30 June 2014

Guest Post: Alison Graylin (Author of Stay with Me) on Mothers and Daughters

Stay with Me by Alison GaylinAlison Gaylin's third (and maybe final) Brenna Spector book, Stay with Me, was released just last week. Apparently I've been living under a rock because I missed the first two books (And She Was and Into the Dark) in this highly praised, critically acclaimed trilogy.

Once these suspense, thriller, mysteries were brought to my attention, I knew I had to learn more. The Brenna Spector novels are now near the top of my summer reading list and here's why they should be on yours too.

I'm so intrigued by Brenna Spector, who is not your usual private investigator. She suffers from hyperthymestic syndrome, a rare condition often brought on by trauma. As a result, Brenna has an absolutely perfect memory of every day of her life since the precipitating event. She recalls, without error, every word, smell, touch, and taste.

Now stop a minute and think about it: good or bad? Yeah, she may never have to hunt for her car keys, but she also cannot ever forget the sad things, the bad things. I wonder how Brenna deals with this and how it affects her friends and family.

I find it no surprise that Brenna focuses not on solving murders but on finding missing persons. Makes sense, doesn't it? Her clients also can't forget, which gives her an empathy that other PIs might not have. In addition, Brenna's condition was brought on by the disappearance of her own sister, so she knows firsthand what it's like to be left without answers.

I'm so pleased to hand over my blog to author Alison Gaylin today, who wonders how well we know the people we think we're closest too. The topic is very near to her protagonist Brenna Spector, who in Stay with Me is forced to ask herself how well she, even with a perfect memory, knows her own daughter.

Mothers and Daughters

When my daughter was ten years old, I saw her journal. To be honest, I hadn’t even known she’d been keeping one. We’d gone on a family vacation to Mexico, and when straightening up the hotel room, my husband and I found a plain white pad covered in her careful handwriting. We read it. Not the whole thing--just enough to know that this was something we shouldn’t be reading, something she’d written away from the watchful eyes of her parents, expressing emotions and daydreams she clearly wanted to keep to herself.

It was an eye-opener--not so much for the journal’s content, but for the idea that, already, our daughter had secrets.

It’s been said that no one ever fully knows anyone else, and it’s true. We’re all complicated, multi-layered organisms with thoughts and desires we never express to anyone, even ourselves. It’s a concept that’s liberating and isolating and, yes, frightening: How well do really know your spouse, your best friend, that guy sitting across from you on the subway?

But to find out that my child was one such organism--an individual with a rich, full and secret-laden life in which I was just a supporting player--it was a shock to the system in ways I still don’t understand and don’t want to think too hard about.

You get complacent with kids. You see them first as a sonogram image inside your body and then as a baby whose cry signals hunger, discomfort--a simple need, easily met. You teach them the words for things and they use those words and so of course, you can't help but see them as an extension of yourself. But here’s the thing: They keep growing. They pull away. They become the central players in their own lives and you slip into the periphery. They meet their own needs, they learn words you never taught them. They make their own mistakes.

That’s natural. It's the way it’s supposed to be. I just didn’t expect it to happen so fast.

My daughter is thirteen now. The idea that I can’t read her thoughts is no longer so shocking. She is honest and forthright, but she doesn’t tell me everything that crosses her mind and I don’t expect her to. I trust her enough to let her have secrets. I don’t read her journal.

But still the idea scares me a little. Okay, maybe more than a little. In my new book, Stay with Me, Brenna Spector’s thirteen-year-old daughter goes missing, and in her absence, Brenna finds drawings and email exchanges and discovers that she never knew her daughter at all. I don’t keep a journal, but I channel a lot of my feelings into the fiction I write. And Stay with Me is all about that fear, however irrational, of this person I raised and love so much being out on her own, beyond my reach . . . so many of her fears and hurts and disappointments, secret things I will never hear about and, therefore, can’t protect her from.

How well do I know my daughter? As well as I know anyone. And I guess that will have to be enough.
Thanks so much, Alison. You've certainly touched on one of the scariest parts of parenthood. We want our kids to grow up and become resourceful and independent but we will never stop worrying about them and wanting to know every little thing.

I'm curious how her daughter's disappearance will affect Brenna--not just because she's hyperthymestic but because of all the additional emotions motherhood will add to the mix.

Published by Harper, 2014
Source: Will be buying soon (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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28 June 2014

Weekend Cooking: Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

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.

Delancy by Molly WizenbergAuthor, writer, blogger Molly Wizenberg was fully aware that her new husband, Brandon Pettit, had a somewhat flighty nature, so she didn't pay too much attention when one day he announced that he'd like to open a restaurant--a pizzeria no less. In fact, she didn't even really read his business plan.

But unlike several of his other dreams, this one stuck. And before she knew it, Wizenberg not only owned a restaurant but was working in it too. Well, the journey wasn't quite that fast or smooth, and Wizenberg's second memoir, Delancey, revolves around the story of how the restaurant came to be, although she also, as the subtitle indicates, talks about her husband, herself, and her marriage.

Wizenberg takes a frank, honest approach this story that is not so much about the making of their restaurant as it is about the process and how it affected their marriage and personal life and the lessons learned on many fronts. One of the strong focal points was how the experience of creating Delancey was also a journey of self-discovery for the author.

Written in a conversational style that's easy to relate to, Delancey shows us the human side of opening a restaurant, from conception to completion. The project changed the way the couple ate, entertained, socialized, and handled their money. As you can imagine, the business took over everything, and its effects were felt even before they had a location.

As Wizenberg points out, in some ways she's the polar opposite of her husband: she's the practical, detail person and Pettit is the big picture guy. Fortunately, by pooling their personalities and talents and getting help from friends and colleagues, they were able to create Delancey almost from the ground up. And despite the inevitable setbacks and stress, they also managed to keep their marriage strong.

In between the stories of recipe development, employee problems, and passing health inspections, Wizenberg shares a few recipes that have particular meaning to her. Some came from her mother or friends and others were discovered or developed by Wizenberg herself. Be sure to read the recipe introductions, which give additional insight into the author's life. I haven't tried any of the dishes, but they sound good.

I'm sure the couple must have gotten fairly sick of pizza over the many months that Pettit perfected first his dough and then his toppings, but readers will be left with an overwhelming craving to eat wood-fired pizza, and lots of it. Further, the descriptions of the restaurant will make everyone want to eat there. I sure wish I lived closer to Seattle.

Delancey is an engaging, easy-to-read memoir of what happens when you follow your passion. Sometimes dreams really do come true.

