31 December 2014

Wordless Wednesday 322

One of My Favorite Trees, 2014

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*** Happy New Year to Everyone. See you on Friday ***

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30 December 2014

Today's Reads & Giveaway: Saving Grace & Tempting Fate by Jane Green

Saving Grace by Jane GreenChristmas is over but it's never the wrong time to be in a gift-giving mood. Good thing, because I have a double Jane Green giveaway for one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address. To celebrate, here's a double first-paragraph teaser.

There are only so many hours Grace can stay away from home. Her husband's car is still in the driveway when she pulls in, her heart sinking at the sight. As if she should be surprised. Where did she think he'd be going at six o'clock in the evening? It was the triumph of hope over experience, she thought to herself.
Saving Grace by Jane Green (St. Martin's Press, 2014, p. 1)

Premise: Ted's a successful writer, and Grace is a cookbook editor and stellar homemaker. Everyone thinks the Chapmans have the perfect life and perfect marriage. But what the outside world doesn't see is the black place, where Ted wields his power. When the couple hire a new assistant for the difficult Ted, Grace is relieved. That is, until Beth's efficiency threatens to undermine Grace's world. From Kirkus: "a dark romance, recalling All About Eve, where intimacy masks betrayal."
Tempting Fate by Jane GreenIt's just a night out with girlfriends, Not the Academy Awards, thinks Gabby, frowning at her wardrobe as she endlessly pushes hangers back and forth, hoping something compelling, something worthy, will suddenly appear and jump out at her: the perfect shirt, the perfect dress.

It shouldn't matter, this being girls' night out, but of course it matters far more than a night out with Elliott. . . .
Tempting Fate by Jane Green (St. Martin's Press, 2014, p. 3)

Premise: Gabby and Elliot have two teenage children and a solid marriage. Gabby can't imagine caring about the attention of any other man but her husband, until the night she meets Matt. What starts as an electrifying friendship begins to morph into dangerous emotional territory. Midlife crisis competes with family commitment, forcing Gabby to make decisions and then live with the consequences. From Kirkus: "A Scarlett Letter for the 21st century."

Jane Green GiveawayThe Giveaway: Celebrate the new year with Jane Green's most recent novels. One lucky winner (with a U.S. mailing address) will get a copy of Saving Grace and Tempting Fate plus a set of wineglass charms (appropriate for Gabby's story). All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the form. I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on January 7. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer.

Thanks to St. Martins Press for this giveaway. (NOTE: the graphic says win "1 book," but the winner will actually receive two books and 8 wine charms.)

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29 December 2014

Sound Recommendations: Year-End Blitz, Part II

This is part two of a year-end Sound Recommendations blitz. Check out Friday's post for part one.

Death of an Addict by M. C. BeatonSet in the Scottish Highlands, M. C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series makes for fun, light escape reading. In Death of an Addict, the fifteenth installment, Hamish is investigating both a sea monster sighting and the alleged murder of a recovering drug addict. Worried that his beloved Highlands are becoming a staging point for a European drug cartel, Hamish goes undercover to get at the heart of the matter. Although he still has enemies in the police force in Strathbane, he accepts help from Detective Inspector Olivia Chater who is currently stationed in Glasgow. This adventure gives Hamish new experiences, including a trip to Amsterdam. Through it all, Hamish remains steadily unambitious, although he might be turning the corner in the love department. The unabridged audiobook edition I listened to (Recorded Books; 6 hr, 7 min) was read by the wonderful Davina Porter. I love her characterizations and Scottish accent. Frankly, I'd listen to almost anything she narrated. I noticed that there's another production of this book. I can't speak for that one, but I can wholeheartedly recommend Porter's version.

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. MaasHeir of Fire, by Sarah J. Maas, takes the Throne of Glass series to a new level. Although I had mixed feelings about the first book, Maas gets stronger with each installment of her fantasy series. (I'm going to assume you've read the first two books.) Celaena, still grieving over the death of her friend, has been sent across the sea to murder the king's enemies. While there, she learns some surprising things about herself, her family, and the true nature of her sovereign. Meanwhile, back at Wendlyn, Chaol and Dorian are still at odds with each other and especially with their fathers (for different reasons); each must make a tough, life-altering decision. Heir of Fire introduces new characters, puts familiar faces on new paths, and fills in some of the gaps of the deeper history of Celaena's world. Lots of action and surprises. I could barely stop listening at some points. The unabridged audiobook (Audible Studios for Bloomsbury; 20 hr, 18 min) was read by Elizabeth Evans. She does a fine job setting the pace, building the tension, and maintaining her characterizations. I hope she returns for the final three books in the series.

Florence Gordon by Brian MortonBrian Morton's Florence Gordon made many people's best-of-2014 lists. Tough-as-nails, feminist writer Florence Gordon has always lived her life on her own terms. She does not suffer fools gladly. In the summer of her seventy-fifth year, her son (now a Seattle policeman of all things), his wife (an academic psychologist), and their daughter (taking a year off college) are temporarily in New York and in Florence's life. Told from different viewpoints, the novel examines aging, independence, marriage, fame, family, and secrets. Smart, sharp, and beautifully written, this a book that you won't soon forget. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Blackstone Audio; 7 hr, 15 min) read by Dawn Harvey. As I said in my AudioFile magazine review, Harvey's performance felt intrusive, heavily signaling sarcasm and humor, for example, preventing listeners from making their own decisions. Furthermore, her characterizations and accents were inconsistent. Read this one in print; it deserves to be savored.

