30 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday 287

My Most Popular Photo on Instagram: April 2014

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29 April 2014

What's the Mystery? Recommendations from Cozy to Gritty

Although I read across a wide range of genres, one of my all-time favorites is mystery. From cozies to hard-core police procedurals, I'm willing to read them all. So many great titles have been published recently, I've had a hard time keeping up. Here are just a handful that I'm excited about; some I've already read, and the others are at the top of my list.

Getting That Cozy Feeling

Sugar and Iced (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN: 9780425258927) is the sixth installment in the Cupcake Bakery series by Jenn McKinlay. While master bakers Mel and Angie are catering a beauty pageant, sweet threatens to turn sour after a body is found beneath their cupcake display. When their friend is suspected of the murder, the two women work to clear her name. Don't miss the included recipes. In the latest entry in M. C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth mysteries, Death of a Policeman (Grand Central Publishing, ISBN: 9781455504732), murder hits close to home for Hamish, who is suddenly the prime suspect in a high-profile crime. Will the lovable village copper be able to prove his innocence? Perfect for springtime, Beverly Allen's Bloom and Doom (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN: 9780425264973) is the first in a new series featuring wedding florist Audrey Bloom. When a murder disrupts her best friend's wedding, Audrey's determined to save the bride's reputation and find the real killer. Learn the meaning of flowers while trying to solve the mystery.

Heading to the Police Station

In Second Watch, by J. A. Jance (William Morrow, ISBN: 9780062134677), Seattle criminal investigator J. P. Beaumont is facing the effects of his many years on the job by taking time off for knee-replacement surgery. Instead of recuperating, however, Beau is haunted by events in his past that seem to have bearing on current unsolved murders. Fans will love this look into the detective's youth. Author Elizabeth Haynes drew on her experience as a police intelligence analyst when crafting her latest novel, Under a Silent Moon (Harper, ISBN: 9780062276025), which is the first in a new series. When the investigations of two seemingly unrelated murders start to converge, DCI Louisa Smith is forced to tease the truth out of a complex tangle of evidence and testimony. Recommend to fans of suspenseful British crime. Peter Robinson's newest Inspector Banks novel, Children of the Revolution (William Morrow, ISBN: 9780062240507), takes us to back to school with the death of a college lecturer. The deeper DCI Banks probes into the victim's past, the more complicated the case becomes, and it soon involves politics, sexual misconduct, and revenge. A strong entry in the series.

Indulging in Small Doses

Fans of Scandinavian crime novels will love A Darker Shade of Sweden (Mysterious Press, ISBN: 9780802122438), edited by John-Henry Holmberg. The collection includes seventeen newly translated original short stories by a variety of well-known Swedish authors plus an early story by Stieg Larsson. The twelve tales in Jeffery Deaver's latest collection, Trouble in Mind (Grand Central Publishing, ISBN: 9781455526796), not only give us short takes on his familiar characters (such as Lincoln Rhyme) but introduce us to new ones. A great way to get to know Deaver's range of writing. Jeffery Deaver teamed up with Raymond Benson and the Mystery Writers of America to compile Ice Cold (Grand Central Publishing, ISBN: 9781455520732), a terrific collection of twenty short stories with a cold war theme. Step back to the last century with some of your favorite authors, such as Joseph Wallace, Sara Paretsky, and Laura Lippman, and don't forget to take note of the nearest fallout shelter.

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28 April 2014

Sound Recommendations: Strong Stories, Strong Performances

Frog Music by Emma DonoghueIf you haven't yet read Emma Donoghue's Frog Music, or even if you have, rush right out and get a copy of the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio, 12 hr, 47 min) read by Kristine Hvam.

Based on a true, unsolved murder that took place in 1876 San Fransisco during a heat wave and smallpox epidemic, Frog Music introduces us to gambling trapeze artists; a cross-dressing frog hunter; and a horseback-riding, dancer/prostitute. Chance meetings, jealousy, greed, lust, love, and betrayal drive the story, which is much less mystery than it is a tale of self-discovery.

Hvam puts her theatrical background to good use with her believable characterizations and accents and expressive reading. Especially impressive is how easily she slips into song, adding a wonderful layer to Donoghue's emotional novel. Frog Music is meant to be listened to and the unabridged audiobook is unforgettable.

The Enchanted by Rene DenfeldAlthough the subject matter is often rough (prison life, murder, child abuse), Rene Denfeld's The Enchanted is a haunting novel that makes you think about what happens to children who have no protectors. Set in a penitentiary for the worst offenders, the story is told through the eyes of one of the institution's most heinous criminals. Pretty boys, well-meaning parole officers, naive prison guards, and fallen priests must face the dark side of humanity on a daily basis.

The audiobook (Harper Audio; 7 hr, 4 min) is read by Jim Frangione, whose storytelling abilities shine in this production. He takes a nonjudgmental tone with just a hint of creepiness that leaves us with the responsibility to judge the principal protagonist. Frangione's characterizations are subtle but the emotional intensity of his narration is spellbinding, making us feel sympathy for individuals we should abhor.

Is there a clear division between good and evil? Can the unthinkable ever be forgiven? There are no easy answers, and the characters will remain with listeners for a long time after Frangione has finished the story.

Note: The original versions of these reviews were published by AudioFile magazine.

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26 April 2014

Weekend Cooking: The Armchair James Beard edited by John Ferrone

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.

