and then pneumonia kept him out of school for over a month, Jimmy went through a transition. He became obsessed with writing and drawing his own graphic novel and began to lose interest in his schoolwork. But when he finally fiinished a short book, his best friend told him the story was no good.

Jimmy was discouraged, but his friend's dumb idea--"Why don't you write a comic book about us?"--began to take root, and that's just what young Jimmy did. Along the way, however, the thirteen-year-old learned a few lessons, especially about family, friendship, popularity, and hard work.

Adults might want to tell their young readers that Jimmy's story is autobiographical and that Gownley is now an award-winning, best-selling graphic novelist. This might prompt them to think about what they see in their own futures. Discussion topics include the downside of fame, the importance of being able to freely express your ideas, and the way that fiction can tell us something about life and ourselves. More discussion questions can be found on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site. The suggested recipe is for soft pretzels, a nod to a life-changing trip Jimmy and his friend Ellen make to New York City.

A Snicker of Magic: Scholastic Press, 2014; ISBN-13: 978054555270
The Dumbest Idea Ever!: Scholastic, Graphix, 2014; ISBN-13: 9780545453462
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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29 March 2014

Weekend Cooking: Step Up to the Plate (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.

Step Up to the Plate (film)Director Paul Lacoste's documentary Step Up to the Plate (Entre les Bras) is a film that often appears on best-of lists for foodies. This movie follows Michel Bras over the course of a year, as he prepares to pass control of his famous restaurant to his son, Sebastien.

Although the movie feels a bit slow and meditative, I enjoyed meeting the Bras family. Right from the start you are introduced to the very nouvelle cuisine style that's the Bras signature. I'm not always a fan of the overly fussy plate, but I was quite impressed with the way father and son painted on the plate with food and sauces. Their presentations are exquisite.

The movie covers much more than just market, field, and restaurant. It's also the story of a family. We meet four generations of Brases, not just at the stove but also at home and in the beautiful French countryside. I especially liked the kitchen scenes, Michel's musings, and Sebastien's evident fondness and respect for his father.

If you crave fast action and exotic ingredients, you might want to pass on this documentary. On the other hand, Step Up to Plate will appeal to anyone who is interested in seeing the human side of running a family restaurant, albeit a world-famous one.

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28 March 2014

Sound Recommendations: Nonfiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Anything That Moves by Dana GoodyearDana Goodyear's Anything That Moves explores extreme eating, from the raw milk movement to dining on exotic animals. I was quickly caught up in Goodyear's encounters with twenty-first-century food fanatics looking for the next big thing and came away with a whole new perspective on what's going on in the current food scene. Bravo to the author for being willing to taste almost everything, including insect eggs and pigs' noses. The unabridged audiobook (Tantor, 8 hr, 32 min) is read by Jane Jacobs. Unfortunately, I couldn't shake the feeling that Jacobs was not full invested in the book. Her odd pauses and stilted narration detracted from my enjoyment of this eye-opening treatise. Pick this one up in print. (Riverhead, 2013, ISBN-13 9781594488375)

What I Had before I Had You by Sarah CornwellWhat I Had before I Had You, by Sarah Cornwell, is a novel about self-discovery and new beginnings. Before moving back to New York City after her divorce, Olivia Reed makes a stop at the Jersey Shore to show her children where she grew up. The visit unleashes a flood of memories, as Olivia recalls the summer she learned the truth about her mother's--and her own--sometimes odd behavior. The audiobook (HarperAudio; 8 hr, 17 min) is read by Karen White, whose expressive reading adds an appropriately dreamy feel to this story, which is told primarily in flashbacks. Bipolar disorder is a central theme of this novel, and White's sensitive characterizations increase our empathy and draw us into this tale of motherhood and family. Recommended in audio. (Harper, 2014, ISBN-13 9780062237842)

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy HoranOne of the latest entries in the recent trend of stories about the wives and girlfriends of famous men is Nancy Horan's Under the Wide and Starry Sky, which focuses on Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson. Although I was aware of Stevenson's delicate health and eventual move to the South Pacific, I knew little about his American wife. Horan draws back the curtain to show us the remarkable contrast between the strong, independent Fanny and the idealistic, easily influenced Robert. I was left thinking Fanny deserves sainthood. The audiobook (Random House; 17 hr, 7 min) is read by Kirsten Potter, whose accents and nicely paced narration add a wonderful layer to Horan's well-researched and beautifully written novel. Recommended in audio. (Ballantine, 2014, ISBN-13 9780345516534)

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27 March 2014

Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. MaasYou may remember I had mixed feelings about Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass, which was the first in a new young adult high fantasy. Although I was disappointed that Maas introduced a love triangle--mostly because that device has become almost formulistic in YA fantasy, dsytopian, and paranormal--I was impressed with her world building and the hint that our heroine's future was not going to be easy.

Thank goodness I listened to a trusted marketing friend, who assured me that the next book in the series, Crown of Midnight, took the story in a new direction. I read it and agree. Not only has Maas avoided the sophomore slump but she has written a stronger, surer novel. I'm now officially hooked.

This review contains no spoilers for Crown of Midnight but assumes you read Throne of Glass.

  • What happens? Celaena Sardothien, assassin and king's champion, is as deadly as she is beautiful. Although she is bound in service to a king she hates, she uses her position to find ways to undermine him. Meanwhile, she discovers she's not the only person in court who has something to hide and that uncovering secrets can have life-altering results. The novel doesn't end on a cliff-hanger, but by the last page, Celaena has stepped onto a new path.
  • What about that love triangle? Maas neatly and smoothly ironed out Celaena's romantic conflicts. I have nothing against a little love during times of political unrest; I just don't like the obvious and predictable, and I'm especially annoyed by obsession. I'm pleased to report that you'll find none of that in Crown of Midnight. If I say too much, however, I'll spoil the plot; instead let me assure you nothing is simple for any of the characters.
  • A note on the audience and genre. This series may be classed as a teen book, but the plot is fairly adult and definitely violent. The genre is fantasy, but this is not a world of wands and wizards, and magic is powerful and deadly.
  • A note on the plotting. For the most part, Maas is stingy with her clues to the broader world in which her characters inhabit, doling them out in a tantalizing way. There is no single wise man to whom Celaena can turn for answers. She, and we, must puzzle out the meaning of what she learns. In only one aspect (I'm not saying what) does Maas lay it on heavy in the foreshadowing. But being sure I know something that Celaena doesn't isn't a negative; in fact, it makes the assassin's journey even more interesting.
  • General thoughts. Maas is growing as an author, and I'm looking forward to seeing where she'll take us as the Throne of Glass series progresses. I won't have to wait too long because the next book is due out this coming fall. In the meantime, I hope to read Maas's novellas, which act as prequels to the series.
Published by Bloomsbury USA Children's, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781619630628
Source: Print: review; audio: bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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26 March 2014

Wordless Wednesday 282

Vine Painting, 2014

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25 March 2014

Today's Read: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May Vary by Julie MurphySuppose your doctors told you your leukemia had the upper hand, so you began to live without regard to the future. Now suppose your cancer went into remission and you had to face the consequences of your recent actions. That's what happened to sixteen-year-old Alice.