The Raven Boys; The Dream Thieves; Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie StiefvaterAlthough I had some issues with the plotting of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, I've always loved Maggie Stiefvater's writing, her characters, and her imagined worlds. I'm not sure why I waited so long to listen to the Raven Cycle--The Raven Boys; The Dream Thieves; and Lily Blue, Blue Lily--but I'm glad I'm caught up, even if I now have to wait for the final installment. This fantasy (paranormal) series takes place in Virginia and in modern times. Local teen Blue Sargent has grown up in a house full of women, all of whom (except her) are psychic and make their living giving readings of various sorts. The town is fairly ordinary, expect that it houses a prep school for rich boys and is located close to powerful ley lines. When Blue breaks her cardinal rule of never getting involved with a boy from Aglionby Academy, her sheltered life begins to crumble. Each character is driven by different motive: Blue is cursed to kill her true love, perhaps with kiss; Gansey is obsessed with finding the resting place of an ancient Welsh king; Adam and Ronan are struggling with individual family issues; and Noah is coming to terms with an event in his past. As all gather around Gansey to help him on his quest, they and the world will never be the same. The Raven Cycle is complex, exciting, emotional, and sometimes unpredictable--put it on your reading list. All three unabridged audiobooks (Scholastic Audio; 11 hr, 8 min [Raven], 12 hr, 45 min [Dream], 10 hr, 3 min [Lily]) were read by actor Will Patton. Patton's native South Carolina accent is a perfect complement to these books. He injects his performance with a touch of appropriate creepiness, excellent characterizations, and sensitive pacing.

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27 December 2014

Weekend Cooking: A Bowl of Olives by Sara Midda

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

A Bowl of Olives by Sara MiddaSara Midda's A Bowl of Olives is one of those books that makes me wish I were more artistic. This mix of  memoir, thoughts, journal, and sketchbook is such a sweet, pretty book that I'm sure everyone who pages through it ends up smiling.

In this small tome, Midda tackles all manor of random foodie topics, such as eating outside, olives, figs, food memories, dinner plates, and visits to the market. Each page is copiously illustrated with hand lettering, photographs, watercolors, and/or black-and-white sketches. Before you even start to read, you'll want to take some time just to look at the artwork.

But don't forget to read the text. Midda's prose is charming, whether she is reminiscing about food in Italy, describing some favorite picnics, commenting on how to set a table, or thinking about salads.

Pick up two copies of A Bowl of Olives: one for yourself and one to have on hand for a spontaneous gift.

The scans that follow give you an idea of what to expect inside A Bowl of Olives. At the left, Midda muses about finding a mug (p. 43), and at the right is a pretty page of herbs (p. 122). Click the image to see the pages full size (all copyrights remain with Midda).

Published by Workman, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780761145264
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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26 December 2014

Sound Recommendations: Year-End Blitz, Part I

This is part one of a year-end Sound Recommendations blitz. Come back Monday for part two.

The Silkworm by Robert GalbraithThe Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) is the second installment in the Cormoran Strike series. The plot is particularly fun because it involves an author, a scandalous manuscript, infidelity, murder, and revenge. The foundations of the mystery are solidly built and the clues are well placed. As with any good series, however, this one gives us more than the current crime. Cormoran and his assistant, Robin, are sympathetic characters with a complicated relationship, and we learn more about each one's personal life. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with them, both together and separately. The unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio, 17 hr, 22 min) was read by Robert Glenister, who also narrated the first book in the series. Glenister's performance is perfect for Galbraith's prose: he enhances the tension, has a good sense of pacing, creates consistent and believable characterizations, and helps listeners tell the difference between narrative prose, dialogue, and interior thoughts.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill LeporeWhen everyone was reading and talking about Jill Lepore's The Secret History of Wonder Woman, I thought I'd give it a try. Despite the title, the book is really about the early feminist movement as well as the secret life of William Moulton Marston, creator of the superhero. Based on primary sources, Lepore discusses, among other things, Marston's unconventional home life, his development of the lie detector, and his connection with Margaret Sanger and how all these experiences influenced Wonder Woman's character, deep history, and even her costume. Although I remained interested, I was not as wowed by the book as others. My bad reaction is almost entirely the result of the audiobook production (Random House Audio; 9 hr, 5 min). The unabridged edition is read by author Jill Lepore, who is way too dramatic, with almost comical characterizations (no pun intended). Unfortunately, she pretty much ruined her own book. If you have any interest in the women's rights movement or in comics, add this to your reading list--just be sure to pick up the print or eBook version.

City of Dark Magic by Magnus FlyteWhen I first started this blog, I often wrote about books I DNF'd (did not finish). Now I rarely do. But I picked up City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte based on some positive reviews from trusted bloggers when the book first came out (in 2012) and because it was an Indie Next pick. I bought the paperback but never got to it. Last month, I decided to try the audiobook. I'm so so sorry I wasted an Audible credit on this. The story had all the right elements for me: a bit of mystery, music, time travel, and a little paranormal. Maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance, but I felt it was a little too . . . I don't know . . . commercial(?) for me. I like escape reading as much as the next person, but this book never drew me in. The audiobook (Penguin Audio; 13 hr, 33 min) was read by Natalie Gold. Although Gold's accents could have been more believable, her narration (the parts I heard) was at least adequate. Either I wasn't in the mood or this book wasn't for me.