For more on Molly Wizenberg, check out her very popular food (and more!) blog, Orangette.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Blackstone Audio; 6 hr, 20 min) read by Caroline Shaffer.  Although my full audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine, let me cut to the chase and say that Shaffer put in a great performance.

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2014
Source: Review--audio (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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27 June 2014

Review: The Zita the Spacegirl Series by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben HatkeI know that Ben Hatke had middle grade readers in mind when he wrote his graphic novel series about Zita, but the books have such wide appeal that boys and girls of all ages will quickly fall for the spunky spacegirl and all her friends.

Zita the Spacegirl sets up the story for us: One day while walking home from school young Zita and her friend Joseph see something strange: a crater in a field. Inside is a small gadget with a red button. Against Joseph's advice, Zita pushes the button and Joseph is snatched up by strange arms and disappears.

Zita is horrified and scared, but can't let Joseph suffer an awful fate because of her mistake. So she does the only thing she can think of: She pushes the button again.

And so begins Zita's transformation from Earthgirl to Spacegirl. The rest of book involves Zita's attempts to save Joseph and send him back home, which requires her to make a personal sacrifice. I just love how Zita is motivated by trying help others, and I admire her determination and bravery. Of course, she doesn't really think she's special, she simply does what she thinks is right.

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben HatkeIn Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, Zita continues to find a way to get back home to her family. She has lots of help from all kinds of different creatures she meets in several worlds: a mouse, a cat, a pied piper, a gypsy, a couple of robots, a friendly space ship, and a few nice monsters. But all is not sweetness and light for our hero. Not only does she have to stop an automoton from taking over her identity but she has to find a way to fight off alien invaders and save her friends from obliteration.

Young readers will like the action scenes that move the story along at a fast pace The drawings are full color, and we really get a feel for each character's personality. The different cities, landscapes, and creatures are inventive, and I spent some time on each page looking at the details and reading signs, notes, posters, and such.

Teamwork, battles, and humor are found throughout the books, especially the most recent installment, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl. In this book, Zita discovers that she can't make assumptions when it comes to life in space. She has to figure out whom to trust and, ultimately, decide where she wants to live. Although the third book ends satisfactorily, the door is open for more Zita the Spacegirl adventures, and I can't wait to come along for the ride.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben HatkeEven though I am not a fan of science fiction, I loved getting to know Zita. She is someone I'd like on my side because of her marvelous mix of nice yet tough. She may want to protect all her friends everywhere, but she isn't going to be pushed around. At the same time, she isn't above letting her emotions show, from crying when lonely to being afraid when flying through space.

Zita may be a little girl but she's a big, big hero. Both boys and girls as well as their parents will enjoy reading about Zita and going on her exciting adventures.

Note on the scans (click to see them full size). The scan on the left (p. 90 in the first book) was picked to show you the set up to an action sequence. Looks like Zita and her friends are about to be attacked. The next scan (p. 127 in the second book) is a page from one of Zita's reference books. The information in this guide comes in very handy; you can see she's marked some pages. The next page (p. 118 in the third book) gives you an idea of some of the humor. Zita met these two creatures, a skeleton and a living rag pile, when she was imprisoned. Here they are passing time in their cell. The scan on the right (p. 106 in the second book) shows some of the details and color inside a spaceship.

Copyright Ben Hatke

Published by Roaring Brook Press / First Second
Zita the Spacegirl (2011, ISBN-13: 9781596434462)
Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (2012, ISBN-13:9781596434479)
The Return of Zita the Spacegirl (2014, ISBN-13:9781596438767)
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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26 June 2014

One Deck, One Book, One Perfect Summer Day (plus a Giveaway!)

On a recent beautiful Saturday, I was lucky enough to have what I consider pretty much the perfect summer day. Come join me on my deck and I'll let you share the day as I relax and read Heather Gudenkauf's Little Mercies, which is about a contemporary social worker in crisis and the children who need our help. The novel was published on June 24. (Click on the images to see them full size; use the back arrow to return to the post.)

I just love the sunlight on my deck in the morning, and I take my breakfast outside whenever the weather allows. Today, I'm eating yogurt and strawberries while I look over a stack of books I want to read.

So many great novels! They all look good, but Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf is really calling to me.

Now all I need now is a cute pair of reading glasses and another cup of coffee. Settle yourself in while I put my feet up, grab my book, and let the world around me fade into the background.

As the morning passes along in reading bliss, I start to get hungry. I don't, however, let my light lunch (nuts, fruit, veggies, and a tall glass of iced tea) get in the way of my reading time. Doesn't everyone read when they take a lunch break?

One thing I love about my deck is the pretty blue fountain my parents got for us. It's so soothing to listen to the water trickling down on the rocks.

As much as I'm loving Little Mercies, I have to pause for a bit to appreciate the colors of the summer flowers and the gorgeous nearly clear sky.

Am I wrong to think my deck is a little bit of heaven? I want to live out here.

By late afternoon, the deck starts to heat up, so I'm thankful for that umbrella! Regardless, I absolutely remember to reapply my sunblock. Yes, I use 50 SPF; I don't want to risk a sunburn while reading Little Mercies.

Despite how pretty the flowers are next to my post-lunch reading spot, I move over to the table and hide under that umbrella. Can you see the sun beating down?

Um, I think might put my book in my lap for just a second. The book's not heavy . . . I'm not getting sleepy, really. Ooops! I think I might have dozed.

Mr. BFR woke me up with a cold beer and some snacks. Just what I needed to cool down and resume reading while enjoying the sound of the fountain and the birds singing.

Although I've almost finished my book, I make myself take a break and head to the kitchen to get dinner going. I guess I can't escape real life completely.

As the sun goes down, though, I sneak in a little time for a glass of wine as I return to Little Mercies. What a perfect ending to a perfect summer day.

I don't have extravagant tastes. Give me my deck, an engrossing book, a few snacks, and warm weather and I'll be happy as can be. For my latest trip to heaven, I read Heather Gudenkauf's Little Mercies, which is a great pick for this summer's reading. Here's a snippet from the publisher's summary:
A powerful and emotionally charged tale about motherhood and justice, Little Mercies is a searing portrait of the tenuous grasp we have on the things we love the most, and of the ties that unexpectedly bring us together.
To learn more about Little Mercies, be sure to check out the book trailer. For more about Gudenkauf, see her website or Facebook page or follow her on Twitter or Pinterest. To keep up with the buzz, head on over to Goodreads.

Attention book club members: Don't forget to download the great book club kit, which contains an introduction from the publisher, thoughtful discussion questions, and an interview with Heather Gudenkauf.

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Harlequin (publisher of Little Mercies) but all thoughts, photo collages, and content are my completely my own.