The Armchair James Beard edited by John FerroneI think I figured out why I can't get make headway in organizing my books. The other day I was going through a shelf of cookbooks and food writing and came across John Ferrone's collection The Armchair James Beard. Just holding the book in my hands reminded me of how much I enjoyed this group of essays, which are punctuated with recipes.

So, naturally, I stopped dusting and putting my books in order and sat down to thumb through Beard's writings. And, well, a couple of hours later, I had read most of the book again . . . and the bookshelf was still a mess.

I'm not going to review The Armchair James Beard, which consists of sixty or so short pieces of Beard's work. The topics range from Beard's childhood memories of berry picking in Oregon, to his thoughts on British cuisine (favorable), kitchen equipment, specific foods and ingredients, dieting, and drink. It's a delightful collection that is well worth your while to track down (it was re-issued with a different cover in 2004).

Instead, I'm going to share a few quotes. Enjoy!

On eating in the kitchen:
To dine in [the] kitchen is ever a satisfying experience. My preference for kitchen dining never seems to wane. It is not nostalgia but a natural expression of my love for food and its preparation. It seems to me that the pleasure of eating is heightened if one is there amidst the delightful smells to witness the moment when the finished dish comes out of the pot or oven. (7-8)
On picnics:
Eating out of doors has always been one of my great joys. Just to munch a sandwich, drink something from a thermos, and talk with friends is a liberating experience never achieved in any dining room. Even the simplest of picnics can be a delight. All it takes is the right state of mind and a place to settle, whether it happens to be on the beach, in the woods, on a park bench, or in your car along the road. (88)
On trains:
In my youth, I used to travel back and forth between Oregon and New York. . . . Being a great eater, I almost always took the Northern Pacific because it had a reputation for extraordinarily good food and was known as the "the line of the great big baked potato." The potatoes, specifically grown for the Northern Pacific, were huge, weighing over a pound each, and they were always perfectly baked. . . . They came from the kitchen split and dripping with butter. (133)
On vodka:
Vodka has been a pleasant influence in my life ever since the day in my flask-carrying, party-going youth when my father presented me with a large, mysterious package wrapped in plain paper. "Drink this," he said, "instead of bootleg whiskey." The package contained dozens of flat tin cans of vodka, colorfully labeled in Russian characters. It was smuggled vodka, of course, brought in by ships that touched China's ports. My first taste of it was very tentative. I expected it to be fiery, and I half thought it might have the flavor of potatoes. It packed a wallop, yes, but it was by no means lethal, and I was delighted with its clean flavor--or lack of flavor. So I began as a pre-repeal vodka fan. (191)
On Switzerland:
Switzerland is a land of good food rather than show-off food. I am always struck by the fact that you can go to almost any small town or village and find something attractive to eat, most likely a local specialty drawn from the products from the surrounding countryside. I can remember unpretentious restaurants on the shores of Lake Geneva, where one could sit at an outdoor table and be served huge platters of delicate, fresh lake perch, filleted and sauteed, which you ate with thin, crisp, homemade french fries, a green salad, and local white wine until you couldn't eat any more. (284)
Published by Lyons Press, 1999
ISBN-13: 9781558217379
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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24 April 2014

Review: Burn by Julianna Baggott

It seems that the market has become saturated with young adult dystopian trilogies, making it difficult to believe there could something unique in the mix. But as I said in my review of Pure, Julianna Baggott has indeed taken a fresh and complex approach to the genre.

Even better, unlike many trilogies, the second installment, Fuse, was just as strong, increasing our connection to the protagonists and their world. Baggott introduced new situations and allowed her characters to grow, change, and even make life-altering mistakes.

The best news is that Baggott didn't let up in the final book, Burn. The characters still surprised me and tugged on my emotions. This bullet review assumes you've read the first two books, but includes no spoilers for Burn.

  • Remind me of the premise: The world has been destroyed by Detonations, which left the Wretches (the masses) horribly disfigured and forced to survive in a polluted, almost lawless land. An elite group of people, the Pures, were sheltered inside the Dome, where they escaped disfigurement and now live in a controlled environment with many luxuries.
  • Remind me of the characters: The books focus on five characters: three Wretches (Pressia, Bradwell, and El Capitan/Helmud) and two Pures (Partridge and Lyda). They have different backgrounds, different agendas, and different lots in life. The story is told in alternating viewpoints, providing us with a diversity of opinions and reactions.
  • What happens in this book? As tensions between the Wretches and the Pures mount, everyone is forced to take a stand of some sort: fight, accept, hope, give up. The relationships among the main characters begin to change drastically, especially as our protagonists come to understand the consequences of their past actions and realize they must pay the price before they can face the future. Baggott doesn't necessarily allow her characters to take the easy or obvious path, not everyone is brave, smart, or strong.
  • What I love: The characters, who are flawed, complex, and unpredictable. No one is all good or all bad or always smart or never fooled. Each person's dilemmas and personal issues are tangled and real and clearly have contributed to their individual personalities. Baggott is as much a master of character development as she is a creator of a unique and terrible world.
  • Themes and issues: As is common in the dystopian genre, Baggott uses the Pure trilogy to address larger themes. Although questions about genetics, family, love, trust, and personhood come up throughout the trilogy, they are prevalent in Burn. All the books deal with issues of class differences, the environment, power, politics, and free will.
  • Not really young adult: Although the principal characters are teens, the main themes are mature. Yes, there is some romance, but even in the heat of love, the characters don't lose track of who they are and what they ultimately want out of life. Baggott's world is no fairy tale realm, and it doesn't come with many happily ever after endings either.
  • General thoughts: Even though Burn brings Julianna Baggott's complex, dark, and sometimes all-too-real trilogy to a satisfying end, I can't tell you how sorry I am that this series is over. The story has a well-thought-out conclusion, but the future is left open-ended so we can think about what might happen to the characters and the world. I would love to think that Baggott will revisit the Wretches and the Pures, but perhaps it's better to leave me wanting more.
  • The audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition of Burn (Hachette Audio; 13 hr, 19 min) was read by Khristine Hvam, Casey Holloway, Kevin T. Collins, and Nicholas Tecosky. As I mentioned in my reviews of Pure and Fuse, the performances of some of the narrators are stronger than others. On the other hand, the overall production is well worth the listen; the narrators kept me fully engaged in the story and made it easy for me to remember the current point of view.
Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781455502998
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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22 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday 286