Alice. Then. If my parents gave me a religion, it was the gospel of honesty. Babies don't come from storks, and my mom never dared to tell me that a flu shot would hurt her more than it would me. But even though we lived by the truth, there some things I would never know how to say out loud. What I hadn't said for the last year was: I miss Harvey. I couldn't say it out loud, but that didn't stop it from being true. In the collection of my memories there was no specific moment that I was most fond of, a moment that so defined this whisper of loss. Still, every time I thought of simple things like eating pizza on Friday night, Harvey was there. And now, he was not.
Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy (HarperCollins / Balzer + Bray, 2014, p. 1; from uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Circumstances: Alice, with the help of Harvey, focuses on completing her bucket list (which includes acts of revenge) before she dies; but then Alice learns she is actually going to live
  • Characters: Alice and her family; Harvey, her not exactly a boyfriend; Alice's friends and enemies
  • Genre & audience: contemporary YA fiction
  • Style: told from both Alice's and Harvey's viewpoints and set in two time periods: Then (when Alice is dying from leukemia) and Now (when Alice learns she will live)
  • Themes: honesty, friendship, consequences of one's actions, living with cancer, getting second chances, mortality
  • Book club discussion topics: Does being sick give Alice an excuse for bad behavior? What does Harvey see in Alice that others might not? What is the true nature of Alice and Harvey's relationship? Did Alice learn from her mistakes? What would you do if you were told you were dying? What do you think Alice's future will be like? Harvey's?
ISBN-13: 9780062245359
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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24 March 2014

The eMerging eReader #4: Apps and Sources

The eMerging eReader © www.BethFishReads.comOnce I bought my devices and loaded the needed software on my PC, it was time to figure out which tablet and phone apps I wanted to use and learn how to make the most of my dedicated eReader. Because apps and sources for reading material overlap considerably, this post covers both topics.

Proprietary apps. The first app to download is the one for your dedicated eReader. I like the Kobo app because it syncs phone, tablet, and reader so I can catch up on my current book wherever I am. [Although I don't use the Nook, Kindle, and iBook apps, you might be interested in setting up accounts so you can take advantage of sales and freebies.]

Readmill (with Dropbox). If you're looking for only one app to use on your tablet or phone, it's Readmill. I consider it to be a PDF miracle and the key to my eMerging eReading success. I love so many of the features: I can change font sizes and light level and I can search and highlight. Best of all, PDFs are formatted perfectly and don't go all wonky. Because I use Calibre as my master eBook file, I add books to Readmill via Dropbox, which is fast and easy. Readmill syncs between phone and tablet, making it a snap to read whenever I have a minute. Besides PDFs, I use Readmill for ePUBs that are graphic heavy, such as graphic novels and cookbooks. An added bonus: the hyperlinks in ePUBs work beautifully. [See the settings for other ways to add books and to explore the social media options.]

Zinio. My second favorite app on the tablet is Zinio, an eMagazine app. A few months ago, Zinio teamed up with libraries around the United States, giving patrons free online access to a variety of magazines. I love being able to read my favorite magazines without the clutter and expense. Even better, most of the magazines allow me print what I want, so I can take a recipe to the kitchen or a pattern to my craft room. This app works in tandem with a website, so if your library doesn't have Zinio, you can use it as a magazine service and pay for individual issues or eSubscriptions.

Magazine extras. Talking about magazines, have you ever explored their online extras? Several of my print subscriptions offer fantastic bonus material that is accessed (on iDevices) through the Newsstand app. Depending on the type of magazine, you'll find videos, extra articles, or additional recipes and photos. Don't miss out on the free-with-subscription bonuses. [Some newsletters also offer online extras or discounted digital-only subscriptions.]

Overdrive. If you download eBooks from your library, you might want the Overdrive app. This is simple to use and integrates with your library's eCollection. [I don't use it for eBooks, but have used it for audiobooks.]

Oyster. Finally, a post about eBooks wouldn't be complete without mentioning Oyster, which is available only for mobile iDevices. For a monthly fee ($10), you have access to an unlimited number of eBooks, which you can download and read via a proprietary app. If you're curious, sign up for a free trial. [I tried this service and decided it wasn't for me.]

Next up: Dealing with issues relating to reviewing, note taking, and remembering to read my eBooks, as my journey to becoming an eMerging eReader continues.

Acknowledgments: Besides those I've already thanked, I'd like to give a shout-out to @ReadersRespite, @StillUnfinished, @Vasilly, @BookishNerd, and @Dsaarien for directly or indirectly guiding me to the mentioned apps or to apps I tried and rejected.

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22 March 2014

Weekend Cooking: Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie edited by Peggy Wolff

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.

Fried Waleye and Cherry Pie edited by Peggy WolffLast year at BookExpo America (yes, almost a full year ago), I stopped by the University of Nebraska Press booth because I love their books, especially the Flyover Fiction Series and the At the Table Series.

I've already mentioned Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food, edited by Peggy Wolff, but I never did get around to reviewing it. My principal stumbling block has been grappling with how to review a collection of 30 short essays/memoirs from a broad range of writers. Clearly, I couldn't discuss each piece separately.

Instead, I offer you some brief thoughts and a handful of quotes. The bottom line is that I loved every single one of the personal stories in this collection. Yes, some struck a stronger chord than others, but the displaced Midwesterner in me could relate to much of what these authors shared.

The topics range from fast-food to fair food, from local diners to home-cooked farm food, and from college town food carts to the global flavors of immigrant families. The authors are just as varied and include novelists, such as Jacquelyn Mitchard; food writers and editors, like Carol Mighton Haddix, and even radio stars, like NPR's Peter Sagal. A fondness for the Midwest and a deep connection with the power of food link these evocative essays.

Some of the stories were funny and some were nostalgic, but almost all of them recalled family and friends and the centrality of food in the rhythm of life. Here are four passages to give you a taste.