The Giveaway: Because I want everyone to have a similar perfect summer day and thanks to Harlequin, I'm happy to offer one of my readers a fantastic Heather Gudenkauf book bundle, which includes her latest novel, Little Mercies, plus her books The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden. All you have to do to enter for a chance to win is have a U.S. mailing address and fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on July 4. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck and happy, relaxing summer reading.

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24 June 2014

Wordless Wednesday 295

Wildflower, 2014

Click image to see it full size. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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Today's Read: The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank

What if you were sandwiched between your 80-year-old headstrong mother and your misdirected twenty-something daughter? This is Liz Waters's situation; she's not only juggling her own marriage and career but is worried about her mother's crazy ideas, her son's unconventional (read: gay) lifestyle, and her daughter's impractical dreams (to be an artist). The books opens near the end; here are Liz's words:

My husband, Clayton, and I were at the police station getting my mother, Massie, out of jail for brushing up against the wrong side of the law. Her actual charges were still unclear. She claims it is not against any law in the state of South Carolina to take a llama for a walk on the open road. He was, after all, on a leash. . . . So I sat and waited while Clayton made things right between the Town of Mount Pleasant and Maisie by writing a check
The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank (HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2014, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: the South Carolina Lowcountry; modern times
  • Circumstances: Three generations of stubborn, independent women face different problems but must somehow come together to find a way to forgive and move forward
  • Characters: Liz; her husband, Clayton; her mother, Massie; her daughter, Ashley; and her son, Ivy; townspeople; politicians; friends
  • Genre: contemporary adult fiction; smart beach reading
  • What I think about Frank's work: I've said it here before, I love Frank's perspective on women of a certain age and the problems they (we) face; her novels are funny, sharp, and light but also deal with real-life situations
  • Thoughts on this novel so far: I love that the story is told from alternating viewpoints; Liz, Massie, Clayton, and Ashley all get their say; I'm only a quarter of the way through but I think Frank is on the top of her game with this one
  • Themes (so far): family, marriage, parenthood, sandwich generation; love, dreams, following your passions
  • Extra: I guess I should disclose that I've met Dottie a couple of times and I just love her.
  • Audiobook: I'm listening to the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 10 hr, 26 min). I'm a Yankee so I have no clue about the various southern accents, but I love Robin Miles's reading: I like her accent and she gets the humor, the sarcasm, and the sass and keeps her characterizations (male and female) consistent and believable.
If you're interested in the audiobook, or just want to hear a bit from chapter 1 (the teaser is from the prologue), click on the play button:

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23 June 2014

Guest Post: Pam Ripling on Research, Travel, & Writing

Do you like lighthouses, photography, and/or a little romance and mystery? Of course you do! And so does one of my kindred spirits in the book world, author Pam Ripling. I'm so pleased to welcome her back to Beth Fish Reads for her third visit.

In case you missed Pam's previous posts, be sure to click through to read her thoughts on Writing and Photography and on Setting and Storytelling. Today she is talking about research and travel and how they come together in her new novel, Angel's Gate. Sometimes the journey takes an author into the past and sometimes it grounds her very much in the present.

Here's a little bit about Angel's Gate: At first glance Jack McKenzie, Nathanial Sinquah, and Emelie Marin have nothing in common. But when Nate leaves his northern Arizona home for Los Angeles to search for the secrets of his mother's past, the three cross paths and together discover more than they were seeking. From World War II to the present, "Angel's Gate Lighthouse has remained steadfast and silent, guarding more than just the City of Angels."

Now, I'll turn my blog over to Pam.

Research & Writing: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

Of course you recognize my blatant theft of the popular Dr. Seuss book title. It just seemed so fitting, because after having completed my most recent novel, I’d been so many “places” it felt like I’d just returned from a trip around the world and back in time.

Researching the time, place, culture, and even the context for a book is a necessary to evil. Evil to some, that is, but not me. I was born with an encyclopedia in my hand. Today I use more updated tools, such as a variety of search engines, YouTube, Google Earth, and vast library databases. It’s critical that I absorb as much as possible about my story’s background and my characters’ lives and surroundings. Absorbing all that information, however, doesn’t mean I’ll include everything. In fact, I may actually only “use” 10 percent of what I’ve learned, and here’s why.

Readers want a picture. They want to be led, shown, immersed into a story’s setting. There is a difference between creating a complete “mise-en-scene”—to borrow a term from the movie industry—and unloading an “info-dump” on the reader. There are simply facts the writer needs to know in order to create the scene, details that affect but don’t need to be included in the text.

Angel's Gate offered interesting challenges to me. A portion of the story takes place during World War II, both in Los Angeles and in Burma. In order to write the scenes, I had to know where (in L.A.) the characters might have stopped for coffee; where the soldiers might have been the night of the famous “Battle of Los Angeles.” What facts would bring realism to the story? What aspects of real history would be important? Most importantly, was my placement of military personnel inside the Angel’s Gate Lighthouse on the night of February 24, 1942, feasible? To go a step further, I had to know what the weather was like that night; in what phase was the moon; how would the city’s “blackout” affect my characters’ motivations?

After many hours of reading testimonials and historical recounts, I wrote the following scene, wherein an inebriated young soldier experiences what he thinks is an attack by the Japanese. He is in a nightclub dancing . . .
The din was deafening, with war-weary young adults clinking glasses, singing aloud, desperate to forget and grasping at a sense of normalcy in the midst of near hysteria. That frenzy became real when, just before 2:30 A.M., the lights at Shanghai Red’s winked out and the air raid sirens began.

The band members ceased to play in varying degrees, a lone tenor sax the last to fade away. Alarmed patrons stumbled to the doors and windows to look outside, spilling out onto the street where searchlights scanned the skies overhead.

“What’s happening?” the girl beside him shrieked. “It’s the Japs! They’re bombing L.A.!” She flung herself onto Joe and held him tightly around the neck.

Suddenly sobered, Joe shoved the girl aside and pushed his way through the panicky dancers toward the door. Once outside, he peered up at the bright cones of light traversing the night in search of some threat. He started walking, slowly at first, then quickening his pace, eyes never leaving the sky. If Los Angeles was going to be bombed, he didn’t want to die on the street outside a dive like Red’s.

The sirens screamed. It wasn’t like he’d never heard them before; but the previous drills were expected, and he was always with his division. Never in the middle of the night with a head full of booze and dark thoughts. This time, the shrill sounds seemed to be coming at him from all directions, as if he were caught up in some kind of vortex. Over and over they sounded, warning, threatening. Danger, they called. You are about to die.