Another April Sunset, 2014

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Today's Read: The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

The Shadow Queen by Sandra GullandWhat would it be like if you were low born to a family of French traveling actors in the mid-1600s? Now suppose your father died and it was up to you to care for your mother and little brother? That's how life started for young Claudette, but that was not where she would end up.

Winter was coming--I could smell it. Even so, we headed north, following a cow track across a barren field, away from all the lawless soldiers.

Onward. I shifted little Gaston onto my right hip and set my eyes on the far horizon. . . . Onward toward Poitiers, where we might earn a meal performing for crowds. News spread that the King and Court were there, mobilizing for yet another battle.
The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland (Random House / Doubleday, 2014, p. 3; uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: later decades of the 1600s; Paris, Versailles, the theater
  • Circumstances: Claude des Oeillers (Claudette) struggles to make a better life for her mother and brother, rising from traveling actor to member of the French theater to companion of Louis XIV's mistress
  • Characters: Claudette and her family; Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV, the king; famous playwrights; various people at court and in the theater
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Strong points so far: the personal and ethical conflicts Claudette struggles with; the details of the French theater in the 1600s; seeing the court through the eyes of an outsider
  • Themes that have caught my attention: politics of the theater; role of the Church in daily life; the intrigues of the court; moral dilemmas; love of family
ISBN-13: 9780385537520
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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21 April 2014

Review: The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh JohnsonIn Solace, a land bombarded by debris and meteors from other worlds, thirteen-year-old Piper, an orphan, supports herself by scavenging. She is also a gifted machinist, a skill she learned from her beloved father, and seems to be able to fix everything from watches to music boxes.

While protecting a friend caught out in a meteor storm, Piper discovers the unconscious body of a young stranger. Noticing the girl's tattoo that marks her as being under the protection of the Dragonfly Kingdom, Piper takes her home, dreaming of ransom money. But when Anna wakes up, her memory doesn't fully return; all she knows is that she must escape capture by the evil man who seeks her.

On impulse, Piper helps Anna, fleeing her desolate home town via the 401, the main supply train to and from the royal cities. Once on board, Piper's perceptions of her world, herself, and Anna are forever altered.

Jaleigh Johnson's The Mark of the Dragonfly is an action-packed adventure that introduces us to a world like no other. Although billed as middle grade steampunk, the novel's mix of dystopian, scifi, and fantasy elements and its strong, well-paced plot give the book a much wider appeal.

Young readers will like the bits of steampunk and magic and getting to know Piper, Anna, and their new friends and enemies. Older readers (both adults and teens) will be caught up in the setting and the politics of this strange new world.

This multilayered, genre-bending story would make a great book club selection, and not just for middle grade readers. Discussion topics include friendship, made families (as opposed to birth families), what makes us human, getting past first impressions, sociopolitical divisions, prejudices, and the intricacies of Piper's world.

The Mark of the Dragonfly is the first in a proposed series and thus sets up the larger story to come. Fortunately, it also stands strongly on its own, leaving us wanting to know more but reaching a satisfying conclusion. The novel's complicated and conflicted characters and unique world pull you in, and the hints of future battles, political struggles, and even romance will make you look forward the next dragonfly installment.

If you've had enough of vampires and werewolves but still like to escape reality, place Jaleigh Johnson's The Mark of the Dragonfly on your reading list. You'll love Piper's spunk and Anna's passion for reading and will be as amazed as they are at all they learn about the world of Solace.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 9 hr, 49 min) read by Kim Mai Guest. I loved Guest's expressive reading, great characterizations, and excellent pacing. The Mark of the Dragonfly would make a great family listen, perfect for a road trip or rainy-day entertainment.

Published by Random House / Random House Kids / Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780385376150
Source: Print: review; audio: review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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19 April 2014

Weekend Cooking: Teeny's Tour of Pie by Teeny Lamothe

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.

Teeny's Tour of Pie by Teeny LamotheTeeny Lamothe grew up in a family of pie bakers. No matter the season, there was almost always pie in the house. And as her mom or grandmother baked, Lamothe would be right by her side, patting out her own miniature ("teeny") pie with the leftover crust and a 5-inch pan.

All grown up and living in Chicago, Lamothe was once again bitten by the pie bug, eventually deciding to become a professional baker. Without much more than a lot of gumption and a desire to learn, she set off to apprentice in pie bakeries all around the country, learning both kitchen skills and how to run a business.