On Immunity by Eula BissOne of my top nonfiction reads this year was Eula Biss's On Immunity, a collection of interlinked essays on inoculation. Based on thorough research and personal experience, Biss presents many perspectives on vaccination and protecting our children and society from disease. She examines the veracity of popular opinion, the individual's responsibility to society, medical evidence, research results, and historical facts. I liked the mix of sources, which included not only the expected medical journals but also parents, social commentators (Rachel Carson, Susan Sontag), and her father (a practicing physician). This is an extremely accessible and easy-to-read account of a controversial subject. The audiobook (HighBridge; 6 hr, 23 min), was read by Tamara Marston, who found that magical place where listeners forget that the narrator is not the author. She managed to maintain the personal, conversational tone of the book without detracting from the scholarship. For my full audiobook review, see AudioFile magazine.

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24 December 2014

Wordless Wednesday 321

Dreaming of a White Christmas (taken 2013)

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** Happy Holidays to All: I'll be back on Friday **

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23 December 2014

Today's Read: The Finisher by David Baldacci

The Finisher by David BaldacciWhat if you saw something in the middle of the night that made you question everything you thought was true about your world? Vega Jane has led a conventional life in the village of Wormwood, but when she witnesses a friend do the seemingly impossible, she begins to suspect that her community is being held together by a pack of lies.

I was dozing when I heard the scream. It pierced my head like a morta round, doing terribly befuddling things to my mind, as loud and terrifying as though it were all happening right there and then.

After the sound came the vision: the blue, the color blue. It was in a mist like a cloud on the ground. It enveloped my mind, pushing out all other thoughts, all memories. When it finally disappeared, my befuddlement cleared as well. Yet I always believed there was something of great importance that had simply not come back to me.
The Finisher by David Baldacci (Scholastic Press, 2014, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: village of Wormwood; an isolated community
  • Circumstances: When Vega Jane starts questioning the rules and traditions of her village, she discovers surprising things about herself, her family, and her community leaders. Just how far will she go to find truth and freedom?
  • Characters: Vega Jane, a fourteen-year-old living on her own; John, Vega's younger brother; Daniel Delphia, Vega's friend; Vega's co-workers; community leaders; neighbors
  • Genre: fantasy; young adult with adult appeal
  • Themes: family, finding truth, freedom, power, independence, good vs. evil
  • General thoughts: I was hooked on this fantasy almost from the first page. Vega's world was familiar enough that I could easily relate (she worried about her little brother, tried to be a good friend, cared for her sick parents) but different enough that I was transported to a new realm. The magical elements drove the plot rather than being the point of the story. The characters were complex and well developed, and it wasn't always easy to tell friend from foe. There was good action, an intriguing mystery, and a satisfying end (although there will be more books in this series).
  • Note on the title: Vega works in a factory that makes various items (useful and ornamental). She applies the decorative finishes to these objects and is highly skilled at her job.
  • Recommendations: You'll like The Finisher if you like fantasy, strong female leads, good action, deep history, and secrets to puzzle out. There is a dystopian feel to Vega's world, which makes us want to learn more about Wormwood's past.
  • Miscellaneous: Although Baldacci is known for his adult spy thrillers, The Finisher is not his first book for younger readers. It is, however, his first fantasy, and he promises several more titles in the series. I had the opportunity to interview David Baldacci (click on the link), and he noted that this book took years to write and research.

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22 December 2014

Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club Picks for December

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

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

On the surface, the book picks this month seem like they couldn't be more different, but in fact they share similar themes. For example, the protagonist of each book loves to draw and must face a life-changing event.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey BrownJeffrey Brown's Star Wars: Jedi Academy is a black-and-white graphic novel that tells the story of a cartoon-writing, middle-school boy named Roan who wants nothing more than to follow his father and older brother by being accepted into the Pilot Academy and learning to fly space ships. When he is denied admission to the school and is accepted instead into the Jedi Academy, Roan isn't at all happy.

By the end of the school year, however, things start to turn around. Roan makes friends, figures out how to tap into the Force, and even meets a cute girl. To his surprise, he's not sure he wants to leave the Jedi Academy, even for summer vacation.

Brown mixes classic graphic novel panels with scrapbook pages, letters, journal entries, and report cards, making Jedi Academy a lot of fun to read. At the end of the book, he includes some tips for creating your own journal--no artistic talent required.

Book clubs will likely want to talk about finding one's own path in life, discovering new talents and interests, and making new friends. If your young readers are familiar with the Star Wars story, then they'll be laughing about Roan's descriptions of Yoda, Wookiees, and his teachers at the academy. The discussion topics on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site include questions about family and journaling. The suggested recipe is for edible light sabers and is so easy to do that book club members could make their own.

Dash by Kirby LarsonDash, by Kirby Larson, about a girl and her dog, is loosely based on a true story. In the weeks after Pearl Harbor, eleven-year-old Mitsi Kashino's sheltered, happy life is turned upside down. Despite begin a second-generation Japanese-American, Mitsi is suddenly the target of taunting and shunning from the very people she has known all her life. Even her best friends no longer talk to her.