His thoughts, and his feet, came to a stuttering halt as the first anti-aircraft shells launched from Fort MacArthur, bursting overhead in an intense, fiery display. Wide-eyed and agape, Joe took a timid step backward and to the side, pressing his back against a brick building. He stared, chest heaving with excitement as more bombs flew skyward, adding to the pandemonium of the sirens and the peoples’ screams.

This is it. This is the war, come here, to Los Angeles.

Fascination overcame him. It was like he’d never actually believed the war was real. The big war, double-ya double-ya two, was something like a myth, something in the newsreels at the afternoon cinema. Front page stills on the Herald and the Times. FDR on the radio. Guys getting their heads shaved and putting on olive drabs, khakis and white caps. Women crying at the airport, at the train station, at the dock.

Bombs were for places like France and England. Pearl. Wake. Not L.A. These were his streets!
Those hours of research gave me a sense of the night that Los Angeles hurled over 1,400 shells at some unknown craft flying over the Southern California coastal region. Seen from the eyes of Coast Guard Ensign Joe Halleran, a man already planning to go AWOL the next day, the war comes home in a big way.

For Angel's Gate, my virtual travels took me to 1942 Burma where I marched with retreating foot soldiers trying to stay ahead of Japanese fighters, all while dealing with dysentery and malaria. I traveled to the present day Third Mesa on Arizona’s Hopi Reservation, where I learned about this culture’s beliefs and spiritualism. I discovered whether or not a human skull could remain recognizable after seventy years in L.A. Harbor. I found out that certain American coins, minted in 1933 and worth millions each, are now illegal to own. A wealth of information, all gently tucked into the pages of a (hopefully) entertaining romantic mystery.

Readers, don’t look for the research, but know it exists. Details and facts should never take you away from the story itself. If they do, perhaps the book belongs on the non-fiction shelves.

Many thanks to Candace for hosting me today on one of my favorite blogs!

No, no, thank you, Pam for another informative post. Readers don't often realize how much research is hidden behind the words of a novel, from the phases of the moon to the names of the streets.

Pam Ripling, who also writes as Anne Carter, is a self-proclaimed lighthouse nut and the author of nine published novels, including mystery, romance, paranormal, alternative romance and even a middle grade reader. ANGEL’S GATE is the third in the Beacon Point Series, all romantic mysteries centering around lighthouses and with a touch of the paranormal. Each book includes an intriguing historical aspect and reads as a standalone. Visit Pam at her website or her Amazon Author Page.

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21 June 2014

Weekend Cooking: Summer, When the Kitchen Is Hot

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 summer, and as the temperatures climb, my desire to heat up my (un-air-conditioned) kitchen declines. So I've been eating a lot of salads and making good use of the grill. I've also made garlic scape pesto twice (see photo). I love simple meals that require no recipes and no fuss.

Summer is also when I like to turn to escape reading. Lazy Saturdays call for something fun and light. So I often choose cozy mysteries with a food theme, which give me great characters and a few hours of entertainment while satisfying the cook in me. Even better, the books I'm featuring today include appealing recipes.

All four novels, published by Berkley Prime Crime, will be available in July, just in time to pop into your beach bag or travel tote for holiday and vacation reading. Look for them at your favorite bookstore. Don't you love the punny titles?

Leslie Budewitz's Crime Rib is the second entry in her Food Lovers' Village Mystery series set in Montana. The books feature Erin Murphy, who owns a gourmet food market. When a TV crew comes to town to report on the area's food scene, local chefs vie for the spotlight. But after one of grilling masters is found dead, attention shifts from food to murder. Can Erin save the town's reputation, solve the murder, finish remodeling her back patio, and run the grilled steak competition all at the same time? Opening lines: "We can't replace one of the chefs," Mimi George said, her voice piercing the gravy-thick air of the Jewel Inn's banquet and meeting room. "The Grill-off is in two days." The summer-fun recipes tell you how to make your own graham crackers and marshmallows for truly homemade s'mores.

Another second in a series is Maple Mayhem by Jessie Crockett. You won't be surprised that the Sugar Grove mysteries take place in New Hampshire, where maple syrup is king. Our hero is Dani Greene, a fourth-generation syrup producer. Unlike some of her neighbors, Dani is forward thinking and has organized a co-op to help defray costs and increase profits for family-owned businesses. When someone throws a wrench into the works and then a producer is found dead in his sugarhouse, Dani is on the case . . . along with a handsome Fish and Game commissioner. Opening lines: I slid out from behind the wheel and gently closed my car door. It had taken weeks for the local mechanic to repair my baby after it lost a cage match with a cassowary but it had been worth the wait. The recipes range from pancakes to glazed ham.

Cookie shop owner Olivia Greyson is ready for her fifth murder in Cookies and Scream by Virginia Lowell. The Cookie Cutter Shop mysteries are set in a small bakery and gift shop in Maryland. This installment involves a beautiful antique cookie cutter collection that Olivia's been asked to sell. When the owner of the collection turns up dead, officials rule it a natural death, but Olivia suspects foul play. Cookies, a Yorkie, best friend Maddie, and a local sheriff all play a role in solving the mystery. Opening lines: As soon as she flipped on the lights in The Gingerbread House, Olivia Greyson sensed something was wrong She felt certain the store was not as she had left it six days earlier, when she'd abandoned Chatterley Heights to escape the unrelenting heat of early August in Maryland. The spicy shortbread recipe looks divine.

Victoria Hamilton's Muffin but Murder is the second in her Merry Muffin Mystery series. New York City food stylist turned muffin baker Merry Wynter is hoping to sell the family mansion she's recently inherited so she can return to her exciting life in Manhattan. In an attempt to attract a buyer, she decides to host a spooky Halloween costume party, complete with decorations and, of course, her muffins. When one of her guests is found dead, Merry must track down the killer before all her dreams turn to crumbs. Opening lines: Ridley Ridge. How had I lived a whole month and half at Wynter Castle, my inherited digs near Autumn Vale in upstate New York, without visiting Ridley Ridge, the next closest town? Just lucky, I guess. Two muffin recipes and one for a lovely vegetable soup round out the story.

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19 June 2014

Giveaway: Diana Bishop's Commonplace Book by Deborah Harkness

Have I told you lately that one of my most anticipated books of the summer is Deborah Harkness's The Book of Life? It's the third installment in her All Souls trilogy, and although I will be sorry to say good-bye to historian-witch Diana Bishop and vampire-scientist Matthew Clairmont, I can't wait to see how the story plays out. Now, how many days is it until the July 15 release date?

In case you're unfamiliar with the books, check out my thoughts on the first two entries: A Discovery of Witches (plus a wine recommendation!) and Shadow of Night (a more traditional review). Oh, and if you're an audiobook fan (like I am) don't hesitate to listen. The audios are bewitching (ha!).