In 2011, Lamothe began documenting her experiences on a Tumblr blog called Teeny Pies. Thanks to her year on the road, "hopping from pie shop to pie shop," Lamothe was able to realize her dream. Today she sells her Teeny Pies at markets in Washington, D.C., and has shared her experiences and recipes in the newly published Teeny's Tour of Pie cookbook.

Teeny's Tour of Pie has a fun retro design, but don't let the 1950s look fool you. The recipes in this book are cutting edge, with gluten-free and whole wheat crusts and modern flavor combinations. Lamothe's chatty and personal style made me feel as if she were a friend recounting her adventures. I loved reading about the shops she visited, the people she met, and the techniques she learned.

The book is adorned with gorgeous photographs and cute line drawings. All the pies look so good, it's hard to decide what to bake first! Because Lamothe advocates fresh ingredients, the recipes are arranged by season, which makes it easy to find just the right pie for everyday eating or special occasions.

I especially appreciate the copious extras: storage information, tips, and troubleshooting. Whether you're experienced in the kitchen or new to pie baking, don't skip the introductory chapters, which explain techniques, equipment, and ingredients and give step-by-step directions for making a variety of crusts and toppings.

One of the fun treats in Teeny's Tour of Pie are Lamothe's directions for Teeny Pies: almost all the recipes can be converted to 5-inch cuties, which are perfect for one or two people. A variety of little pies would brighten a children's party, and they're the perfect size for a savory entree.

The recipes are straightforward, easy to follow, and use common ingredients. They range from traditional, like sweet potato pie, to unusual, like grapefruit and pomegranate. There are sweet, sweet pies, like shoofly, and hearty potpies, like pork and apple. I love Lamothe's flavor combinations, such as kale with chicken, beet with goat cheese, and strawberry with basil. If you're not that adventurous, no worries; take a look at her lemon meringue, Georgia peach, pumpkin, and French silk pies.

The first pie I'm going to make is the strawberry rhubarb pie, shown in the scan. Don't you just love the holey crust? Mr. BFR wants the bacon bourbon pecan pie, and we both want to try the breakfast pie with its hash brown crust. (Note: the photo was scanned from the the cookbook; all rights remain with the copyright holder.)

If you were to own only one pie book, you couldn't go wrong with this one. Whether you're drawn to standard pies or Teeny pies, whole wheat crust or graham cracker, fruit filling or savory, you'll find your slice of pie heaven in Teeny Lamothe's Teeny's Tour of Pie.

Instead of a recipe this week, I want to share Lamothe's advice on pies and friends:
How to Make Friends with Pie
  1. Make pie every day for one year.
  2. Move to a new city where you have no friends.
  3. Bake half a dozen pies
  4. Invite potential new friends over for a pie party.
  5. Eat pie and drink whiskey.
  6. Friends!
Published by Workman, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780761173366
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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17 April 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Prize Pack Giveaway

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013 film)Last week I reviewed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the 2013 film starring Ben Stiller, Sean Penn, and Shirley MacLaine, noting that it was fun and uplifting. Although the movie takes place in modern times (despite a retro feel), its spirit is in line with James Thurber's original 1930s short story.

Recently I had the opportunity to watch the movie on Blu-ray and loved seeing it on a bigger screen. Whenever I have a disk I always look for extras, so I was happy to find quite a few features for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, including extended and deleted scenes, music videos, a slide show, and a variety of behind-the-scene shorts.

Of the dozen or so features my favorites were "The Look of Life" and "That's a Shark," both of which introduce us to the actors, the scenery, and the challenges of filming. A few things stood out in particular from watching all the extras:

    The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber
  • First, I was quite impressed with how willing Ben Stiller was to attempt his own stunts, including jumping into the North Sea. (When needed, Stiller relies on a long-time stunt double plus a few other professionals.)
  • Second, I was amazed to find out that all of the non-New York City scenes were filmed in Iceland, including the shots that were supposed to take us to central Asia and the Himalayas.
  • Finally, I was interested in meeting the person who designed the titles for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; once you see the opening scenes of the movie, you'll know why. I loved the way the titles were added.
Take a look at the trailer and then read about my great giveaway.

The Giveaway: Thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Think Jam, I can offer one of my readers a great prize pack. One of you will win not only a Blu-ray/DVD of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty but also a copy of the book The Thurber Carnival, a great collection of James Thurber's stories and art, including "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." You'll also get a great travel mug with the Secret Life of Walter Mitty motto (and hashtag) #LetLifeIn.

All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to have a U.S. mailing address (no PO boxes for this giveaway) and to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner on April 25 via random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal data from my computer. Good luck!

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15 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday 285

April Sunset, 2014

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New in Paperback & Giveaway: Seduction by M. J. Rose

Seduction by M. J. RoseLast summer I reviewed M. J. Rose's Seduction, which was an Indie Next pick for May 2013. This don't-miss Gothic thriller was recently released in paperback, and to celebrate, the good people at Atria are giving away a copy to one of my readers.

Although Seduction is the fifth in Rose's Reincarnation series, it works very well as a stand-alone novel. I liked the setting, the mystery and thriller elements, and of course, the perfume.

For more about the novel click on the link to my review and take a look at the publisher's summary:

A spellbinding Gothic tale about Victor Hugo's long-buried secrets and the power of a lover that never dies . . .

Grieving his daughter's death, Victor Hugo initiated seances from his home on the Isle of Jersey in order to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with Plato, Shakespeare, Dante and even the devil himself. Hugo's transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it has been believed. . .