It seems that the only friend she has left is her beloved dog, Dash. But when her family is ordered to relocate to an incarceration camp, Mitsi must leave Dash behind with a friendly neighbor. Broken-hearted at losing her pet and disturbed by the changes she notices in her family, Mitsi starts to turn inward. Only the hope of being reunited with her dog seems to keep her going. After meeting another girl whose circumstances are even worse than her own, Mitsi eventually uses her drawing skills to reach out to help others and thereby find her own inner strength.

Book clubs will find quite a lot to talk about after reading this beautifully written, emotional story. Some young readers may be curious about the real-life Mitsi, and all will sympathize with how it feels to lose a pet. Other discussions will touch on prejudices and what it means to be an American as well as on family and friendship. Don't forget to download the reading guide on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site. The suggested cookie recipe uses panko, a Japanese-style breadcrumb; I bet Mitsi wishes she could get some home-baked goodies at the camp commissary. 

Star Wars: Jedi Academy: Scholastic, 2013; ISBN-13: 9780545505178
Dash: Scholoastic Press, 2014; ISBN-13: 9780545416351
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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20 December 2014

Weekend Cooking: Books on my Kitchen Table

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.

As each year ends, I always pretend to get more organized (see post from 2010). This week, I was going through the books on my eReader and tablet and realized that I have quite a collection of books I want to write about for Weekend Cooking posts. Some I've already read, some I haven't even looked at, and some I'm in  the middle of reading. In any case I'm still interested in these books, and over the course of the coming year, I hope to share my thoughts on many of them.

Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, The Tucci Table, The Auntie Em's CookbookLet's Get Cooking

I love Ina Garten and her Barefoot Contessa Foolproof is sure to be a hit with me. I can't wait to get cooking from this 2012 book. (Clarkson Potter, 9780307464873) I often have mixed feelings about celebrity cookbooks, but Stanley Tucci seems to be genuinely knowledgeable about food and wine. I'll let you know how The Tucci Table holds up. (Gallery Books, 9781476738567) The Auntie Em's Cookbook by Theresa Wahl caught my eye because of the subtitle: "A Musician's Guide to Breakfast & Brunch & Dessert." Los Angeles tastes and punk rock culture meet in the kitchen--might be fun. (Prospect Park Books 9781938849268)

Curious History of Food and Drink, Bitter, Culinary Imagination, TastyHistory, Science, and Culture, Oh My!

In A Curious History of Food and Drink, Ian Crofton searches historical diaries, cookbooks, and other documents on a hunt for the origin of foods both common (noodles) and unusual (bird tongues). (Quercus, 9781623658250) I love lemons, hoppy beer, and coffee, so Jennifer Mclagan's Bitter promises to be a book made for me. Part science, part cookbook. (Ten Speed Press, 9781607745167) I'm almost done with the wonderful The Culinary Imagination by the well-respected critic Sandra M. Gilbert. From literature to politics, this collection explores our never-ending fascination with food and food writing. (Norton, 9780393067651) Tasty, by Pulitzer Prize-winning John McQuaid, comes out next month. It's a fascinating look at the sense of taste, including why some people hate what others crave. (Scribner, 9781451685008)

Jam Today Too, The Chain, Breakfast in Burgundy, Eat More BetterCulinary Musings

In Jam Today Too, Tod Davies looks at the ways food enhances our friendships and gets us through life's joys and trials. I learned about this book from one of your Weekend Cooking posts. (Exterminating Angel Press, 9781935259251) Ted Genoways tackles our food supply as it travels from farm to processor to table. After reading The Chain, you might be adding a few more vegetarian meals to your weekly plan. (Harper, 9780062288752) Breakfast in Burgundy, by Raymond Blake, is a charming tale of travel, culture clash, and--of course--food. I love the subtitle: "A Hungry Irishman in the Belly of France." (Skyhorse, 9781629144740) Dan Pashman wants us to savor our food and get every bit of deliciousness we can out of every bite. Eat More Better might make you start playing with your food--in a good way. (Simon & Schuster, 9781451689730)

Tequila Mockingbird, Of All the Gin Joints, The Brewer's TaleJust One More for the Road

Tim Federle's Tequila Mockingbird is another Weekend Cooking find for me. I love the idea of a special drink to go with a favorite novel, especially when they're given such fun names: Bridget Jones's Daquiri and Gin Eyre, for example. (Running Press, 9780762448654). I first heard of Of All the Gin Joints when I was at BEA last spring. Mark Bailey gives us the inside scoop on the drinking habits of literary giants and Hollywood's stars. Cocktail recipes are included. (Algonquin, 9781565125933). After seeing the Discovery Channel's fun documentary on beer and history, I couldn't resist William Bostwick's The Brewer's Tale, which covers 5,000 years of foamy stories. This well-researched book has it all, from the very first fermented grains to the modern craft beer movement. (Norton, 9780393239140)

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19 December 2014

Book to Movie: Giveaway & Twitter Chat with James Dashner

Maze Runner Twitter ChatIf you follow me on Twitter, then you know I love to watch movies and talk about them with my online friends. Once in a while, it morphs into a real event--and tonight is one of those times.

Tonight at 8pm Eastern Time,  get ready to join a Twitter viewing party of The Maze Runner with the author of the book, James Dashner. Once the movie starts, we will all have the chance to ask author @JamesDashner questions about the book to movie process, our favorite moments, and behind-the-scenes action.