Are you pacing around until you can buy The Book of Life? I have something that will make the time pass quickly. Check out this very, very cool giveaway for one of my readers. It's a copy of Diana Bishop's very own Commonplace Book; it's set up to look handwritten and includes a variety of her thoughts and collected data. This book is not for sale and can be obtained only through an author event or one of the several blogger giveaways. Check out the photos of the inside of the book (click the image to enlarge). Don't you need to have a copy? I know I want one.

I was going to write up my own description of this All Souls extra, but instead, I'm going right to the source. Here's what author Deborah Harkness has to say about the Commonplace Book (text from her website):
Inside, there are all the pages Diana describes in SHADOW OF NIGHT and more: a floorplan of the Old Lodge, snippets of poetry, some passages from a grimoire, astrological insights. It’s a mini-record of Diana’s few days in Woodstock before she and Matthew left for Sept-Tours and it’s accurate down to the splotches of ink, the faint traces of plants she pressed into the pages, and the color of the cover (the sticker is removable!). There are even blank pages, so you can put your own commonplaces in it, if you are lucky enough to receive one: notes of births and deaths, passages from favorite books, books you want to read. You’ll be walking in Diana’s footsteps when you do!
How to enter the giveaway: Because the Commonplace Book will be mailed from the publishers, you must provide a U.S. mailing address to be entered for a chance to win. Just fill out the following form and I'll pick a winner via random number generator on July 1. After the winner has been confirmed, I'll delete all personal information from my computer.

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17 June 2014

Wordless Wednesday 294

Fern, 2014

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Today's Read: The Fever by Megan Abbott

What if practically all the girls in your school suddenly and mysteriously started suffering from an unexplained illness? What if, as you were trying to understand what was happening and why you seemed immune, you started discovering nasty things about your BFFs? That's what happened to sixteen-year-old Deenie Nash.
[S]he became Gabby's friend in that way that can happen, because the girl with the cool boots always finds the girl with the occasional slash of pink in her hair. The two of them like a pair of exotic birds dripping over the school's water fountains—you knew they would find each other. And, about a year ago, they had.
The Fever by Megan Abbott (Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown, 2014, p. 49, uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: small town America
  • Circumstances: When high school girls begin to sicken from a mysterious illness, the town is thrown into turmoil as parents, teens, and doctors search for answers
  • Characters: Deenie and her best friends Lise and Gabby; Deenie's family; friends and neighbors; teenage boys (including Deenie's older brother) and girls; teachers (including Deenie's father); doctors and nurses
  • Genre: contemporary adult fiction; thriller
  • What I think so far: Abbott seems to have nailed the complex nature of teenage girls' friendships; she also has captured parental hysteria mixed with cluelessness of their kids' activities; a definite creepy factor
  • Extras: According to Abbott's website, the story was "loosely inspired" by true events; published today

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16 June 2014

Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Before I started reading Genevieve Valentine's The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (aka The Girls), I had heard it was a fairy tale retelling set in New York City in the late 1920s. I was not, however, familiar with the original tale of the dancing princesses, which was collected by the Grimm brothers and was known throughout Europe and as far east as India.

Fortunately, my ignorance of the source text did not detract from my enjoyment of this Jazz Age story of twelve sisters who are kept under the thumb of their strict father.

Here are my thoughts in a bullet review.

  • What's it all about? The twelve Hamilton sisters (including two sets of twins) are kept hidden at home. Their mother died shortly after the last girl's birth, and their father never sees them. In fact, many of the younger girls have never met him. The girls are only very rarely allowed out of the house and are never seen without an escort or in groups of more than two. When the eldest sister, Jo, discovers dancing, their lives change. For eight years, the sisters--first only the oldest four but later all of them--sneak out of the house at midnight to visit speakeasies, where they dance so much their shoes wear out. They never tell anyone their names, and they are known simply as the princesses. When their father begins to suspect their disobedience, the girls must find a way to escape his power and cruelty.
  • What I liked: Valentine weaves a tale that entangled me incrementally, hooking me before I realized it. The story focuses on Jo and the way she protects and cares for her sisters while managing to give them a taste of life outside their house. I liked several of the sisters, but it's clever, careful, self-sacrificing Jo who won me over. Valentine creates a fairy tale feeling as the girls navigate their way through the smoky Prohibition clubs, with their unrelenting music, scandalous dances, and shady men.
  • Two aspects didn't quite work for me: (1) We are told that the girls fear their father and are even given a couple of examples of his coldness. Unfortunately, he never seemed real enough to me that I was able to relate to the sisters' terror. (2) The end of The Girls felt as if it had been hastily put together to create the expected happily ever after. This is a point I'd love to talk about with someone who has read the novel; if I say more, I'm afraid I'll spoil the story.
  • Genre and themes: As I mentioned The Girls is a fairy tale retelling as well as historical fiction. The major themes are sisterhood, the meaning of freedom and free choice, sacrifice, parenthood, independence, and love.
  • General recommendation: Despite the novel's flaws, I liked Genevieve Valentine's The Girls at the Kingfisher Club enough to read it all in one sitting. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it as good escape reading. Let's face it, fairy tales aren't meant to be subjected to deep analysis, so perhaps I'm being too picky about the ending. I also recommend the novel as a book club selection; some of the characters and situations would be good fodder for discussion.
Published by Simon & Schuster / Atria, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781476739083
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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14 June 2014

Weekend Cooking: Picture Cook by Katie Shelly

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.

Every year when I attend Book Expo America (BEA), I am on the lookout for new, exciting, and different cookbooks. And I'm always excited to share my finds with you.

One of the first books I learned about this year was Katie Shelly's Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat. I love the concept of this graphic cookbook, which is short on words and big on line drawings. The idea behind the book is to free us from the written word, so we can learn to be more inventive in the kitchen.

Although I'm not sure Picture Cook would work well as a first cookbook, I think it would have definite appeal to inexperienced cooks, teens, and college students. I know I would have loved following the pictures instead of reading through long directions when I was cooking with friends in my first apartment. The recipes range from the crazy simple (cinnamon-sugar toast) to the much more complicated (panzanella) and cover the entire range from breakfast to dessert.

I particularly like the double-spread idea pages, which help you make your own combinations for dishes like omelets, tacos, and pizza. (One such page is shown in the scan at the left, below.) New cooks will appreciate the tips, the graphic guide to cutting veggies, and the simplicity of most of the recipes. More confident cooks will be inspired to tweak the dishes to their own tastes, which somehow seems more approachable when the recipes are wordless.