A hundred years later, recovering from her own great loss, mythologist Jac L'Etoile is invited to Jersey to uncover a secret about the island's mysterious Celtic roots. She's greeted by Neolithic monuments, medieval castles, and hidden caves. But the man who has invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, hopes she'll help him discover something quite different . . . something that will threaten their sanity and put their very lives at stake.
To be entered for a chance to win a copy of the paperback edition of Seduction, all you have to do is have a U.S. mailing address and fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on April 22 (to celebrate Earth Day!). Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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14 April 2014

The eMerging eReader #6: Organizing, Reviewing, Remembering

The eMerging eReader © www.BethFishReads.comSo far in the eMerging eReader series, I've gone over devices, software, apps, and eReading in general. In today's installment, I address getting organized, reading for reviewing, and remembering to read my eBooks.

Getting organized. As you know by now, my not-so-secret weapon for organization is Calibre. A key factor for my becoming an eMerging eReader was having a single location for all my books. Because Calibre lets me sort my books by several factors (publication date, due date at library, freelance assignment, genre, and so on), it's dead simple for me to find my next read.

This may be controversial, but once I finish reading an eBook, I delete it from my computer and device. If I bought the book, it will backed up and thus retrievable. If it's an eGalley, I'll buy a finished copy if I want to reread it. If it's a library book, then I don't own it and thus must remove it from my devices. One of bonuses of eBooks is less clutter, and that includes less electronic clutter.

Reading for review. As I mentioned earlier, my focus and enjoyment of eBooks has steadily increased, especially when reading for pleasure. I had a more difficult time adjusting to reading eBooks for freelance reviews or for more in-depth reviews on my blog. I'm a sticky note junky and felt completely lost when I couldn't flag pages and jot down quick thoughts on colorful tabs.

Fortunately, bookmarking pages in eBooks is as simple as a tap and is, in fact, easier than grabbing a physical marker. Although it took some getting used to, I can now also highlight passages in eBooks without a thought. (I used to struggle with remembering the long press; I have no idea why.) The most difficult transition for me has been training myself to type notes right on my devices (both Kobo and Bluefire have this feature) instead of writing on a sticky note. I'm beginning to develop a good rhythm, though, and I bet I come to rely on this.

When I sit down to write my review, it's really nice to see all my highlighted passages and notes in one accessible list, and viewing a bookmarked page is as easy as a tap. One thing I really love is taking advantage of the search function to check spellings and facts; so much easier than skimming a print book.

Remembering to read. I used to collect eBooks and then just let them sit (in Calibre!). It was puzzling to me because I never forget to listen to an audiobook, even though almost all my audios are digital. Then it struck me. I have triggers that tell me to pick up my audiobook. In the evening when I walk or cook, I turn on the mp3 player (phone, whatever) and plug in the earbuds. It's a long-time habit.

With that insight, I declared eBooks as daytime reading. On working days, they're what I read at lunchtime, when waiting for an appointment or phone call, or when I need a break from editing. In this way, I never forget about my eBooks. I still read print in the evenings, and on days off of work I usually turn first to the book I'm most interested in, regardless of the medium. I'm not sure what my habits will be in the long run, but before I developed a trigger, I almost never picked up an eBook.

Next up: getting social and nagging issues.

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12 April 2014

Weekend Cooking: The Kitchen Journals: A Week in the Life

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.

The Kitchen Journal @ www.BethFishReads.comThis week I decided to try something I've never done before and share my week in the kitchen. I made all these dishes from scratch, although I admit that I have an advantage because I work from home. On the other hand, I work long hours, so I'm not sure I really have more time than those of you who work outside the house.

I might, however, have the jump on you in two areas: I don't have kids and my husband is easygoing if dinner is a little late. These two factors take the pressure off me, and make my time in the kitchen a lot of fun. After I come back from my walk, I turn on my audiobook, pour a glass of wine, and get to work. One of my favorite times of the day.

This was a fairly typical week, although I rarely make dessert and I didn't have to bake bread (we had some of my bread in the freezer). Note that we have a tossed salad every night, but I didn't bother to photograph it. So, without further ado, here's my week in food and photos. Click on the links for the recipes; click on the images to enlarge.

Sunday. We have salmon almost every week. One of our favorite methods of cooking it is to use my spice rub and grill the fish. Note that the photo below is not from Sunday. This week, I served the fish with grilled baby bok choy and a tossed salad. (I didn't come up with the idea of documenting the week until after dinner.)

The Kitchen Journal / Weekend Cooking @ www.BethFishReads.com
Although I rarely make dessert, I celebrated finishing our taxes by baking a lemon olive oil cake (pissota con l'oio) from an old Saveur magazine to eat with fresh fruit. We like more lemon than the original recipe, so I add add the zest from a whole lemon instead of the ½ teaspoon called for. We ate this all week.

The Kitchen Journal / Weekend Cooking @ www.BethFishReads.comMonday. The Swiss chard and mushroom galette from the April 2014 issue of Bon Appetit really caught my eye. I made the dough on Sunday, so Monday night's dinner came together pretty quickly. I often make my own ricotta cheese, but this week I decided to buy it instead. The dough is not for the faint of heart, considering the 1½ sticks of butter, but it was delicious. Mr. BFR had the leftovers for lunch the next day. I used chives for the herb, but in the summer I'd use parsley, basil, and/or oregano fresh from the garden.