To participate, log into Twitter or your favorite Twitter chat program and search for and use the hashtag #MazeRunnerFriday. Be sure to follow @JamesDashner, @FoxHomeEnt, and @MazeRunnerMovie so you don't miss any of the questions, answers, and reactions to The Maze Runner movie.

I'm already thinking about the questions I want to ask and can't wait to join in the fun.

The Giveaway: If don't yet have a copy of The Maze Runner, don't fret. I'm happy to be able to offer one of my readers a copy of the two-disk Blu-ray/DVD plus a copy of the book, so you can make your own book to movie comparison. Just in case you don't know the premise, here's the studio's summary:
In this heart-pounding survival thriller based on the best-selling novel, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien of MTV's "Teen Wolf" ) wakes up trapped in a massive, ever-changing maze with a group of boys who have no memory of the outside world. Facing dangerous obstacles at every turn—especially the deadly Grievers that roam the concrete corridors at night—Thomas and the others must race to piece together clues in order to discover their true purpose . . . . and find a way out before it’s too late!
The Maze Runner movieBesides, O'Brien, the film stars Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones), Will Poulter (We're the Millers), and Kaya Scodelario (Skins). It was directed by Wes Ball. The disk comes with a ton of great extras, such as a twenty-four page prequel comic book, deleted scenes, a documentary on the making of The Maze Runner, and a visual effects reel.

All you have to do to be enter to win a copy of the book and movie is to have a U.S. mailing address and fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on December 26. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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18 December 2014

Book to Movie: Double Christmas Giveway

Angels Sing (movie)Almost everyone has a favorite holiday movie, and many families (including mine) make a point of setting aside a few nights for family viewing time. One of the newest entries in the Christmas movie catalog is Angels Sing, which is based on a short holiday novel by Turk Pipkin.

Pipkin--author, actor, screenwriter, and stand-up comic--wrote a touching story about families, fathers and sons, and the Christmas spirit. The movie, based on the book, is now out on BluRay/DVD. Here's the studio's summary:

Harry Connick Jr. stars as Michael Walker, who, as a child, wished every day was Christmas. That is, until a tragic accident crushed his holiday spirit. Thirty years later, Michael still can't muster any joy for Christmas, despite encouragement from his playful wife (Connie Britton) and well-intentioned parents (Kris Kristofferson and Fionnula Flanagan). But when his young son (Chandler Canterbury) faces a tragedy, Michael needs to make amends with his past. A mysterious man named Nick (Willie Nelson) gives Michael a gift that instills in him the courage to find the Christmas joy that he lost.
With a such a star-studded (musician-studded) cast, Angel Sings holds a lot of promise. Among the cast is Lyle Lovett and author Turk Pipkin as well as a number of other familiar faces. The movie is appropriate for the whole family, so make some popcorn and hot chocolate and get ready for a sweet Christmas story.

For more about the movie, including photos, social media links, and the film's contributions to charity, visit the Angels Sing website.

The Giveaway

Thanks to Think Jam and Lionsgate plus Cowgirl Up Entertainment, I'm pleased to offer one of my readers (with a U.S. mailing address) a great Christmas-season prize pack of both the movie Angels Sing and the book by Turk Pipkin. Because the holiday is almost here, I'm going to make this a quick giveaway. I'll pick a winner on Tuesday, December 23 via random number generator, and the movie and book will be sent to you as soon as possible.

All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the form. Once the winner is confirmed, I'll send his or her address to the publicist (who will ship out the prize pack), and I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck, fun viewing, and happy holidays!

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16 December 2014

Wordless Wednesday 320

Fence Line, 2014

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Best in Nonfiction: 2014

best in nonfiction 2014 from Beth Fish ReadsI know there are still two weeks left in December and I'm not done reading for the year, but I want to get my best-of lists up before everyone scatters for the holidays.

This year I have only two lists: fiction and nonfiction. I'm not making a separate audiobook list or food writing list.

Here are my top five in nonfiction, in alphabetical order. Links lead to my reviews or features. If there isn't a link, I haven't yet reviewed the book. (Note: books read in 2014, not necessarily published in 2014.)

1. Dane Huckelbridge, Bourbon (William Morrow, 2014): "the history of America as seen through the rise and fall and rise again of an all-American drink."
2. Ben Bradlee Jr., The Kid (Little Brown, 2013): "Bradlee . . . found that magic place where scholarship meets personal passion."
3. Hampton Sides, In the Kingdom of Ice (Doubleday, 2014): "Sides carefully sets the stage and builds the tension, creating an adventure story as exciting and emotional as any novel."

4. Eula Biss, On Immunity (Graywolf Press, 2014): An engaging mix of personal stories and careful research covering a broad range of perspectives on the effects of inoculation
5. Judy Melinek and T. J. Mitchess, Working Stiff (Scribner, 2014): The sometimes horrifying, always fascinating real-life business of being a New York City medical examiner

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15 December 2014

Best in Fiction: 2014

best fiction 2014 from Beth Fish ReadsI know there are still two weeks left in December and I'm not done reading for the year, but I want to get my best-of lists up before everyone scatters for the holidays.

This year I have only two lists: fiction and nonfiction. I'm not making a separate audiobook list or food writing list.

Here are my top ten in fiction, in alphabetical order. Links lead to my reviews or blurbs. If there isn't a link, it's because I haven't yet reviewed the book. (Note: books read in 2014, not necessarily published in 2014.)

Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon, Descent by Tim Johnston, The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

1. Nell Leyshon, The Colour of Milk (Ecco paperback, 2014): "beautifully written, almost lyrical in its pacing."
2. Tim Johnston, Descent (Algonquin, 2015): The tension is so exquisite it's almost unbearable.
3. Rene Denfeld, The Enchanted (HarperTorch, 2014): "A haunting novel that makes you think about what happens to children who have no protectors."

High Divide by Lin Enger, Home Place by Carrie La Seur, Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

4. Lin Enger, The High Divide (Algonquin, 2014): "balances the wonder and dangers of the wilderness with a deeply emotional and complex psychological landscape."
5. Carrie La Seur, The Home Place (William Morrow, 2014): "about the complex ways home and place intertwine to make us who we truly are."
6. Colm Toibin, Nora Webster (Scribner, 2014): "[This] beautifully crafted novel is a testament to the importance of being true to oneself, even (or especially) during times of great change."

The Painter, Poisoned Apples, Remedy for Love, Thunderstruck

7. Peter Heller, The Painter (Knopf, 2014): "The stark prose and sharp descriptions [balance] us on the knife edge between beautiful and ugly, good and evil."
8. Christine Heppermann, Poisoned Apples (Greenwillow, 2014): "stark, beautiful, haunting, disturbing, and oh so very honest."
9. Bill Roorbach, The Remedy for Love (Algonquin 2014): "about what happens when two people who would have never normally met are thrown together under dire circumstances."
10. Elizabeth McCracken, Thunderstruck (The Dial Press, 2014): "a powerful, emotional collection that should be read slowly and savored."

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13 December 2014

Weekend Cooking: Weeknight Wonders by Ellie Krieger

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.

Weeknight Wonders by Ellie KriegerWhen I'm looking for nutritious, fresh, and easy dinners, one of my go-to authors is Ellie Krieger. I've reviewed her Foods You Crave and So Easy, so I was surprise to see that I've not written about Weeknight Wonders.

The premise of Weeknight Wonders is prefectly summed up by its subtitle: "Delicious Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less." Who doesn't want that? From salads to desserts and grilled meats to hearty vegetarian, Krieger offers a bounty of delicious choices.

I really like the soothing pastel colors, easy-to-read fonts, and artful photographs, which make this a book a pleasure to look through. (Not every recipe has a photo.) But Weeknight Wonders is more than a pretty face: Krieger offers good advice for how to shave minutes off your dinner prep without sacrificing good nutrition. For example, some recipes call for canned beans or frozen veggies, but highly processed, chemical-laden ingredients are not welcome. Read the introduction for time-saving tips, pantry stocking, cooking techniques, and more.

The recipes themselves rely on common ingredients flavored by spices, sauces, and herbs. Most of the flavorings are products you probably already own, and in fact, the most "exotic" are things like Sriracha, tahini, and Old Bay seasoning.

Some of the dishes I've enjoyed are a falafel-inspired salad, Parmesan-crusted chicken, and grilled Napa cabbage. The Guinness and beef skillet is calling to me as is an orzo and shrimp dish.

Each recipe is accompanied by nutritional information, and Krieger often suggests go-with dishes to help round out your menu. The directions are carefully written to help you make the best use of your time, so you truly can get close to her target of 30 minutes from start to finish.

The only recipe I remembered to take photographs of is the Pizza "Strudel." You can find the recipe and a video of Krieger demonstrating how to make this dish over on the Today Show website. Krieger uses store-bought whole-grain pizza dough, but I've used homemade dough with good results. The original uses spinach, but I've substituted kale and other cooking greens with no problem. The strudel is good hot and cold and sure looks pretty on the cutting board.

If you need fresh ideas for dinners that are quick, nutritious, delicious, and stress-free, look no further than Weeknight Wonders by Ellie Krieger. I trust her recipes completely and love that they're easy to put together and pack a good flavor punch. I bet you'll find some new family favorites within its pages.

Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781118409497
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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11 December 2014

Interview: David Baldacci on Pushing Boundaries and Supporting Literacy

The Escape by David BaldacciLast week I had the great good fortune to be invited to participate in a group interview of best-selling author David Baldacci.

Baldacci is known throughout the world for his thriller novels, of which he's written several series starring well-loved protagonists. His latest, The Escape, is a John Puller book and was just recently released.

What you might not know is that Baldacci has written several books for young readers, including an entry in the popular 39 Clues series. This year he branched out to reach the young adult audience with the first in a new fantasy series, The Finisher.

As you can imagine, everyone participating in the telephone interview with Baldacci was interested in how he came to write The Finisher, which is so different from his other books. Baldacci noted that he has always loved fantasy. Besides, he believes that as

a writer, if you don't stretch, you sort of wither on the vine. So, for me, it was a challenge to get out of my comfort zone and write in a genre and in a way that I'd never written about before.
The novel took years to write from its initial conception to completion. Here's how he started:
I wrote the name down, Vega Jane, and I knew she was going to be the lead character, but I didn't know what she was going to be doing. And it took me over four years to finally figure out the world that I wanted to place her in, what her role would be in that, and what the total story, plot, and narrative would be and what the other characters around her would be like.
Baldacci noted that part of inventing a whole new world is imaging the history, and to do that, he had to conduct quite a bit of research into "mythology, classical works of fantasy, and religion."

Good news for you fantasy fans: There will likely be at least four books in the Vegas Jane series. If you haven't read this one yet, I encourage you to wait no longer. I read it one afternoon because I just couldn't put it down.