The graphic directions are especially brilliant for layered recipes, like the white vegetarian lasagna shown in the scan at the right (below; click image to enlarge). No more having to guess how many layers the cookbook author really meant. The drawing clearly shows three layers of everything, ending with the sauce.

Finally, many readers will welcome the easy to use index, with its color-coded key to recipes that fit special diets, such as vegan, gluten-free, and no sugar added.

You might not want to get rid of your conventional cookbooks, but Katie Shelly's Picture Cook makes a nice addition to your collection. The cookbook would be a great for families with young children who like spending time in the kitchen. Even the youngest budding chef should be able to help guide the head cook through one of these graphic recipes.

Published by Ulysses Press, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781612432342
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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13 June 2014

Summer Shorts '14: Celebrating Audiobook Month with Carrington MacDuffie

As most of you know, I'm a huge audiobook fan. I have listened to an audiobook almost every single day since the 1980s, when I used to rent from Books on Tape. And, yes, the books really were on cassettes.

June is a great month for a number of reasons, and one is that it is officially Audiobook Month. One fantastic way to celebrate is to see what's happening in the audiobook community. Spoken Freely —a group of more than 40 professional narrators—has teamed up with Going Public and Tantor Media to create the audiobook Summer Shorts ’14, a collection of poetry, short stories, and essays.

I'm so excited to welcome Carrington MacDuffie to my blog today. I'm pretty much in awe of her talents. First, she has narrated an amazing range of books, from highland romances to chick lit, mysteries and thrillers to erotica, and literary fiction to nonfiction. Seriously, I wonder if there is a genre she hasn't tackled. Did you know that she is also a singer/songwriter as well as an actor? But coolest of all, she is a poet, and the poem she is reading today as part of the Summer Shorts '14 collection is one of her own.

I asked Carrington to tell us why she picked this particular poem to help celebrate June Is Audiobook Month. So first, listen to her read "Al's Boy" and then learn about the art of reading poetry and why this poem works so well as an audio short.

Choosing Poetry for Performance vs. Publication

For this wonderful collection of poems, stories, and essays, I decided to record an original poem. I've written and published a lot of poetry, done a lot of spoken word performance of that work, and recorded it as well. Some poetry lends itself to being absorbed silently in the reader's mind, some works on stage, and some behind the microphone. I chose "Al's Boy" because it tells a story and has a lot of rhyme, half rhyme, alliteration, and rhythm, all of which give it momentum, playfulness, and entertainment value.

A lot of modern poetry doesn't lend itself to being read aloud or performed. With modern poetry came open form, which is poetry without an established pattern to it, notably meter or rhyme—and that changes everything, because those are two main elements that make a poem work aloud. Romantic poets, for instance Poe and Keats, give an actor a lot more to grab on to.

Modern poetry can be sparse, and often very subtle, and there’s sometimes a silence that feels built into that kind of work. Not only does that make it difficult to perform aloud, but also the warmth of a human voice can really skew the feel of the poem. Consider this passage from the poet W. S. Merwin's "Beggars and Kings":

In the evening
all the hours that weren't used
are emptied out
and the beggars are waiting to gather them up
to open them
to find the sun in each one
and teach it its beggar's name
and sing to it It is well
through the night

Merwin is, to my mind, one of the greatest American poets who ever lived—but just try performing that passage aloud. It even has singing in it! But it’s not the right kind of singing for an actor. (By the way, this piece does not begin to exemplify the brilliance of Merwin’s work). A sober performance behind a lectern might be the best bet in this case, as opposed to a stage or a recording. Personally though, I like to see its starkness on the page, and see how the visual space allowed by the brevity of the lines seems to breathe, and let me think.

Compare that to the opening of "Al's Boy":

Al used to bat
who knows what
but more than that, he knows all about it.
Favored heavily by his folks,
he was fed the hook
and swallowed it whole,
swallowed that tastily baited hook,
swallowed it down 'til it stuck in his gut.

I don't mean to put myself on an even footing with one of the greatest American poets ever, but you see my point.

I've also recorded some poetry that isn't quite suitable for live performance, but with the right kind of vocal treatment, it delivers a cool listening experience. With my LP-format audiobook Many Things Invisible (Blackstone Audio, 2008), I set some pretty esoteric work to music and found-sound and gave it a half-whispered delivery, creating the feeling of a dream state, and offering a different way to take poetry in: half-consciously.

How a voice speaks to you is so powerful—the power to seduce, annoy, frighten, enchant, amuse, horrify—and bore. You've got to choose carefully, and Summer Shorts '14 is full of great choices by voice actors who know exactly what they’re doing.

Thanks so much, Carrington. I really learned something about poetry and performance. I never really thought about the difference between poetry read aloud versus poetry read in one's head. Fascinating.
More on the Spoken Freely project: As a thank-you to those of who listen to audiobooks, the pieces will be available for free online listening on their day of release. To see the full release schedule of these short pieces, check out the Spoken Freely page of the Going Public blog. Don't worry if you've missed a few performances, because you can buy the complete Summer Shorts ’14 compilation, which includes an additional 20 bonus tracks. Not only will you be able to hear your favorite narrators reading an amazing variety of short pieces but you'll be contributing to a good cause. All proceeds will benefit ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the nation. Click on the links for more information.

Listen to other pieces; meet other narrators: Check out the daily releases by following the Complete Blog Hop Schedule at Going Public. For yesterday's pieces, visit Audio Gals and Lakeside Musing. For another short published today, click on through to Overreader. Tomorrow the hosts are the Going Public blog and Michael Stephen Daigle.

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12 June 2014

Review: Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

Karen Harrington's Sure Signs of Crazy is one of those books I want everyone to read. Although geared to a middle grade or young teen audience, there are many levels to the story of Sarah Nelson, and readers of all ages will find something to relate to and love.

I didn't know until I finished Sure Signs of Crazy that it is actually a follow-up novel to Harrington's first book, Janeology. Let me assure you that you that Sure Signs of Crazy works brilliantly as a standalone story.

Here are my thoughts in a bullet review.