The Kitchen Journal / Weekend Cooking @ www.BethFishReads.comTuesday. On Tuesday, we had a very simple meal. We grilled lamb chops, which I seasoned lightly with Penzey's Cajun seasoning. I love Penzey's mixes, especially the salt-free blends. (I'd rather add my own salt.) The asparagus is so wonderful right now, I've been buying it weekly. Mr. BFR requested baked potatoes, and I figured why not? This was a yummy all-American spring dinner.

Wednesday and Thursday. You might start to see a bit of pattern here. I tend to alternate meat and fish nights with vegetarian meals. On Wednesday, I made a big pot of black beans with veggies, hot peppers, a little mustard, some molasses, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and so on. The recipe is loosely based on an old Moosewood Restaurant recipe for Cajun skillet beans, which is good just as written. I tend to use whatever vegetables are on hand and whatever herbs and spices I'm in the mood for. I served this over quinoa.

The Kitchen Journal / Weekend Cooking @ www.BethFishReads.com
Whenever I make a dish that will last two nights, I try to perk up the second night with something new. So on Thursday I made maple cornbread from King Arthur Flour. We love this recipe. I baked it in a cast-iron cornbread pan (the extra batter went into a 6-inch cake pan), which makes eight little wedges.

The Kitchen Journal / Weekend Cooking @ www.BethFishReads.comFriday. I'm typing this post up on Friday afternoon. Tonight's dinner will involve the vegetables pictured. My original thought was to make a stir-fry with shrimp (I have some in the freezer), but today has been cool and rainy so now I'm more in the mood for soup. I think this one will have a chicken stock base and maybe some small pasta. And I'm pretty sure I'll stick to vegetarian, though I might pull some cooked chicken or the shrimp out of the freezer. I'm just not sure yet. Spices? I'll probably use that fresh rosemary and then keep it simple, adding pepper and a bit of sea salt.

How did your week in the kitchen turn out? Hope your dinners were both delicious and fun to put together.

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10 April 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Story and Film Review

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (film)As you might suspect, I'm endlessly curious about the process of transforming the written word to the silver screen. Sometimes when reading a novel, I find it easy to envision how the action could be translated to film. But what about a short story?

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was first published in The New Yorker in 1939. James Thurber's protagonist is an absentminded man who must drive his wife to the hairdresser and then run a few errands. On the surface, Walter lives a dull and ordinary life, but deep within him flows a vivid imagination and all the excitement and urgency of a war hero or world-famous brain surgeon.

In the 2013 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter's story is brought into the twenty-first century. In real life, mild-mannered Walter (played by Ben Stiller) is in charge of the photos for Life magazine, but in his head, he's a modern-day hero, lady's man, and tough guy. In fact, he spends so much time daydreaming, his co-workers have begun to harass him. As the print magazine comes to an end, it's Walter's job to prepare the final cover photo; there's just one problem, the negative is nowhere to be found. Will Walter muster up the gumption to travel to the ends of the earth to find the photographer (played by Sean Penn)? What happens when imagination becomes reality?

I really loved the updated version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Not only is the scenery beautiful (Greenland, New York City, Iceland, the Himalayas) but the story itself is uplifting without being sappy. The main message is to embrace life instead of just imagining what it could be. Walter also learns that change can bring opportunity.

The Blu-Ray/DVD won't be available until April 15, but thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I was lucky enough to view the movie early on Google Play. But guess what? I'm not all that special because you too can get The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and many other movies on Google Play before they're released on disk to stores.

Although I've often streamed movies, this was my first experience with Google Play. I was pretty impressed with how easy the app was to use across my devices. I started out watching the movie on my PC in my office and finished watching on my iPad (with earbuds) on the deck so I could soak up the late afternoon sun. I had no problem switching devices or operating systems.

Another great thing about Google Play was the simplicity of using closed captioning. This is a big plus for me because both my father and Mr. BFR have hearing issues and often rely on good captioning. All I had to do on my tablet was tap on the "cc" in the bottom right-hand corner and the captions appeared instantly. They were easy to read and didn't interfere with the picture.

I also thought it was pretty cool to be able to first read the short story from The New Yorker site and then switch to the film, all on the same gadget. In fact, I was thinking that it'd make a fun book club meeting to read the story together (it's only four pages) and then watch the movie.

Check back next week for a great The Secret Life of Walter Mitty giveaway. I'm pretty excited about the prize pack. In the meantime, however, you can watch the movie at home or on the go by using the Google Play app.

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08 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday 284

Hinge, 2014

copyright (c) cbl for www. BethFishReads.com

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Today's Read & Giveaway: A Roux of Revenge by Connie Archer

Roux of Revenge by Connie ArcherWhat would you do if you lived in a small town and thought one of your employees was in danger? Would your protective instincts kick in? Whether she likes it or not, Lucky Jamieson, owner of the By the Spoonful restaurant, can't help but get involved when one of her waitresses seems to be the target of a stalker and that stalker just might be a suspect in a murder investigation.

Nate Edgerton, Snowflake's Chief of Police, reached over and flipped off the siren and flashing light. He pulled his cruiser to the side of the road, slowing and coming to a stop behind a bright blue sports car. Early morning sunlight reflected off the rear bumper of the car where two people, a young couple, sat huddled together. Nate could tell from their expressions there was no need to hurry.