Elizabeth Berg, novelist:
I believe that cooking is about more than taking care of a certain unrelenting biological need. I believe it is spiritual, and calming, and centering. I believe that making something with your own hands and feeding it to the ones you love is communicating something that can't be communicated any other way. (p. 6)
Peggy Wolff, filmmaker and food writer:
Here it is, the real deal, the culinary destiny of the local Montmorency [sour] cherry, baked in a show-stopping, irresistible, flaky double crust. This is a party worth going after, saving for, putting all your eggs in one basket for. The top is smooth as a confectioner's toffee candy, the edges are perfectly pinched. (p. 126)
Douglas Bauer, writer and professor:
Our farmhouse sat atop a slight rise in the middle of the acreage. The land, as lawn, sloped away from the foundation and flattened out in all directions until it reached the surrounding corn and soybean fields, then continued extremely into the four distances. A wide, pillared porch wrapped around the north and east sides of the house. As a boy, during the summer months, I sometimes sat for a time on the east porch railing and, if my father and grandfather Bauer happened to be working in the field that was my view, I looked out to watch the two of them on their tractors moving the day's tending implements along the Iowa horizon. (p. 185)
Robin Mather, writer and journalist:
Of all the glories that autumn has to offer, however, the biggest and foremost in my mind is apples. I'm in love with apples, in love especially with names of the older varieties: Sheepnose, Wolf River, Macoun, Seek-No-Further, Cox's Orange Pippin--poetical names that whisper of older times and simpler values. Hundreds of apple varieties still grow all over the country--apples meant for sauce, or pies, or eating out of hand; apples meant for long-keeping or for making into cider; apples meant for drying or for pairing with cheeses. (p. 210)
Keep Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie on your nightstand and vow to read an essay a night. I guarantee you'll have a month of sweet dreams. You might even be tempted to try one of the recipes. The buttermilk doughnuts with cider glaze are calling to me.

Published by University of Nebraska Press, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780803236455
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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20 March 2014

Review: The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee Jr.

Although I'm not a rabid baseball fan, I have fond memories of listening to the Tigers' games on my transistor radio when it was too hot to sleep during the summer nights of my childhood. Despite rooting for the American League, I didn't follow the career of the great Boston Red Sox player Ted Williams, especially considering he retired when I was only four. All I knew about him was that he hit .409 and could be nasty to his fans.

I can't say that Ben Bradlee Jr.'s The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams turned me into a Williams lover, but it showed me that he was a complex, intelligent man who battled many demons.

Based on hundreds of interviews with Williams's family, friends, colleagues, and enemies; the examination of Williams's personal archives; and accounts in the public record, The Kid offers a three-dimensional view the baseball great. It's clear that Bradlee admired the Kid, but he didn't try to whitewash the less pleasant parts of his personality.

Among the more surprising things I learned about Williams was how involved he was with children suffering from debilitating diseases. He was a regular visitor to children's hospitals and was so focused on the kids that he forbade the press from accompanying him. Williams genuinely cared about the children and didn't cheer them up as a publicity stunt.

Of course, the bulk of the book is about Williams as a baseball player. Bradlee talks about Williams's scientific approach to maintaining his bats, his rocky relationship with the Rex Sox fans and the press, his years as a manager, and his records. Running throughout the biography are stories about Williams's wives, girlfriends, and children; his love of fishing and hunting; his business sense; and his childhood, retirement, and death.

Although Williams could be generous and kind, he was just as likely to be crude and cruel. He spit at fans, sometimes rejected his own children, was uncooperative with the press, and could come off as a spoiled brat. His background and personal hardships are no excuse for bad behavior, but they offer a context that helps us understand his bad temper and lack of self-control.

One of the more lasting images I'll have from The Kid is Bradlee's portrait of Williams's son, John-Henry, who was a selfish, manipulative young man who took advantage of his father's failing health. I felt so sorry for Williams at the end.

In The Kid, Ben Bradlee Jr., an award-winning journalist, found that magic place where scholarship meets personal passion. This well-researched and easy-to-read biography helped me see Williams in a clear light. As I said, Bradlee didn't transform me into a huge Ted Williams fan, but he made me respect the Kid more than I ever thought I would.

I listened to most of the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 35 hr, 13 min), reading only the final chapter and epilogue of The Kid in print. Dave Mallow did a wonderful job with the narration; I turned to print only because I was impatient to find out what happened to Williams's family after his death.

Note on the photo: Ted Williams in 1949. From Wikimedia Commons and in the public domain.

Published by Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780316614351
Source: Review/audio; bought/print (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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18 March 2014

Wordless Wednesday 281

Waiting for Spring, 2014

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The eMerging eReader #3: Desktop Software

The eMerging eReader @ www.BethFishReads.comNow that I've covered the devices I use for eReading, I want to talk about the software and apps I've found most useful for managing and reading eBooks and other materials. This is a big area and somewhat difficult to organize.

Here's my strategy: Today I'll cover the major software I use on my PC (Mac people can find the same programs or similar). In the next installment, I'll focus on the apps I use on my tablet (and phone). In the future, when I talk about sources for eBooks, I'll likely mention other apps that pertain specifically to that topic.

I have tried several different programs and apps for all my devices. Instead of confusing things by introducing programs I've abandoned, throughout this series, I mention only what works for me—at least for right now. If you've discovered newer and better software, please let me know in the comments.

Device-specific software. Most eReaders come with dedicated software for your desktop. These programs allow you to buy books from the manufacturer's eBook store, find the books you own, and transfer the books to your eReader. Frankly, I use the program only to check the Kobo store for specials and sales. To get the software for your particular eReader, go to your device's website and look for downloads.

Adobe Digital Editions. Adobe Digital Editions is a must-have program. If you download books from NetGalley, Edelweiss, your library, or from a variety of other sources, this is the most likely place you'll find the files. I, however, use ADE simply as a portal; books stay here only a short while. Among other issues, the program is clunky to use. For example, if you delete a book from the ADE library, you've probably just hidden the title from your virtual bookshelf. The file itself, even if it has expired, may still exist on your hard drive. Often, to delete the book for real, you have to you use (on a PC) Windows Explorer to find the My Digital Editions folder and delete the file from there.

Adobe Reader. I can't imagine that you don't already have Adobe Reader on your home computer, but just in case, I'll mention it. This is a free program that is specifically made for reading PDFs. I don't use Adobe Reader for pleasure reading, but you could use it to read eGalleys that are formatted as PDFs. Sometimes using a simple program that already lives on your laptop is the right choice.

Calibre. One of the most frustrating issues I faced on my journey to becoming an eMerging eReading was managing and juggling my eBooks. I had books on my old eReaders, on my Kobo, in Adobe Digital Editions, and in other folders on my PC. Some files were in ePUB format, some in old Nook formats, some in PDFs . . . you get the idea. Enter Calibre, the master program of all things eBook (at least for me). No matter how I obtain my eBooks (local library, bookstore, galley service), I transfer them to my Calibre library.

