30 September 2015

Wordless Wednesday 361

Apples, 2015

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29 September 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: Home Fires by Julie Summers

Home Fires by Julie SummersIf you aren't from the UK, have you ever wondered about the WI? The Women's Institute features prominently in many British books and movies (remember Calendar Girls?), but most Americans don't really understand the significance of the institute for women in the early twentieth century and for the whole country during World War II:

Not every woman in the countryside joined her WI, but for those who did it probably presented the only opportunity for them to socialise outside the home and to learn about life beyond their immediate environs. (p. 1)
Jam. If you ask someone what they think the WI did in wartime they will probably answer 'They made jam'. It is true. They did and they made a lot of it. As we have seen, it is by no means the only contribution members made to the war effort but it is one of the two images that the general public has of the WI. The other being singing 'Jerusalem'. They have had to live with that cosy couplet 'Jam and Jerusalem' for over half a century and it risks ridiculing the enormous amount of valuable work done by the women of rural Britain. (p. 163)
Home Fires by Julie Summers (Penguin Group USA / Penguin Books, 2015)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: England, World War II
  • Circumstances: This is a look at the famous Women's Institute of England and Wales and its multifaceted role in keeping their country cobbled together during some of its darkest days. Based on interviews, archives, and historical documents, this book gives us an intimate view of the WI and of some of the amazing women who worked tirelessly and often thanklessly for their fellow citizens.
  • Genre: nonfiction, women's history, social commentary, culture, WWII.
  • Themes: Sacrifice, camaraderie, small towns, women's issues, life during wartime 
  • Nature of the book: Each chapter covers a different role the WI played during the six years of the war, such as helping evacuees, growing food, supporting the troops, dealing with rations, and bolstering each other. The text is easy to read and is peppered with fascinating (some funny, some sad, many just matter of fact) personal stories and anecdotes. The book also includes some period photographs.
  • Some of the WI's activities: The WI did way more than make jam and knit for the troops, but knit and can they did on a mind-boggling scale. The institute also acted as an arm of the government, organizing collections, placing evacuees, and teaching women how to grow food and butcher small animals. But more than just volunteer for the war effort, the women also organized educational programs to better themselves and social activities to promote friendship and offer emotional support. 
  • Nature of the organization: There are no religious, class, or political restrictions to joining the WI. Thus, and especially during wartime, the WI acted as a leveler, allowing women of all kinds to interact and work together and develop the deepest of friendships. The women were hardworking and self-sacrificing. They also looked to the future by helping their communities modernize and prepare for the postwar years.
  • My thoughts: I haven't finished reading Home Fires, but I'm finding it hard to put down. I'm completely emotionally entangled in the stories of these women who gave so much to others. Many of them were ordinary women just trying to cope as best they could; others became activists for their communities and their countries. Every one of them is a hero.
  • Extra, extra! The book has now been made into a six-part series, airing on PBS Masterpiece, starting Sunday October 4. See the very short ad from PBS for a taste.

The Giveaway

Thanks to Penguin Books, I'm able to offer one of my readers with a USA mailing address a copy of Home Fires by Julie Summers. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner on October 9, using a random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed and I've passed the mailing information on to the publicist, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good Luck!

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28 September 2015

Bullet Review: The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-Gee

The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-GeeDecades before Guernsey became a household name, thanks to the best-selling Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, I lived on the island while I was conducting my doctoral research. Since then, I've had a soft spot for all things British Channel Islands, so when The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-Gee came to my attention, it was a given that I was going to read it.

Quick look: The summer that Jude, just out of college, is hired to tutor a lonely boy on a lonelier island, she is unaware of how her life will be shaped by those few indelible weeks and the two people who will haunt her forever.

About the book: The Last Kings of Sark is kind of a triple character study, mostly told through Jude's eyes. It's about her arrival on the island; her impressions of the family; and her relationship with her teenage pupil, Pip, and the summer cook, Sofi. All starts out as expected, if a little uncomfortable, until Pip's father leaves for an extended business trip. The three young people then feel their freedom and spend the summer riding bikes, walking the beach, drinking wine, and forming a bond that none of them can explain. The final third of the book revisits Jude, Pip, and Sofi over the next decade or so, giving us a snapshot of where their lives have gone.