He turned to his deputy. "Cancel the ambulance."
A Roux of Revenge by Connie Archer (Penguin Random House / Berkley Prime Crime, 2014, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Snowflake, Vermont, in modern times.
  • Circumstances: Just before the Harvest Festival, a stranger is found dead at the side of the road; meanwhile a group of Gaelic travelers arrive in Snowflake, and a waitress thinks she's being stalked
  • Characters: Lucky, the owner of a soup restaurant; Jack, her grandfather, Elias, her boyfriend; Janie, a waitress; friends, townsfolk, tourists, and police officers
  • Genre: cozy mystery
  • What I liked: I loved the way Archer captures the nature of small town life and makes the fictional village seem real. The soups on the By the Spoonful menu sound so good, I wish I could become one of the regulars. The restaurant is perfect for Lucky (and us!) because she's able to keep up with local gossip and gets to know her neighbors well. Roux of Revenge had everything I like in a cozy: great setting, fun characters, and enough suspects to make it hard to figure out who done it.
  • What you need to know: This is the third installment in Archer's Soup Lovers series, but readers are given enough background so they won't feel lost if they start with Roux of Revenge. At the back of the book, you'll find recipes, which are from the author's own kitchen and include both her twists on classics and her own inventions.
The Giveaway

Thanks to the good people at Berkley Prime Crime, I have one copy of A Roux Revenge to giveaway to one of my readers. All you have to do to enter for a chance to win is to have a U.S. mailing address and to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on April 15 (to ease the sting of taxes). Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll delete all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

ISBN-13: 9780425252420
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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07 April 2014

Imprint Friday Monday: While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth BlackwellWelcome to Imprint FridayMonday and today's featured imprint: Amy Einhorn Books. Stop by most weeks 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 know it isn't Friday but I wanted to write about Elizabeth Blackwell's wonderful While Beauty Slept sooner than later. Although this novel has been described as a fairy tale retelling, I'd say it was inspired by Sleeping Beauty rather than being a variation on the familiar story.

Here are my thoughts in a Bullet Review.

  • What's it about? The first thing to know about While Beauty Slept is that it doesn't include magic in the ordinary sense. The novel is set in medieval times and involves a king and his brother, two aunts, his wife, and his daughter. In a time of superstition, unexplained illnesses, and political unrest, King Ranolf goes against tradition and declares his only child, Rose, the heir to the throne. This unleashes the fury of his great-aunt Millicent, who curses the girl, predicting that Rose and her kingdom will be destroyed just as she reaches the peak of her beauty.
  •  Structure. The story is told in retrospect by Elise, who was first the queen's personal maid and later a companion to Rose. When the elderly Elise overhears her granddaughter telling the story of a beautiful princess who was cursed to sleep in a tower until awakened by true love's kiss, she decides it's time to reveal what really happened within the castle walls.
  • Medieval life. As Elise moves between the servants' halls and the queen's rooms, she is privy to much of what happens in the castle and is witness to how Millicent's threats were able to undermine the stability of the court. Through Elise's eyes, we learn about everyday life in the castle, the conflict between romantic love and personal ambition, and the great contrast between expectations above and below stairs.
  • Playing on fear. In Blackwell's view, the true power of the curse was the fear it instilled in the king and queen. The threat to their daughter colored every decision they made and biased their interpretation of everything from losses on the battlefield to smallpox epidemics. No magical witch is needed when superstition will do the work for her.
  • The making of folk tales. The anthropologist in me loved Blackwell's exploration of the origin of folk tales. Take the truth, remove the science, add fifty years, mix in some romantic notions of court life, and you'll likely end up with Sleeping Beauty waiting for her Prince Charming.
  • General thoughts. Elizabeth Blackwell's While Beauty Slept was a Indie Next pick for March 2014, a Bloggers Recommend pick, and the recipient of much deserved praise. If you haven't read this yet, I bet you are put off by either the fairy tale tie-in or the historical fiction label. My advice is to forget all that. You won't find witches and poisoned spinning wheels, and there isn't a Tudor in sight. While Beauty Slept is that perfect sort of novel that transports you to other places, other times and introduces you to characters that soon feel real. Isn't that a classic description of a great book?
To learn more about Elizabeth Blackwell, visit her website, like her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter. Don't miss the Kirkus interview, in which Blackwell talks about one of the primary difference between court life and modern life (hint: not the current lack of tiaras).

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

Published by Putnam / Amy Einhorn Books, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780399166235
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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05 April 2014

Weekend Cooking: Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

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.

Sous Chef by Michael GibneyMichael Gibney has been working in restaurant kitchens since he was a teenager, starting as a pot washer and working his way up to sous chef, second in command at an upscale New York restaurant. His decades on the line were broken only by his education, including an MFA in writing.

In Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line, Gibney cobbles together a typical day-in-the-life, taking us into the back of a restaurant to reveal the difficult and unglamorous side of being a professional chef. Although he hardly covers new ground here (see my review of Bill Buford's Heat, for example), Gibney's account is nonetheless interesting, informative, and well written.

Sous Chef starts when Gibney arrives at the restaurant on a Friday morning and then details exactly how the staff prepares for the evening's dinner service, from food prep to plating. The sous chef oversees all these tasks plus makes sure the wait staff understands the day's specials and acts as liaison between the head chef and the rest of the employees.