The program is dead simple to use for a number of important tasks. For example, when you want to delete an eBook, you have several choices, from deleting it off your bookshelf to removing it completely from all devices and various combinations in between. Most important for me, however, was the plug-in that allowed me to make my old Nook books compatible with my new Kobo and the ease with which I can transfer books from my computer to my devices. (There is also a Kindle plug-in, but I haven't used it.)

Database nerds will like the fact that Calibre allows you arrange your library in a number of ways. You can sort by author, title, publisher, publication date, and even tags of your own choosing. You can also set it up to synch with your eReader so you know at a glance what's on your device.

Now that all my books are in a single place on my computer, I can easily keep track of them, no matter which device, program, or app I plan to use for reading. Without Calibre, I had to open several programs (or folders) to find my all of books.

Note: Before using Calibre, you should know that it works by creating DRM-free eBooks. I consider this a nonissue; you may have different thoughts.

In the next installment of the eMerging eReader, I'll talk about the apps I use on my phone and tablet.

Acknowledgments: Besides the good people I've already thanked, today I want to give a shout out to @SuziQoregon, who first introduced me to Calibre.

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17 March 2014

Review: Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel

Sailor Twain by Mark SiegelFirst Second is quickly becoming one of my go-to imprints for thoughtful adult graphic novels. This month they released the paperback edition of Mark Siegel's Sailor Twain, Or The Mermaid in the Hudson, which was the recipient of a number of starred reviews and other critical acclaim when it was first published in 2012.

Siegel brings together such an intriguing a mix of genres and themes in Sailor Twain that I'm recommending it as a book club selection. If you're still new to graphic novels and are looking for something outside the realm of dime-store comic books, Sailor Twain is a good place to start, especially if you're a fan of stories with a little bit of mystery.

  • Summary. In May 1887, Captain Twain, a self-professed happily married man, brings a wounded mermaid aboard his Hudson River steamboat. Hiding her in his cabin, he begins to fall under her spell during her convalescence. Meanwhile, the ship's owner, Lafayette, refuses to leave the ship, dividing his time between seducing women and writing to author C. G. Beaverton, well-known for publishing folklore stories about mysterious events reported to have taken place along the Hudson. What will happen when the paths of these three characters cross?
  • Genres and themes. Sailor Twain is historical fiction mixed with folklore, adventure, and a little romance. The story is not so much a mystery as a puzzle: How are the characters connected and what is the truth behind the unexplained events that Beaverton writes about? The major themes of the novel are love, relationships, and marriage; interpretations of faith and creation; morality; the interpretation of mythology, folklore, and local legends.
  • copyright Mark Siegel
  • Artwork. Siegel's charcoal drawings have a soft and dark feel that fit the mystery of the story. Many pages have little or no words, yet the story is fully told through the expressive faces and careful details. The scan is from page 107 (click image to enlarge; all rights remain with the author).
  • General thoughts. I was quickly pulled into the world of Sailor Twain, which is set up as a frame story and told in retrospect. The characters' changing behavior and the clues (found on the ship and on land and in newspaper articles, books, and letters) are teasing and kept me guessing. If I have a complaint, it's that the ending happened rather quickly for such a carefully paced buildup. Regardless, I'm still recommending Mark Siegel's Sailor Twain.
Published by Roaring Brook Press /First Second, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781596439269
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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15 March 2014

Weekend Cooking: Southwest Quinoa Cakes

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.

Eating Well March-April 2014Last weekend when I was looking around for some new ideas for easy, healthful, and tasty weekday dinners, I ran across the latest edition of Eating Well. If you are unfamiliar with this magazine, it has a nice blend of appealing recipes, health information, and interesting extras. The current issue, for example, has articles about grass-fed beef and heirloom seeds.

This recipe for Southwest Quinoa Cakes caught my eye. The muffins were so easy to make and really delicious, both fresh for dinner and reheated for lunch. These would also be great served at room temperature on a buffet or for a potluck. My only suggestion is to cut up two avocados instead of one.

copyright Eating Well
copyright: Eating Well magazine
Southwest Quinoa Cakes
Makes 12; 6 servings
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup quinoa (Eating Well prefers red)
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed
  • ¾ cup reduced-fat cottage cheese (I used regular)
  • ¼ cup sliced scallions
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  •  ¼ teaspoon salt, plus a pinch, divided
  • 1 cup shredded pepper Jack cheese
  • 1 (1-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 small chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 avocado, chopped (or two!)
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat a 12-cup nonstick muffin tin with cooking spray

2. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in quinoa. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the grains are tender and reveal their spiraled germ, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for about 10 minutes.

3. Add eggs, beans, cottage cheese, scallions, flour, baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon salt to the quinoa and stir until well combined. Divide the mixture among the muffin cups (about ¼ cup each). Top each quinoa cake with about 1 tablespoon cheese.

4. Bake the cakes until puffed and a little brown on top, about 20 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Gently loosen and remove with a paring knife.

5. Meanwhile, place tomatoes, garlic, chipotle, and a pinch of salt in a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the cilantro.

6. Serve cakes with the salsa and avocado.

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14 March 2014

Imprint Friday: The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

The Colour of Milk by Nell LeyshonWelcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Ecco books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

I don't know how I missed Nell Leyshon's The Colour of Milk last year, especially because it was an Indie Next pick for January 2013. Leyshon's probably best know as a dramatist, but her fiction has garnered much acclaim. When The Colour of Milk was released in paperback this winter, I made sure to read it.

Before I tell you what I thought, here's the publisher's summary:

Set in England in 1830, The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon is an emotionally haunting work of historical fiction--hailed as "charming, Bronte-esque . . . and hard to forget" (Marian Keyes)--about an illiterate farm girl's emotional and intellectual awakening and its devastating consequences.

Mary, the spirited youngest daughter of an angry, violent man, is sent to work for the local vicar and his invalid wife. Her strange new surroundings offer unsettling challenges, including the vicar's lecherous son and a manipulative fellow servant. But life in the vicarage also offers unexpected joys, as the curious young girl learns to read and write--knowledge that will come at a tragic price.
The story belongs to fifteen-year-old Mary, who tells us about the year she was sent away to work for the local vicar. She divides her tale into seasons, beginning each part by reiterating, "this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand. . . . and my hair is the colour of milk."