My expectations: I read this book with no notion of the plot. I was looking forward to learning about life in the Channel Islands in the twenty-first century. Instead my view of Sark was as narrow as Jude's: revolving completely around Sofi and Pip. I know this colored my ultimate reaction to the novel.

The good: Rankin-Gee excels at painting a mood, at developing an atmosphere. The novel is pregnant with expectation, and it's easy to fall into Jude, Pip, and Sofi's circle. The pace of their friendship as well as their mistakes and falters feel authentic for that magical summer. It was also interesting to see how the events of those weeks affected the three of them as they became true adults.

The less good: On the other hand, my expectations and the actual plot of The Last Kings of Sark were at odds, and I was disappointed not to have a broader view of the islanders and island life. This is purely a personal thing and totally on me. In addition, I don't think novels have to end with every little thing tied up in a bow, but the vagueness of the last third of the book, especially the sections about Jude's life, left me wanting.

Recommendation: If you go into The Last Kings of Sark expecting a character-driven, character-focused novel, you'll find a lot to think about. Rosa Rankin-Gee well captures that moment when you're no longer a child but not yet an adult, when you can still thrill at firsts, and when you are particularly impressionable. Despite the novel's early strengths, however, I was left feeling flat, wishing for something more or something different.

Published by St. Martin's Press/ St. Martin's Griffin, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781250068040
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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26 September 2015

Weekend Cooking: The Chef's Table

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. 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.

Chef's TableOh Chef's Table how could have I missed you? With all the turmoil I went through last spring, I totally forgot about this Netflix original documentary series, perfect for foodies, travelers, and anyone who wants to get to know interesting people from around the world.

I rediscovered this just yesterday, so I've seen only one episode. But if the documentary I watched is any indication of the quality of the rest of the series, then I'm hooked -- totally and without reservation (forgive the pun).

Chef's Table is a series of six one-hour documentaries each focusing on a different chef and his or her restaurant. But each film is more than than just a story of a menu or a place to eat. We learn something about the city, the people, and a cuisine.

The first episode introduces us to Massimo Bottura and Modena, Italy. We see the beautiful town and countryside and learn how the chef saved an entire Parmesan cheese production run through a single recipe. We hear stories of Massimo's childhood and meet the woman who helped him perfect his pasta skills. We discover the inspiration behind some of his inventive dishes (and get glimpse of his kindness and easygoing nature too).

But mostly we get to know the man, his wife, and what makes him think. I just might have fallen a little bit in love with Massimo. He has a zest for life and a passion for what he does. He has a fantastic marriage and was so lucky to have found Lara; the two seem perfect for each other. (And you'll love the story of how they met.)

I'm fascinated with the way Massimo uses traditional Modena ingredients and dishes and completely modernizes them. As Lara said, he takes people back to their childhood through his flavors not through his dishes. His restaurant, Osteria Francescana, has three Michelin stars and is considered the third best restaurant in the world. Even without the acclaim, he is a person I'd love to meet.

Here is the trailer for the series. I cannot wait to see the rest of the films and am already looking forward to season 2. Have you seen Chef's Table yet?

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24 September 2015

2 Steps to Organizing Your eBooks: The eMerging eReader

If you've taken the plunge into the rocky waters of eReading (and, really, who hasn't?) then you've probably figured out which reading device(s) you feel comfortable with, and you've likely found a preferred app or two.

But how organized are your eBooks? Do you have a handle on which books you own, do you know what they're about, and have you prioritized your reading list?

If you're even a little like me, you're likely struggling with these issues. Here are two steps I've taken to help me keep track of my eBooks as easily as I do the physical books on my shelves.

Step 1: Calibre

Yes, you've heard me rave about Calibre before, and that's because this program is key to my eBook management and organization. I transfer every eBook, no matter the source, to Calibre so that nothing is lost on various devices, and I have an up-to-date database of all my eBooks.

Here's how Calibre helps me stay on track.