Rounding out the descriptions of the food, kitchen layout, and equipment, Gibney writes about the complex dance (as he calls it) that allows the cooks to work smoothly on the line, serving over three hundred customers in a single evening. This is grueling, hot work and tempers are on edge, but if the staff can't find a work together, the restaurant will not succeed. A competent sous chef is key to keeping everything under control.

Gibney's cock-sure attitude could be hard to take, but he recounts enough of his blunders to soften his personality. On the other hand, by the time he stumbles into the restaurant on Saturday morning to begin prep for the weekend brunch, Gibney is going to need that self-assurance; only the strong (or crazy) survive to cook another day.

If you've read the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Bill Buford, and Marcus Samuelsson, you won't be surprised by Michael Gibney's Sous Chef. Regardless, whether you're new to restaurant memoirs or an old-time foodie, make room on your shelf for this informative and nicely crafted tale of the trade.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Random House Audio; 5 hr, 46 min), read by the capable Fred Berman, whose enthusiasm for the book kept my attention throughout. My full (and positive) audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine. Note that the introduction to the audiobook is read by the author himself; unfortunately, Gibney's performance is not very engaging and it's a shame that the audio sample comes from his section and not from Berman's fine narration.

Published by Random House / Ballantine, 2014
ISBN-13: 978080417787
Source: Review (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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03 April 2014

The eMerging eReader #5: Let's Get Reading

The eMerging eReader © www.BethFishReads.comSo far in the eMerging eReader series, I've talked about devices, software, and apps. Now it's time to talk about, well, reading.

Before I get started, however, can you believe that I already have an update to my last post on apps?

Readmill / Bluefire. Just six months after I found what I consider to be an almost-perfect PDF reader, Readmill was sold to Dropbox and won't be available after July. Come summer, I'll be transferring my books to my second-choice app, Bluefire. Compared to Readmill, Bluefire fell behind in three areas: (1) it doesn't have eye-saving settings for PDFs, (2) you can't download books from Dropbox directly through the app, and (3) PDFs are not quite as stable. Fortunately, the Bluefire people are working on these problems, which may be solved by the next update.
The business of eReading. When distilled to its essence, eReading is, of course, exactly the same as print reading: Turn on your device (or open the cover) and get going. There's nothing mysterious here; the only difference is the medium, but even so, many of us have struggled with making the change.

The new way of reading has a lot of advantages. The obvious perks to eReading are these: It's great to not have to use a bookmark or to remember my place, even across devices, and I love being able to increase the font size and to read in bed without an extra light. And how about those clunksters? No more lugging around 900-page hardcovers that won't stay open; it's much easier to hold a thin, lightweight device that shows a single page at a time.

There are, however, some downsides. At first glance, eReading is perfect for travel, allowing us to carry around a small library. Unfortunately, I've discovered mobile devices aren't ideal in all situations. For example, at the beach: Even without the worry of theft, I still have to think about how my reader will stand up to water, sand, salt, and sunblock. Camping raises the issue of recharging, and foreign travel means adapters and possible problems accessing Wi-Fi. Solutions? I now own a mobile charger and take a paperback to the beach or pool.

Learning to get comfortable. One of the initial stumbling blocks for me had nothing to do with technology. I was discouraged because I didn't have the same focus when reading on my devices as I have when reading in print. In retrospect, I believe the problem had to do with getting familiar with the gadgets. Once I had the controls memorized and got used to tapping instead of page turning, my concentration returned. If you're still having trouble getting used to eReading, assess your technology. If you're happy with that, then the next step is simply to practice, retraining your brain for a different kind of interaction.

My current stance. At this point, I don't see eReading and print reading as an either-or situation. There's room for both in my life, and room for many, many more eBooks than print books in my house. If given a choice, I'm still at the stage at which I'll pick print over electronic, but now that I've gained some experience, eReading for pleasure is part of my everyday life.

Next up: managing my eBook library, social reading, and tricks for reviewing,

Acknowledgments: Besides those I've already thanked, I'd like to give a shout-out to @Micahsb, from Bluefire, for being willing to listen to users' concerns.

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01 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday 283

Most Popular Instagram Photo from March 2014

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Today's Read: Madam by Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin

Madam by Cari Lynn and Kellie MartinWhat would you do if your sole means of support was going to be deemed illegal? In 1897, Mary Deubler faced this problem, finding a way not only to survive but to thrive by complying with the morality regulations of New Orleans. She moved her business to Storyville.

I come from a long line of whores.

In my nine decades on this earth I have never uttered these words, let alone seen them written, in my own hand, indelibly staring back at me. But now, as a summer storm rages strong enough to send the Pontchartrain right through my front door, I sit with a curious sense of peace and clarity. My past is more than just my own history. Although this story shames me in so many ways, it is the legacy I leave. I must embrace the very truth I spent my life denying.
Madam: A Novel of New Orleans by Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin (Penguin Random House / Plume, 2014, prologue, uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans, at the turn of the twentieth century
  • Circumstances: Common prostitute Mary Deubler's transformation into the successful and powerful Madam Josie Arlington
  • Characters: Mary/Josie; her brother & his wife; voodoo queens & underworld figures; morality crusaders; fellow whores; musicians, actresses, & politicians
  • Genre & themes: historical fiction; period details (food, drink, music); politics; morality; race relations; women's choices
  • Miscellaneous: based on a true story; book contains period photos, postcards, and broadsheets; well researched
  • Authors: Cari Lynn is a journalist and nonfiction writer; Kellie Martin is an actress and television writer
ISBN-13: 9780142180624
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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