  • The setup. Everything changes for Sarah Nelson the summer she turns 12. Sarah has always divided her life in half: the public part, in which she is a friend, neighbor, and daughter and the private part, in which she is an often lonely girl who hides the truths of her family. Ten years ago, Sarah's mother, now institutionalized, killed Sarah's twin brother and almost killed her too. Sarah's father, a college professor, has since tried to find solace with his friend Jim Beam. Whenever people find out who they are and who Sarah's mother is, father and daughter must move to a new town or neighborhood to escape the stares, gossip, and media.
  • What happens. This is the first summer that Sarah has been allowed to stay at home instead of being sent to her grandparents. Under the watchful eye of her neighbors, Sarah experiences a number of other firsts, including her first real crush, her first period, and her first funeral. On the tenth anniversary of the day she almost died, Sarah is horrified to see that her mother's case is once again in the news. Will Sarah and her father start over in another town or will they find the strength to merge their public and private selves and face the future together?
  • Thoughts, themes, genre. Sure Signs of Crazy is a multilayered coming-of-age story with vivid, well-developed characters. The narrative is told from Sarah's point of view, and her thoughts and actions seem believable for a 12-year-old who has had to shoulder adult burdens. The major themes are mental illness, alcoholism, families, young love, old love, privacy, individuality, and public versus private selves. This would be a good book club choice for readers of all ages but would especially be great for a mother/daughter (or similar combo) readalong.
  • Extras. Sarah loves words and writes down her favorites in her secret diary. It was fun to see which words she looked up and incorporated into her vocabulary. I loved that she listened to her teacher and took his summer writing assignment to heart. He told his students to write letters to a fictional character, and Sarah picked Atticus Finch. Her letters are so true and revealing.
  • The audiobook. The unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 6 hr, 37 min) was read by Cassandra Morris, who was absolutely wonderful as 12-year-old Sarah. Morris's voice sounds young and she managed to infuse her narration with the perfect hint of adolescent drama. Although I'm confident I would have liked Sure Signs of Crazy in print, Morris brought the character of Sarah alive and kept my attention throughout the novel.
Published by Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780316210584
Source: Review (print & audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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10 June 2014

Wordless Wednesday 293

Bug's-eye view, 2014

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Today's Read & Giveaway: Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews

What happens when an unromantic florist is asked to be a wedding planner / relationship saver? Can recently divorced Cara Kryzik meet the challenge?

Here are Cara's thoughts the first time she sees her new clients' plantation home:

Somebody, at some point in the Strayhorn family history had a puckish sense of humor. . . . Cara drove slowly down the bumpy, crushed oyster-shell drive. Age-blackened live oaks dripping with thick curtains of Spanish moss shaded both sides of the roadway, their trunks dotted with clumps of dark green Resurrection ferns. . . . A rail fence separated the drive from a vast green pasture, and a trio of horses grazed outside a weathered barn. At the end of the quarter-mile drive, a weathered cypress sign was nailed to one of the trees:

Slow down. Small children. Large dogs. Old men.
Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews (St. Martin's Press, 2014, p. 110, uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Savannah, Georgia; modern times
  • Circumstances: Cara has been tapped to be the planner for a high-profile wedding. If she can pull it off, her professional reputation will be set and she'll be on the road to financial freedom.
  • Characters: Cara and her assistant, Bert; Jack, a potential love interest; Brooke and Harris, the engaged couple; Cullen, rival florist and troublemaker
  • Genre: contemporary woman's fiction; beach read; humor
  • Themes: marriage, love, business, romance, family
  • About the author and other thoughts: Andrews is one of the queens of summer reading; despite the anticipated happily ever after, the plot has enough twists, fun characters, and good humor to keep you going; get out the sunblock, grab your beach chair, and get reading
The Giveaway

Thanks to the publicists, I'm pleased to be able to offer one of my readers (with a U.S. mailing address) a copy of Mary Kay Andrews's latest novel, Save the Date. All you have to do to enter for a chance to win is to fill out the form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on June 21 (first day of summer!). Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll delete all personal information from my computer.

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09 June 2014

BEA 2014: What's Hot at HarperCollins

Last week I talked about the BEA book group session (part 1 & part 2) in which representatives from a number of publishers presented their top recommendations. I purposely left off the HarperCollins imprints because I wanted to talk about them in their own post.

As you know, I'm a big supporter of the Harper Perennial and Ecco imprints; today, however, I feature eight HarperCollins imprints and list a sampling of some of the books their publicists are excited about this year. In the following, you'll find everything from nonfiction to romance; literary fiction to urban fantasy.

For each imprint, I've listed a few of the recent and upcoming titles (with my own description) and then post the book cover and publisher's summary for my top pick.


  • Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie: historical fiction set in mid-15th-century Germany; about the first printing of a book and the launching of the business of publishing
  • Us by David Nicholls: literary fiction; after 30 years of marriage a man is surprised to learn his wife may leave him; at the same time he realizes he barely knows his almost-grown son; is it too late to save his relationship with his family?
  • Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbot: historical fiction set during the U.S. Civil War; the story of four women who spied for their side during the war; based on firsthand accounts.
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen: fantasy; this first in an epic fantasy trilogy has already been picked up to be a movie starring Emma Watson. From the publisher's summary:
Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother's throne, learn to be a ruler--and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. . . .

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. . . .
  • The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman: modern folk tale; a young woman going through her late-grandfather's papers discovers a Jewish legend, family secrets, and the key to saving her sister from a fate set in motion centuries earlier.
  • The Miniaturist by Ivy Pochoda: historical fiction set in late-17th-century Amsterdam; a young women gets in over her head when she seeks a craftsman to make furnishings for her beautiful miniature house; themes of secrets, love, greed, and betrayal; has a creepy aspect
Rooms by Lauren Oliver: fiction; what happens when three relatives inherit a haunted house; family drama. From the publisher's summary:
Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results. . . .
  • What I Love about You by Rachel Gibson: romance; steamy hot about ex-Navy SEAL twins and the beautiful women they meet.
  • The Getaway God by Richard Kadry: noir paranormal adventure; sixth in the Sandman Slim series; our hero must save LA from the wrath of the evil gods; witty.
The Witch with No Name by Kim Harrison: urban fantasy; the end of her series; I haven't read all of these yet, but this is a fun, smart, and sexy series involving a number of different types of creatures. From the publisher's summary:
Rachel Morgan has come a long way from her early days as an inexperienced bounty hunter. She's faced vampires and werewolves, banshees, witches, and soul-eating demons. She's crossed worlds, channeled gods, and accepted her place as a day-walking demon. She's lost friends and lovers and family, and an old enemy has unexpectedly become something much more.

But power demands responsibility, and world-changers must always pay a price. Rachel has known that this day would come--and now it is here.

To save Ivy's soul and the rest of the living vampires, to keep the demonic ever after and our own world from destruction, Rachel Morgan will risk everything.
Harper Perennial
  • Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman: contemporary woman's fiction; a young woman puts her marriage plans on hold after her mother dies and she must travel to rural Georgia to put the estate in order; charming but smart Southern fiction
  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: essay, memoir; these essays and short pieces focus on contemporary feminism, culture, and politics.
This Is the Water by Yannick Murphy: fiction, thriller; from the author of The Call; a killer is targeting a New England high school swim team. From the publisher's summary:
In a quiet New England community members of swim team and their dedicated parents are preparing for a home meet. The most that Annie, a swim-mom of two girls, has to worry about is whether or not she fed her daughters enough carbs the night before; why her husband, Thomas, hasn't kissed her in ages; and why she can't get over the loss of her brother who shot himself a few years ago.