  • Every time I add a book to the database I right click on the title and then select Edit Metadata > Edit Metadata Individually. Next, I click on the Download Metadata button. This allows me to download the cover, the publisher's summary, the cataloging-in-publication (CIP) subject tags, the ISBN, the publishing date, and more. (The image shows the results; click to enlarge.)
  • In addition, I've added three customized tags to my Calibre spreadsheet: audience (adult, young adult, middle grade), source (library, ARC, bought), and topic (my own subject categories). I use the source data to remind me to delete library books and to not delete any book I paid for (until I'm ready to do so). The tags I add to topics include blog ideas, like "Halloween post"; alert me to data I want to track, such as diversity; and/or link the book to some other random fact, like the setting.
How has this helped me? All the columns and tags in Calibre are searchable, which means I can find books based on genre, a custom topic, a CIP subject, publication date, audience, or whatever else I've recorded. Plus when I click on a book title, I can read the publisher's summary right from the Calibre spreadsheet (seen at the far right in the image), without having to open the book file, which further helps me decide what to read next.

Sidetrack: Dropbox

Ah, Dropbox, how I love you. Although I have my eBooks in Calibre, I upload all of them to my Dropbox account as well. This makes all my eBooks available to me and my devices even when I'm away from my computer. Dropbox also serves as an extra backup for my eBook collection. Although you can make folders in Dropbox, I leave my eBooks in one long alphabetical list so I can quickly find what I want when downloading to my eReader, phone, or tablet.

Step 2: Your eReader or App

What I describe in this step is applicable over a wide range of apps and eReaders, although the example I give is from my experience with Bluefire.

Remember all that information you have stashed in Calibre? Here's where it will all come into play in a pretty cool way. Did you know that you can organize your books in your apps and on your reader? This is the second key to never losing track of your eBooks. First I'll tell you how to set up a collection, and then I'll tell you some of the advantages.
  • Bluefire: Begin by clicking on Library, and you'll see your collections (one of which is Dropbox, which makes for easy downloading).  To make a new collection, click on New Collection, name it, and then select which books you want to have in that collection. For this example (see image; click to enlarge), I have one collection called MG - Fall, which contains middle grade books published this fall, and one collection called October, which contains books published next month.
Now here's the really great thing: In Bluefire, books can reside in more than one collection. This means that I can organize my eBooks in a ton of ways, using the data I collected in Calibre and how my crazy mind works. I can create collections based on publishing month, genre, audience, setting, freelance assignment, and whatever makes sense. For example, a book like William Ritter's Beastly Bones can appear in all of the following collections at the same time: middle grade, series, Halloween, and September 2015.

Once I realized how flexible collections were and how easy they were to create, change, and delete on my tablet, I felt I had finally tamed my eBooks. Now nothing gets lost in the shuffle, and I can find the perfect eBook for whatever my needs are at the moment.

Sidetrack: iBooks and Kobo Aura HD
  • iBooks: You can easily make, change, and delete collections in iBooks (start by tapping All Books), but books can't live in more than one collection at the same time. So although I think iBooks works more smoothly on my tablet than does Bluefire, I don't use it very often because of this limitation.
  • Kobo Aura HD: You can easily make collections (called shelves) on the Kobo, and books can reside on more than one shelf. But -- and this is huge -- I cannot find a way to delete shelves once I'm done with them. Seriously. I've searched the device, the owner's manual, and the Web. This makes me very itchy; I hate, hate, hate having old empty shelves clogging up my device. GRRRRRR.
So there you have my two-step guide to taking the stress out of managing your eBooks. If you have any advice or tricks, please share. I'd love to learn more.

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23 September 2015

Wordless Wednesday 360

At Summer's End, 2015

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22 September 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: The Middle of Somewhere by Sonja Yoerg

The Middle of Somewhere by Sonja YoergWhat if you were looking forward to a couple of weeks in the wilderness by yourself but your live-in, non-outdoorsy boyfriend insisted on coming along too? Would you easily adjust or be put off? Liz Kroft, who had wanted to hike the John Muir Trail alone, had mixed feelings.