The first thing I have to comment on is the lack of capital letters and quotation marks in the novel. To be honest, I was initially thrown off, but after about three dozen pages I was so taken by Mary's spunk and straightforward nature, despite her difficult life, that I had to keep reading. I came to accept that the words were indeed as Mary would have written them, and the odd punctuation became part of the experience. Besides, I wanted to know, What was so important that she had "promised my self i would write the truth and the things that happened"?

Leyshon's novel is beautifully written, almost lyrical in its pacing. And Mary is so clearly rendered--with her bum leg, burning curiosity, and head-on approach to life--that you want to protect her, warning her of what life off the family farm could be like. You feel her frustration at having no control over her destiny: she must do as her mother says, her father says, the vicar says. When she finally feels her own power, she does the only thing she can think of. I don't blame her, and I don't think you will either.

Want to learn more? In the following seven-minute interview with Sandeep Mahal from Fiction Uncovered, Nell Leyshon talks about The Colour Milk.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, January 2014 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 9780062192066

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13 March 2014

Movie Review & Giveaway: The Book Thief

Book Thief on BluRayLast fall I had great good fortune to be included in a conference-call interview with author Markus Zusak. At that time, the movie The Book Thief, based on his wonderful novel, had not yet been released in theaters. I was most interested in how Zusak thought his book, which was extremely visual and solidly based on the power of words, would translate to the screen.

Zusak reassured us that the film would have "the same heart" as his book and that the story would still be "all about the words." Now that I've finally had to chance to view the movie, I can say that he was right. The film, although different from the novel, carried the author's important messages.

For those who don't know the story of The Book Thief, here is the summary of the movie from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment:

Based on the beloved best-selling book comes this profoundly moving story of a girl who transforms the lives of those around her during World War II, Germany. Although Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is illiterate when she is adopted by a German couple (OSCAR® Winner Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson), her adoptive father encourages her to learn to read. Ultimately, the power of words helps Liesel and Max (Ben Schnetzer), a Jew hiding in the family’s home, escape from the events unfolding around them in this extraordinary, acclaimed film directed by Brian Percival (Downton Abbey).
I thought The Book Thief was both beautifully filmed and brilliantly acted. Although Nélisse and Nico Liersch (who plays Liesel's friend Rudy) are a joy to watch, I was particularly impressed with Rush and Watson, who were able to capture their characters' complex personalities and the very different ways they coped with living in Nazi Germany. Best of all, the film indeed manages to capture the amazing power of words and stories.

Don't fret if you missed the movie when it was in theaters because the Blu-Ray edition of The Book Thief was released this week. Beside a code to let you watch the movie on multiple devices, the disc comes with two terrific features you won't want to miss. I especially liked "A Hidden Truth: Bringing The Book Thief to Life." This short documentary includes interviews, a look at the costuming and set design, information about the music, and more. The other feature consists of deleted scenes, which were interesting to see.

After you watch the movie, I know you'll want to talk about The Book Thief. To get you started, take a look at the fourteen questions on the following book-to-film discussion guide. Feel free to save, copy, and/or print it out for your own use. (Click on the image to see the pages full size).

Giveaway: Thanks to Think Jam and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I can offer one of my readers--with a USA mailing address--a prize pack consisting of a copy of the Blu-Ray edition of The Book Thief and a copy of the book. To enter for a chance to win just fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on March 24. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll pass his or her address along to Think Jam, who will mail out the Blu-Ray and book. Good luck!

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11 March 2014

Wordless Wednesday 280

Church in Late Winter, 2014

© cbl for www.BethFishReads.com

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The eMerging eReader #2: Devices

eMerging eReader © cbl for www.BethFishReads.comAs I mentioned yesterday, one of the biggest hurdles on my road to enjoying eReading was finding a device that fit my style. Although I got my first dedicated eReader in 2009 and my second just a year later, I wasn't a fan. Among other problems, I was disappointed with the features and frustrated with the DRM issues. I realize now that only part of my failure had to do with the technology; the other part was not having a clear idea of my needs.

It took me almost four years after I put my first eReaders to pasture to understand my own particular requirements. I wanted a monotone dedicated reader with eInk technology, wifi, touch screen, and built-in lighting. I wanted to buy my books from a variety of stores, and I wanted to check eBooks out from the library. But, and here's where things got complicated, I also wanted to be able to read PDF eGalleys and full-color graphic novels.

For me the answer was to get two different devices, which turned out to be the break-through moment that allowed me finally to become an eMerging eReader.

For my dedicated eReader, I picked the Kobo Aura HD, which is just about perfect. The responsive touch screen makes it easy to turn pages, the infinitely adjustable font size means I can read without glasses, the eInk is just what my eyes want after I've been working at the computer, the matte screen means I can read out on the deck, and the internal light makes it easy to read in bed. Plus it's a snap to highlight passages, bookmark pages, and search for words.

The Aura, however, has two negatives: it won't let me read full-color graphic novels, and it doesn't play nicely with PDFs. I solved those problems when I bought my first tablet.

I opted for an iPad because I have an iPhone, though any tablet would have worked for me. Over the last few months, I've tried a number of apps for the tablet (which I'll talk about in a future post), and after I found one that allowed me to read full-color graphic novels and beautifully formatted PDFs, I was hooked.

Unlike many of you, I wouldn't want the tablet to be my only eReader: the backlit screen is hard on my already tired eyes, the screen is difficult to read in the sun (outside), and it isn't as lightweight as the Kobo. On the other hand, the tablet was the link to the third piece to my eReader puzzle: taking advantage of a device I already owned . . . my phone.

I don't really use my phone as an eReader, but I love the fact that both my Kobo and my tablet synch to it. Isn't great that no matter where I am, I can access my current eBook?

I realize I'm probably not the average eBook reader. Most of you could be very happy with a single device or are still holding out for that magic all-in-one gadget. But my journey as an eMerging eReader began only once I had several devices in play.

In future posts (maybe once a week or so), I'll talk about specific software and apps, how I use my laptop (PC) as the master manager of my eBooks, and a number of other problems and issues I've overcome. And don't worry if you have different gadgets from mine, pretty much everything I've discovered is available across platforms.

Acknowledgments: Many kind people gave me good advice along the way. I want to give a huge shout-out to the wonderful people at Kobo's customer service (especially on Twitter) for helping me obtain my eReader. I was having technical issues with their website, and they went above and beyond to resolve them. Thanks to @Jennbookshelves and @SKrisha for sharing their experiences with different gadgets and answering my endless questions.

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10 March 2014

The eMerging eReader #1: Introduction

The eMerging eReader @ www.BethFishReads.comeReading: Do you do it? Like many avid readers over a certain age, the transition to eReading has been a rocky road for me. No, I'm not technologically challenged, nor am I quaintly old-fashioned. I think it has been more a matter of habit—after all, I've been reading in print for over fifty years. Overlay that with the fact that I'm reading on a screen for about ten hours a day for work and blogging, and you might begin to understand why I was slow to embrace eReading for fun.