But Annie's world is about to change. From the bleachers, looking down at the swimmers, a dark haired man watches a girl. No one notices him. . . .

When a girl on the team is murdered at a nearby highway rest stop . . . the parents suddenly find themselves adrift. . . .

With a serial killer now too close for comfort, Annie and her fellow swim-parents must make choices about where their loyalties lie. As a series of startling events unfold, Annie discovers what it means to follow your intuition, even if love, as well as lives, could be lost.
Harper 360
  • Here's Looking at You by Mhairi McFarlane: contemporary fiction; an ugly duckling story loosely based on Pride & Prejudice from a Scottish author.
The Qualities of Wood by Mary Vensel White: mystery/thriller; set in the American Midwest, this is novel about a murder and secrets of all kinds. From the publisher's summary:
When Betty Gardiner dies, leaving behind an unkempt country home, her grandson and his young wife take a break from city life to prepare the house for sale. Nowell Gardiner leaves first to begin work on his second mystery novel. By the time his wife Vivian joins him, a real mystery has begun: a local girl has been found dead in the woods behind the house. Even after the death is ruled an accident, Vivian can't forget the girl, can't ignore the strange behaviour of her neighbours, or her husband. As Vivian attempts to put the house in order, all around her things begin to fall apart.
Dey Street
  • Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming: autobiography; the story of his life and how his self-perception was changed when, as an adult, he discovered his father wasn't in fact his real father.
  • My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart: food and cooking; by an accidental YouTube star; food, cooking, drinking, and good advice about life.
All or Nothing by Jesse Schenker: food writing, memoir; how the author went from a down-and-out druggie to being a successful chef and owner of two New York restaurants. From the publisher's summary:
Growing up in wealthy suburban Florida, Jesse was introduced to the culinary world, and the world of hard drugs. Becoming a high school dropout addicted to heroin and crack, he was alienated from his family and wanted by the cops. By twenty-one, he had robbed, cheated, and lied to everyone in his life. . . . His eventual arrest motivated him to get clean.

Jesse learned to channel his obsessiveness and need to get ever "higher" into his career. But his growing success fueled his anxiety, leading to panic attacks and hypochondria. In this startling and down to earth memoir, Jesse lays it all on the table for the first time, reflecting on his insatiable appetite for the extreme--which has led to his biggest triumphs and failures--and shares the shocking story of his turbulent life.
Morrow Paperbacks
  • Butternut Summer by Mary McNear: contemporary woman's fiction: a mother-daughter story that takes place in a small Minnesota town filled with quirky characters; some love; good summer reading.
  • G.I. Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi: nonfiction; focuses four British women who married U.S. soldiers and moved to America to find a new life far from their families.
What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault: literary thriller, a PhD student must save her brother who she believes was falsely accused of murder. From the publisher's summary:
The Battle siblings are used to disappointment. Seven years, one marriage and divorce, three cats, and a dog later, Theresa still hasn't finished her dissertation. . . .

Jeff, her so-called genius older brother, doesn't have it together, either. Creative, and loyal, he's also aimless in work and love. But his new girlfriend, Kim, a pretty waitress in her twenties, appears smitten.

When Theresa agrees to dog-sit Kim's puggle for a weekend, she has no idea that it is the beginning of a terrifying nightmare that will shatter her quiet world. Soon, Kim's body will be found in the woods, and Jeff will become the prime suspect.

. . . Investigating the dead woman's past, Theresa uncovers a treacherous secret involving politics, murder, and scandal--and becomes entangled in a potentially dangerous romance. But the deeper she falls into this troubling case, the more it becomes clear that, in trying to save her brother's life, she may be sacrificing her own.
William Morrow
  • The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank: contemporary women's fiction; smart beach reading; three generations of women face life changes during hurricane season in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
  •  A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel: nonfiction; starting with a true-life deadly accident involving texting and driving, the author examines the effects of modern technology on our young people and their inability to focus attention on a single task
The Season of the Dragonflies by Sara Creech: contemporary fiction with a magical touch; set in Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the story involves sisters, flowers, perfume and a little practical magic. From the publisher's summary:
For generations, the Lenore women have manufactured a perfume unlike any other, and guarded the unique and mysterious ingredients. Their perfumery, hidden in the quiet rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, creates one special elixir that secretly sells for millions of dollars to the world's most powerful. . . .

Willow, the coolly elegant Lenore family matriarch, is the brains behind the company. Her gorgeous, golden-haired daughter Mya is its heart. Like her foremothers, she can "read" scents and envision their power. Willow's younger daughter, dark-haired, soulful Lucia, claims no magical touch, nor does she want any part of the family business. She left the mountains years ago to make her own way. But trouble is brewing. Willow is experiencing strange spells of forgetfulness. Mya is plotting a coup. A client is threatening blackmail. And most ominously, the unique flowers used in their perfume are dying.

Whoever can save the company will inherit it. . . .

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07 June 2014

Weekend Cooking: Corked by Kathryn Borel

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.

Confession: I picked up Kathryn Borel's Corked because I liked the tag line: "A father. A daughter. The wine trip to end all wine trips." I like wine, I like to travel, I like France, and I love my dad. What could be bad about Corked? Unfortunately, a lot.

Canadian-born journalist Kathryn Borel took a trip through the French countryside with her hotelier wine-expert father, Philippe. For twenty-something Kathryn, the trip was supposed to be a learning experience as well as a way to show her father that she had reached adulthood. For Philippe, the trip not only was a return to his native land but was also a way to share his wine knowledge with his daughter.

In reality, this memoir is not so much about wine and France but more about Kathryn's failed relationships and lingering depression over a past tragedy. Both she and her father come off as selfish and self-indulgent, and neither is particularly mature. Further, we learn very little about the vintners, vineyards, and wines, which seem almost an afterthought.

Although I was disappointed with Corked, other readers may have an easier time relating to Kathryn and Philippe's rocky relationship. And if they do, they may also find satisfaction in what was clearly meant to be a redemption scene near the end of the memoir. For me, it was a matter of too little, too late. Note that both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly were more positive about the memoir, so if you're curious, give it a try.

I'll leave you with Kathryn's big revelation about tasting wine:
Well, mostly I figured out that it's impossible to force a connection--that sometimes, if I'm not in the right mood, no matter how great the wine is, there's very little chance that it'll have any impact. (p. 258)
Published by Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780446409506
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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