Liz hopped from foot to foot and hugged herself against the cold. She glanced at the porch of the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Office, where Dante stood with his back to her, chatting with some other hikers. His shoulders shrugged and dropped, and his hands danced this way and that. He was telling a story--a funny one, judging by the faces of this audience--but not a backpacking story because he didn't have any. His idea of a wilderness adventure was staring out the window during spin class at the gym. Not that it mattered. . . . Liz had know him for over two years and still couldn't decipher how he captured strangers' attention without apparent effort. Dante was black velvet and other people were lint.
The Middle of Somewhere by Sonja Yoerg (Penguin Group USA / NAL Accent, 2015, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Mostly Yosemite National Park and the John Muir Trail; modern times
  • Circumstances: Liz and Dante's rigorous but peaceful backpacking trip turns into a terrifying nightmare as they begin to suspect someone on the trail is determined to harm them. Meanwhile, their relationship is as rocky as the terrain. Liz has secrets and Dante has family issues. Will they be able to work out their differences?
  • Characters: Liz, 29, a medical engineer; Dante, her boyfriend of 2 years; Paul & Linda, 50-somethings, hiking the trail for fun; Brensen, an upcoming actor, hiking the trail to prepare for a part; Rodell & Payton, brothers, hiking the trail with no particular plan; day hikers, rangers, and other peripheral characters.
  • Genre: outdoor adventure; thriller
  • Themes: honesty, relationships, parenting, nature, trust, survival
  • What I liked: The descriptions of the park, the outdoor scenes, and life on the trail. The story took a little time to develop, but the creep factor was there. I had a bad feeling from the beginning and was wondering about whom to trust. Would both Liz and Dante make it out of the park alive?
  • What I didn't like: I thought maybe there was a tiny bit too much foreshadowing, but that absolutely didn't take away from the spooky, scary parts. Because I'm an experienced backpacker, the camping scenes held my attention more than the flashbacks to Liz and Dante's life back home and the parts about their relationship issues. But that's just me; I wanted to get back to the action and the trail!
  • Something to know: The author hiked the entire 200+-mile trail herself, so her rendering of what it's like to be on the John Muir Trail and in the national park is authentic and personal.
The Giveaway

Thanks to NAL Accent, I'm able to offer one of my readers with a USA mailing address a copy of The Middle of Somewhere by Sonja Yoerg. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner on October 1, using a random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed and I've passed the mailing information on to the publicist, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good Luck!

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21 September 2015

Bullet Review: The Golden Specific by S. E. Grove

The Golden Specific by S. E. GroveLast fall I introduced you to S. E. Grove and her fresh, complex, and unique high fantasy series geared to middle grade readers. Before you turn away, saying you don't read middle grade, remember that Harry Potter was also written for a young audience.

As I said last fall when I reviewed The Glass Sentence, the first book in the proposed trilogy, Grove's fully realized characters and her world building are tops, and I'm particularly happy to say there's no love triangle and no teenage angst. The cast is a nice mix of males and females of a range of ages and with a variety of abilities. Plus, I promise you haven't read a series like the Mapmakers.

(Note: this review assumes you've either read the first book or have read my earlier review.)

General information: The Golden Specific starts about nine months after first book ends. Sophia Tims is still living in Boston with her uncle Shadrack, master cartographer. Their ward, Theo, has just returned from the Eerie Sea, after an unsuccessful trip to find information about Sophia's missing parents. Meanwhile Boston and all of New Occident are undergoing political upheaval, Shadrack is worried about the border closings, and Sophia is tracking down new leads to her parents' whereabouts.

Dual stories: Very soon into the start of The Golden Specific, the story splits in two. Sophia, has gone undercover to gain access to a restricted library, which contains books that reference her mother. Those documents prompt the girl to take a sea journey to the Papal States (what used to be Spain), where she hopes to find a diary with more information. She is supposed to meet Theo at the docks, but he is detained when Shadrack is imprisoned for murder. At that point, Sophia and Theo have separate adventures.