But I had other problems with the medium, mostly having to do with the devices themselves. Early eReaders were fraught with problems: highlighting and note taking were clunky, touch screens were unresponsive, lighting was difficult, and formatting was a mess. Then there was the issue of obtaining eBooks. Just a few years ago, variety was limited and DRM technology forced us to be married to one eReader and one store.

So after wasting my money on unused gadgets and being frustrated with my book choices, I lost interest. That is until last fall when I finally found the magic combination of devices, software, and sources that turned me into an eMerging eReader.

Over the following weeks, I'll be sharing my journey to becoming the eMerging eReader. I'll talk about my mistakes and successes, what I like and what I still hate, the software and devices I use, and the things I still struggle with. Although the transition was easy for many readers, it was both slow and rough for me.

I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences and to learning from you, as I continue to eEmerge as an eReader. If there are any specific topics you'd like me to discuss, let me know; if I have anything insightful to say, I'll be happy to write about them.

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08 March 2014

Weekend Cooking: Pressure Cooker Perfection by America's Test Kitchen

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.

Pressure Cooker Perfection by America's Test KitchenAs you might remember, Lorna Sass has long been my go-to guide for pressure cooker dishes (see my earlier pressure cooker post). Apparently I'm in good company, because Christopher Kimball, of America's Test Kitchen (ATK) fame, also used Sass's books when he first experimented with cooking under pressure.

Because pressure cooking has been gaining in popularity, ATK decided to investigate. They spent a year testing the techniques and recipes collected in their Pressure Cooker Perfection. The result is 100 fail-safe dishes that just might change your life, or at least your dinner table.

I know, I know. You've heard horror stories of pressure cookers exploding, and you're scared of the hiss and steam. Or maybe you just don't believe that you'll have a flavorful chicken broth after only about an hour of cooking. I've never quite understood the fear, but I promise you that modern-day cookers are safe, and they will, as the subtitle to Pressure Cooker Perfection notes, "change the way you cook." I use my cooker at least once a week, and I couldn't live without it.

© America's Test KitchenIf you are totally new to the concept of pressure cooking, this book is a fine place to start. ATK takes you through everything you need to know. They introduce you to the vocabulary, offer step-by-step guides, provide cooking charts, and even suggest brands of cookers. After reading the opening sections, you'll feel as if you had gone to pressure cooker school--and I mean that in good way.

True to ATK form, the recipes in Pressure Cooker Perfection have been tested and retested to guarantee success. Each one is accompanied by photos, clear instructions, easy-to-find ingredients, and even a troubleshooting section. Beginners will feel confident with this book by their side, and experienced pressure cooker cooks will appreciate picking up a few new tips and techniques.

 The recipes are quite basic and are designed to help you feel comfortable with the pressure cooker and learn general procedures that you can use later when adapting your own recipes. The broths, soups, chilies, roasts, pasta sauces, risotto, and side dishes all look tasty would be welcome by most home cooks.

© America's Test KitchenI was particularly attracted to the pasta sauces, soups, and roasts, which are standard pressure cooker fare. New to me is the concept of indoor barbeque recipes, some of which rely on liquid smoke. Now I'm curious about making ribs and wings in the cooker and definitely plan to give them a try. Once you taste a juicy, flavorful whole chicken made in under an hour, you'll be adding it to your weeknight table

Near the beginning of Pressure Cooker Perfection you'll find detailed guides for cooking meats, beans, grains, and vegetables. These charts are the key to adapting your own recipes for the pressure cooker; you'll turn to the charts again and again over the years. And of course you can trust ATK's timing recommendations because they are based on solid, practical experience.

If you've toyed with the idea of getting a pressure cooker or if you have one that you've been too afraid to use, pick up a copy of Pressure Cooker Perfection and embrace the modern world of pressure cooking. You'll be surprised at how easy the cookers are to use and how delicious your food will be. (Note on the photos: the photos were scanned from the cookbook; all rights remain with ATK.)

You might remember that I made a curried split pea soup in the pressure cooker a few weeks ago. I love that I got all-day flavor in under an hour. What could be better for busy cooks? Take a look at the following short video to find out what some restaurant chefs have to say about using the pressure cooker (video made by ATK and available on YouTube). Then lose the fear and start cooking under pressure.

America's Test Kitchen, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781936493418
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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06 March 2014

Review: Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium edited by Elizabeth Peters and Kristen Whitbread

Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium edited by Elizabeth PetersAs you are well aware, I loved Elizabeth Peters's series about the dashing Radcliffe Emerson and his outspoken wife, Amelia Peabody. The books revolve around Emerson's world-famous archaeological work and, for the most part, take place in Egypt while the couple, their family, and friends are engaged in excavations.

Although often considered mysteries, the Emerson/Peabody books are so much more than that. I love the mix of humor, shady dealings, murders, politics, Egyptian culture, and archaeology. And best of all, Peters created a fantastic cast of characters, whom she allowed to grow and change over time.

After I finished the series, I wanted more, so I turned to Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium, edited by Elizabeth Peters and Kristen Whitbread. If you liked the mystery series, you need to have this book, but I suggest waiting until you finish the series before reading it, if you want to avoid spoilers.

  • What I love. The compendium keeps to the world of the novels, offering an insider's view to the Emersons' Egypt, archaeology, and more. We are given an overview of . . . well . . . everything, with the Emersons smoothly folded in. The skillful and clever blending of fact and fiction is, simply, a delight. The book is amply illustrated with hundreds of period engravings, drawings, and photographs, and there's even a photo of the young Amelia. I love the alphabetical lists of the characters, places, and vocabulary found in the novels.
  • Come on, give me some specifics. Peters and her co-authors, including her alter ego Barbara Mertz, write about all kinds of fascinating topics, such as Egyptian archaeology, politics, and culture; the British influence (good and bad); tourism, particularly as it relates to archaeology; religion; technology; the arts, including literature and music; the women's movement and fashion; and family life, such as servants, children, and education.
  • How do the Emersons fit in? For all these topics, the Emersons' roles and attitudes are part of the discussion. If you've read the books, then you already know about Emerson's and Peabody's differing views of the necessity of automobiles in Egypt, but do you know or remember their thoughts on the telephone and indoor plumbing? I loved the letters between Amelia and her dressmaker, especially concerning the remaking of her skirts into Turkish trousers. As you can imagine, the Emersons' thoughts on domestic help differed greatly from the British standard as did their views on child-rearing and education.
  • Other fun stuff. Entries from Emerson's journals revealing his first impressions of Amelia; good thing these pages were preserved. A diagram and photograph of a dahabiya, which is a type of houseboat and a beloved mode of transport for the family. A literary quiz based on the novels.
  • Recommendations. If you've read Elizabeth Peters's series, you must read her Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium. Do you need to own it? Of course you do. This is not the kind of book you'll sit down and read all the way through in one fell swoop. Instead, you'll turn to it off and on to read a section here and another one there. You'll look up a character (or a cat!) one day, you'll linger over the photographs the next, and another time you'll read about the Emersons' tastes in music. Hours of great reading and good fun.
Published by HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2003
ISBN-13: 9780060538118
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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04 March 2014