The Finisher by David BaldacciMoving beyond asking Baldacci about his work as a writer, I was interested in his role as an advocate for literacy. I asked about the foundation Baldacci and his wife started, called Wish You Well. Baldacci explained that
the foundation's been in existence for about 15 years. My wife and I founded it, and it's really based on our immersion in the issues of illiteracy in the United States. We have a huge illiteracy problem here. . . .

So, what [the foundation does] is fund literacy organization programs across the United States. We have funded programs in virtually all 50 states and counting, and will continue to do so. We have a board of directors. We meet six times a year. We receive about 5,000 applications for funding from across the country, which is quite a few applications to go through, but we look through every single one of them.
Isn't that fantastic? If you click the link above, you can learn how you can help. One easy way is to donate books, and everyone knows that we book bloggers usually have a book or two to spare for a good cause. Here's what Baldacci told us about Feeding Body & Mind, which deals with the book collection effort:
We are partnered with Feeding America, which runs all the nation's food banks. And we collect books during my tours, and then we ship them to food banks across the country. People going in to seek food assistance tend to have low literacy skills. And sending them home with books is always a good thing. . . . We've shipped out over a million books in the last four years.
Please keep this in mind when you go out to see Baldacci on tour. You know you have books you can donate.

David BaldacciBaldacci went on to talk about libraries and the huge role they played in his development as a person and a reader:
I take support of libraries very seriously. You know, I tell people to support them, cherish them, fund them because, once you don't, they could very well one day go away. And they're too important to what we are as a country and who we are as a people. . . .

My wife and I got behind a movement and helped build a public library here in our own community. Filling a place with books and walking in and seeing these ideas on a shelf is just the coolest thing in the world. We're a nation that's built on that type of concept, and we're a nation of libraries. And that's something we have to keep and hold dear.
Baldacci not only has helped build libraries but he has gotten personally involved by serving on library boards for the state of Virginia and for the Library of Congress.

I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to get a chance to talk with David Baldacci. I admire his talent and ability to tell an action-packed story to readers of all ages, and I'm very impressed with his advocacy work with literary programs and libraries.

For more on David Balacci, visit his website and Facebook page and follow him on Twitter. Don't forget to click through to the Wish You Well foundation and the Feeding Body & Mind website and see how you can help promote a country of readers.

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09 December 2014

Wordless Wednesday 319

Historic Granary, 2014

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

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Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelAre you thinking you don't need to read another dystopian novel? Are you wondering if there is anything new in the genre? If so, my answers are Yes you really do need to read Station Eleven and Yes Emily St. John Mandel really does do something different.

The basic premise of Station Eleven is simple: A flu strain, originating in the Georgia Republic and killing within hours after infection, spreads throughout the globe, leaving only a handful of survivors. What happens to the 1 percent who are left in a world without an infrastucture?

Here are my thoughts in a Bullet Review.

  • Setting and timeline: The novel is told in a nonlinear fashion, allowing us to learn about the main characters in the before and after. We see the immediate affects of the flu outbreak through the eyes of only a few individuals.
  • Main characters: Arthur, an actor; Miranda, a graphic artist; Jeevan a paparazzo-turned-paramedic; Kirsten, a child actor; the Prophet; the members of a traveling entertainment troupe; Clark, a friend of Arthur's; a group of people living in the airport in which they were initially stranded.
  • Why this book is different: First and foremost, Mandel has created a scarily real situation. In this dystopian world, we haven't had nuclear war, mega climate change, or economic collapse; instead we have the very possible situation of a deadly virus capable of wiping out the human race. If you recall, the flu pandemic of 1918 caused more deaths than did World War I. So, yeah, flu can be nasty. Second, Mandel set the current action of the book long after the flu, so we see both survivors and young people who were born after the end of gasoline-powered engines, the Internet, and the electrical grid. The world is very much the same as it is today, but also very much changed.
  • What I loved: The way people and events that were introduced separately come together and then drift apart and then come together again, like leaves floating on the surface of a pond.
  • Fun extra: Most of the novel is set in western and northern Michigan, an area of the United States I'm very familiar with, which helped me easily imagine the setting.
  • Recommendations: Even if you don't normally read dystopian fiction, you might like this book because it is not fantasy or science fiction. Also, this is an adult novel without teen-romance angst, which is refreshing. For you dystopian fans: What are you waiting for? Get reading. If you need more convincing, note that Station Eleven was a National Book Award finalist. Oh, and if you liked The Dog Stars, you're bound to like this.
  • Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Random House Audio; 10 h, 41 min), read by Kirsten Potter, whose tone seemed to enhance the otherworldly feel of the novel. Her performance was appropriately emotional, with excellent pacing. I noticed a couple of mispronunciations of Michigan locations, but overall I can recommend the audiobook.
For an audiobook sample, click the play button on the widget:

Published by Penguin Random House / Knopf, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781401228804
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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08 December 2014

Interview with Filmmaker Nancy Kates (Regarding Susan Sontag)

Last week I reviewed the beautiful and informative documentary Regarding Susan Sontag, which makes its HBO premiere tonight (check your local listings for air times). Thanks to HBO, I was able to talk with filmmaker Nancy Kates and ask her some questions about the documentary and about Susan Sontag.