Wordless Wednesday 279

Icicle, 2014

copyright © cbl for www.BethFishReads.com

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Today's Read & Guest Post: The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

The Moon Sisters by Therese WalshWhat if you didn't know whether your mother's death was suicide or accident? For sheltered, unanchored Olivia and her down-to-earth sister, Jazz, grappling with that question is complicated by their father's downward spiral and their own very different ways of interpreting the world. Told in the sisters' alternating voices, the novel opens with Olivia's words:

The night before the worst day of my life, I dreamed the sun went dark and ice cracked every mirror in the house, but I didn't take it as a warning.
The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh (Random House / Crown, 2014, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: small-town West Virgina, and beyond
  • Circumstances: two sisters coming to terms with their mother's death and a future without her take a journey to a place that may be hold some answers
  • Characters: Olivia and Jazz Moon, their parents, various characters they meet on their trip
  • Themes: grief, family, sisters, disabilities, being different, having dreams
  • Genres: contemporary fiction; coming-of-age; magical realism
  • Extras: synesthesia, growing up sheltered
Guest Post: I've only just started The Moon Sisters, but I am already feeling drawn into the world of these two very different sisters. This is a unique novel, with many elements that you don't often find in contemporary fiction. I'm so pleased Therese Walsh has stopped by to tell us about the inspiration for this moving story.
The Development of an Idea by Therese Walsh

The origins of The Moon Sisters was a mix of something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.

Something Old: I first learned about will-o'-the-wisp lights years ago via a word-of-the-day email. I was so fascinated with the idea of these drifting lights—which sometimes appear over bogs and are thought to lead those who follow to treasure or over a cliff’s edge, depending on the whim of the wisp—that I included them in the draft of a different story. Though I eventually abandoned that half-finished manuscript, the scene I’d written, involving a blind girl and wisp lights over a bog in West Virginia, stuck with me. Some of my critique partners nudged me over that scene, too, and said they hoped that I’d revisit it. While I never evolved the creepy scene they remembered, I did fall back in love with the concept of writing about a blind girl and beckoning lights over a bog.

Something New: After I finished writing my debut novel, I was on high lookout for fresh story ideas. I was a science major in college (I have an M.S. in psychology), and I remain fascinated with unique human behaviors and experiences. As soon as I learned about synesthesia, I knew I wanted to incorporate it into a new book. Synesthesia is a condition characterized by sensory areas that are connected in unique ways; so a person might taste music or see sound, for example.

Something old and something new merged when I realized that will-o'-the-wisp lights are also called "foolish fires." Right away, I imagined a girl with synesthesia staring at the sun, because the sun smelled like her mother, and losing her central vision (becoming legally blind) because of that act.

Something Borrowed: I borrowed heavily from what I know of sisterhood for this novel. I have two beloved sisters, and we are each very different from one another. The complexity of the sister bond and the chemistry we share when we come together—the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful—is reflected in The Moon Sisters.

Something Blue: This book is also about recovery following the death of a parent. My sisters and I felt a crash and burn of stability after our father died at the age of fifty-six, and we coped with his death in different ways. Death of a parent, especially when you’re relatively young—and my youngest sister was just sixteen when our father died—can cause you to question a lot of things, including the very meaning of life.

A Marriage of Ideas: How do these ideas meld? Two sisters—one practical, the other a sun-staring synesthete—travel to find a fabled will-o'-the-wisp light because finding one was their recently deceased mother’s unfulfilled wish. Along the way, they struggle to come to terms with each other and their memories of their mother, as they grapple with hope, dreams, and even the meaning of life, in their strange new world.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue became, over the course of four-plus years, The Moon Sisters. It was the hardest and is the truest thing I’ve ever written.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy The Moon Sisters, and that if you do, you’ll share it with a sister or two.
Thank you so much, Therese. The sister bond is always interesting to me because I have only brothers. I've heard stories about the will-o'-the-wisp and I'm intrigued that you've incorporated the legends into your contemporary novel. Can't wait to get further along in The Moon Sisters.

ISBN-13: 978030746160
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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03 March 2014

Review: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Falling Kingdomes (#1) by Morgan RhodesFantasy: a complex genre that few are neutral about. Most people I know either hate it or love it. I'm in the love camp, but I'm not a fan of all types of fantasy. I loved the Narnia books when I read them in fourth grade (though I didn't think they held up when I reread them with my niece), and I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but I'm not a rabid fangirl.

On the other hand, I've read the Lord of the Rings books multiple times since about 1966 and adore the Game of Throne series (*impatiently awaiting the next installment*). I consider these books more grownup fantasies. They have few child heroes, no lack of violence, and complex histories and world building.

So when I was told that Morgan Rhodes's Falling Kingdoms was a good fit for George R. R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien fans, I decided to give the series a go.

  • General idea: Three kingdoms are vying for power: two are rich and one is poor. The fate of the world and the kingdoms rides on four young people whose lives intersect in unexpected ways: Cleo, a compassionate princess who will likely be forced to marry a boy whose arrogance may have set off a war. Jonas, a wine merchant's son, who has become a rebel leader set on revenge. Lucia, who has always wondered why she was different from her royal parents and brother; when she discovers the reason, her world crashes around her. Magnus, the son of a king who seems destined to always disappoint.
  • The good in general: Action, politics, court intrigue, betrayal, revenge, love, and magic. The characters, though somewhat stereotypical, grow and change from their experiences.
  • Thoughts plus the not so good: For some reason I didn't become invested in the world of Falling Kingdoms and its problems. I liked Jonas, felt sorry for Lucia and Magnus (who grew up together), and admired Lucia's growth, but I didn't connect enough to care about them. Although Rhodes spent a lot of time setting up the state of the world and the characters' backgrounds, I didn't have clear images of the people and the setting.
  • Recommendation: My general impression is that the series will appeal to readers who like a lighter fantasy that straddles the line between young adult and adult and who are not bothered by a semi-predictable plot.
  • Audiobook: My reaction to Falling Kingdoms could very well be the result of the audiobook (Penguin Audio; 11 hr, 35 min), read by Fred Berman. His style is not very fluid and is interrupted by the occasional breath sound. His characterizations were consistent and he brought an acceptable level of emotion to his performance, but I was put off by his disjointed style.
  • Recommendation: Despite my disappointment with book one, I plan to read the second book in the series, Rebel Spring, but this time in print. I want to give Rhodes another try. The series is quite popular, and if you're interested in a fantasy with teen heroes, some powerful magic, and a host of characters, don't hesitate to pick it up . . . in print.
  • Paperback: The paperback edition from Razorbill comes out this month!
Published by Penguin USA / Razorbill (paperback), 2014 (March 11)
ISBN-13: 9781595145857
Source: Bought (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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01 March 2014

Weekend Cooking: Another Look at My Cookbook Shelves

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

It's been a while since I took a random stack of cookbooks off a shelf to share with you. Because it's way too cold to spend much time outdoors, I've had plenty of time to curl up on the couch with a stack of food books and dream of other places, interesting people, and memorable meals.

This group of twelve books is an eclectic mix of food writing and recipes; some classic and some obscure. Although at least a few of these may now be out of print, any of the titles I recommend can likely be picked up at a library or you can look for them at yard sales, used-book stores, and flea markets.

The Cook's Tales by Lee Edwards Benning (1992; The Globe Pequot Press). This is a fun book that, as the subtitle tells you, is all about the Origins of Famous Foods and Recipes. It's arranged alphabetically from apples to zuppa. Benning's style is casual and light as he busts myths and sheds light on dozens of foods, including creme brulee and peches melba. We also learn about the origins of cookbooks, which now-famous recipes were originally considered flops, and the history of Thanksgiving. Informative, easy-to-read stories and recipes too. Recommended for the curious.

The Art of Fine Baking by Paula Peck (1961; Simon & Schuster). Do you know Paula Peck? She was a beloved and much admired food writer and cook of her day and even taught for James Beard's school. This book is often considered her best, and it's one of my most treasured cookbooks. The recipes cover cakes, cookies, tarts, appetizers, and more. Peck was determined that her readers would find success in the kitchen, and her tips include information on high-altitude baking, how to use your oven properly, how to store your baked goods, and how to decorate your cakes. This is a must-have for any serious baker. Highly recommended.

If You Can Stand the Heat: Tales from Chefs & Restaurants by Dawn Davis (1999; Penguin Putnam). In the late 1990s, thanks in part to the Food Network, the number of celebrity chefs seemed to grow exponentially. Along with this trend came a desire to know more about the kitchen side of restaurants and the personal lives of the famous cooks. Davis's collection of stories gives us the inside scoop about what it takes to be a professional chef, from apprenticeships to schools to the rigors of a restaurant kitchen. She interviewed Rick Bayless, Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain, and others, who share their journeys through the profession. Davis includes recipes as well as advice on how to manage a successful restaurant. Recommended for foodies.

French Country Kitchen by Ann Hughes-Gilbey (1983; Artus). I picked this book up when I lived in the UK because I absolutely adore the photos of rural France and the wonderful flavors of the everyday dishes. This book contains my favorite clafoutis recipe along with a few meat dishes we like. I love reading about how to create dishes I'll never actually make myself, such as eels in that creamy green sauce you can get in Belgium. Even though I love this book, I'm not quite sure I can recommend it to the casual cook.

M. F. K. Fisher among the Pots and Pans by Joan Reardon (2008; University of California Press). Two words: Fisher and Reardon. For me, I need not say more. This biography of Fisher focuses on the many places she lived and cooked in California and France. Fisher usually emphasized simplicity and making do with what you have. Photographs, paintings, and recipes round out the text. Recommended for all Fisher fans.

Molly Katzen's Sunlight Cafe by Molly Katzen (2002; Hyperion). Yikes. I totally forgot I owned this book. I bought this because I love Katzen. Thus I'm sad to realize I never cooked out of it and never even really read it. Oops. It's a 300-page cookbook full of breakfast recipes: muffins, eggs, cereals, grains, and more--all vegetarian. Recommendation: unknown, but I plan to read it soon.

The Blue Point Bar & Grill by Sam McGann (1997; self published). The Blue Point is (or was the last time I was there) a great restaurant on the Outer Banks in Duck, North Carolina. Good friends of mine gave me this signed cookbook for a present, and for that alone I cherish it. Fortunately, although it has the quirks of a self-published book, the recipes are good and easy enough to follow. It's organized by season and even includes sample menus. Recommended for those who like regional cookbooks.

The African Cookbook: Tastes of A Continent by Jessica B. Harris (1998; Simon & Schuster). Truly covering the immense scope of flavors from north to south and east to west, this book is a great resource for cooks who like to venture out of their normal routines. I love reading the text and being transported, through food and photos, to another world. Most of the recipes are surprisingly simple but deliver on flavor. Recommended for the adventurous.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventure in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain (2000; Bloomsbury USA). Do I really need to tell anyone about this book? I own the paperback edition and remember devouring it once I got it home from the store. Bourdain's story of his rise from a wannabe to a major New York chef is fascinating and well written. It was one of the first foodie books to cross over to general public. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for?

Food for Friends by Barbara Kafka (1984; Harper & Row). I am a big fan of Kafka's. I like the way she writes and I like her food sense. This is a general cookbook for casual entertaining that I've turned to again and again. Unfortunately, some of the dishes have become dated, and I'm amused to see that she had to explain how serve guacamole and tabbouleh. Probably not worth tracking down unless you have an interest in food history or want fail-safe recipes for the food of the 1980s. I'm glad I own it.

Grill Book by Kelly McCune (1986; Harper & Row). This is a beautiful book with an incredible range of dishes you can make on the grill. I bought this because I fell for the pretty photos. I don't think I've ever cooked out of it. The focus is on charcoal grilling rather than gas. Recommendation: unknown.

Thyme & The River Too by Sharon Van Loan and Patricia Lee (1993; Graphic Arts Center). This cookbook returns me to the Pacific Northwest, where I was lucky to live for a couple of years. The recipes come from the Steamboat Inn, located in southwest Oregon. (It's a lodge that caters to fly flisherman.) I love the photos, the artwork, and the food. My favorite recipes come from the breakfast, lunch, and picnic sections (muffins, tarts, sandwiches, hearty salads), although the desserts and dinners are also appealing. Recommended for foodies who like regional cookbooks.

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