Although I asked Nancy (NK) three specific questions, our conversation wandered in a natural manner, rather than taking on a straight interview format. We covered a lot of territory, and instead of providing you with a transcript of that conversation, I'm sharing the highlights. (Photo credits are at the end).)

One thing that I and almost every other interviewer commented on was the number of people in Sontag's life who were willing talk about her on film. In Regarding Susan Sontag, you'll meet Sontag's sister, son, and various friends and lovers. I asked Nancy if there were people who were not willing to be filmed. She told me that many people declined to be part of the film, but most didn't say why.

One person who turned them down was Salman Rushdie, whom Sontag bravely supported during the fatwā in 1989 over his book The Satanic Verses. This episode in Sontag's life was ultimately left out of the film, not because of Rushdie's nonparticipation but because there simply wasn't enough run time to explain the book and the context of the entire incident:

NK: Susan Sontag was president of PEN at the time that Rushdie was threatened with the fatwā . . . the beginning of it. She was very heroic in saying we need to support him, we need to support free speech, we need to stand up to what at that time she called international terrorism. And this was at a time before 9/11. Americans were not thinking about fundamentalist Islam or threats to the West based on extremism.

We ended up not using this segment. Not because Rushdie didn't want to participate but because it was too hard to explain what had happened [including riots and deaths in Pakistan and England] over this book. There was even a bookstore in Berkeley that was bombed over The Satanic Verses. . . .

[Sontag] was very heroic and courageous, but [in the film] we just see her introducing herself at a press conference as the president of PEN, but we don't know it's about The Satanic Verses.
Although I remember the fatwā, I either didn't know or had forgotten that Sontag took a public stance in support of Rusdie. I'm not sure I would have been so brave, but Sontag was known for her outspokenness and unrelenting desire to expose reality.

Our conversation then turned inevitably to Sontag's personal life, in particular her sexuality. I wondered if younger viewers would understand Sontag's reluctance to come out of the closet, given the more tolerant atmosphere in the twenty-first century than in the postwar years and even through the 1990s. Nancy reminded me that even today
NK: people are still being bullied in high school and junior high school for gender variance. . . . Things are a lot better than when I was in high school and you were in high school but I don't think . . . we live in a perfect society. Gay marriage is not universally recognized; there are a lot of homophobes despite public discourse.

I hope young people who see the film will understand that things were different in 1964 or 1974 or 1984 . . . that they will understand why [being publicly gay] was so radical in 1964.
I totally agreed with Nancy but wondered if Sontag would have had to worry about public persecution over her sexuality. Nancy pointed out other reasons for Sontag's desire to stay in closet:
NK: There is a difference between being persecuted and not being respected fully. [Sontag] was worried that she would not be taken seriously if she came out about her sexuality. She was worried she wouldn't be taken seriously as woman because most women had not been at that time. The thing that has been revealing to me in showing the film is that it occurred to me since April [the Tribeca premiere] that lesbian intellectuals are not taken seriously even now.
Nancy went on to say that in the last decades of Sontag's life
NK: people were clamoring for her to come out because they wanted her to be their icon and hero. But she refused. . . . She did not want to be put in a box about her sexuality or about anything else.
Finally, Nancy Kates and I talked about what Sontag would have thought about today's social media. I want to make it very clear here that Nancy was simply sharing her own ideas. She in no way whatsoever was presuming to speak for Susan Sontag.

So what would have Sontag thought about Instagram and Twitter, given her concerns expressed in On Photography and elsewhere that people tend to remember the image more than they remember the event or the words or the facts? Nancy noted that Sontag couldn't have imagined our current technology in the 1970s,
NK: when some of the essays in On Photography were originally written. So that was forty years ago that those essays were written. Sontag couldn't possibly have imagined Instagram and Tumblr and Twitter at that time. . . .

But her pointing out that we don't remember the thing, we remember the photograph [is both true] and terrible.

I just wish she were still with us so she could talk about things like the Eric Garner protests during which almost every single person who was out there was shooting videos or stills. We live in a Sontagian world, a world that she described in great detail in On Photography, but then more so. . . .

And we're having a lot of problems with emotional overload--what do we do with all these images? There are too many of them, and they are more powerful than words.

I hope that some of Sontag's ideas will resonate long after death because the world has only become more so the way she described it in On Photography
From there we talked about blogs, YouTube, and Twitter.
NK: Twitter, on the other hand, Sontag would probably find particularly abhorrent. She would likely have found it to be a lot of noise. This was a person who didn't own a television because it was too much noise. So I can imagine that she wouldn't think Twitter was a good idea.
Nancy concluded by noting that Susan Sontag was "a thinker and rethinker, writer and rewriter." Today it's all about the instant, and that's the part that would likely bother her. Ultimately, Sontag would have probably asked,
NK: Where is the time for reflection?
Again, I want to thank Nancy Kates for taking the time to talk with me about Susan Sontag and about her important documentary Regarding Susan Sontag, which airs tonight on HBO. I encourage all of you to see the film. Sontag was one of the most important thinkers and social critics of late twentieth century and her thoughts still resonate today.

Photo credits (in order): Susan Sontag, credit: Andy Ross/courtesy of HBO; Susan Sontag, credit: AP Photo/Wyatt Counts/courtesy of HBO; Susan Sontag, credit: New York Tiems Co./Archive Photos/Getty/courtesy of HBO; Nancy Kates, credit: Anna Kuperberg/courtesy of HBO.

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



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