No sophomore slump: Grove's brilliant decision to give her main protagonists their own plot lines keeps the series fresh. Theo and Sophia must rely on their own wits and luck to meet their individual goals. Sophia is still focused on finding her parents, which takes her to new worlds and introduces her to three new people, each of whom is from a different age with different personal agenda. Theo's main purposes are to prove Shadrack's innocence and to expose the evil underbelly of a high-ranking government official. Along the way, he meets a clever girl and a wily street urchin boy, both of whom offer assistance. Interwoven throughout the book are extracts from Sophia's mother's diary, which gives the reader information not yet known by Theo and Sophia.

What I love: There are new worlds to explore, new people to meet, puzzles to solve, and mysteries to uncover. I love the legends and stories we learn, and I enjoy trying to piece together the clues that Theo and Sophia find. In addition, I thought it was great to be able to read Sophia's mother's diary; it's always fun to see how the protagonist discovers solutions when you have a little foreknowledge. I also like the fact that Grove's characters can make mistakes, can be scared, can cry, and often need help. And I love how Sophia and Theo are genuine friends. Finally, I'm glad to see that Grove has allowed Sophia and Theo to grow and mature; each one sees the world and themselves a little clearer by the end.

Recommendation: The Golden Specific and the Mapmakers trilogy is for anyone who wants to be transported to a world they've never seen before. There is no age limit to these books, which means they'll appeal to children and adults who like high fantasy, alternate history, and just plain good reading. Everything works in S. E. Grove's universe: the action, the characters, the unique maps, and the world divided by time. I can't wait to see where the third book will take us.

Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition of The Golden Specific (Listening Library; 15 hr, 19 min) read by the wonderful Cassandra Campbell. Her characterizations capture the personalities of each character perfectly: Theo's self-assurance, the housekeeper's worry, Sophia's inherent trust and insatiable curiosity. Campbell's pacing is spot-on, carrying us along when the action picks up and giving us room to contemplate new information when the gang is working out the meaning of new clues. A fantastic audiobook experience. Click the play button in the following widget to hear a sample:

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780670785032
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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19 September 2015

Weekend Cooking: A Week of Packed Lunches

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. 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.

And now for something completely different! Today's Weekend Cooking post is doing double-duty as part of the Pin It and Do It challenge sponsored by Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity. The challenge is basically to get you to use some of the things you've pinned to your Pinterest boards; you can do anything from crafts and cooking to fashion, organization, or workouts.

My challenge to myself was also inspired by Trish, who tweeted about a woman who makes four school lunches every single day for her two sets of twins, now aged nine and six. Let that sink in a minute. Yes, the woman deserves sainthood. And if you click the link (lunches for a year), you'll see that her lunches are not just PB&J day after day. She gives her kids variety and nutritious foods and is even creative in her packaging!

So I figured if she could pack four lunches a day for an entire school year, I could pack one lunch a day for a single week for Mr. BFR. I met my challenge, and found that once I was in the groove, it wasn't so hard. Except, well, he's back to scrounging for himself. Ooops.

First I'll show you the lunches I made, and then I'll say something about lessons learned and packing containers. Click the images to see them full size and to read the descriptions of what's in each box.

My assessment: Day 1 was totally uninspired, but, hey, you gotta start somewhere. On Day 3, I was sure the chicken and crackers wouldn't be enough food so I added a bunch of Cheddar slices. I was surprised when Mr. BFR said it was too much food; he ate the leftovers as a late-afternoon snack!

My assessment: Both lunches for the last two days were a hit. Again, hardly clever, but better than what he usually packs for himself. I had to laugh, because he commented on not having a treat on Day 4! I guess the little things really do count.

Things I learned
  • It's really hard not to rely on cheese and as a filler every day.
  • It's really hard not to add in some nuts and dried fruit every day.
  • If you don't buy/eat lunch meat it's really hard to come up with something different every day.
  • I still want to try some mason jar salads, because I know Mr. BFR is happy to eat salads instead of sandwiches.
Notes on containers
  • We use the Rover box from Planet Box, which comes with the two small containers you can see on Day 5. We made a decision a couple of years ago to avoid plastic as much as possible, which is why we bought this box. Planet Box now makes a few more sizes, and we may have bought the Launch if it had been available then.
  • When Mr. BFR packs something that needs to be microwaved, we use glass containers with plastic lids. When he's working where there's no microwave, we sometimes use thermoses.
  • Pottery Barn Kids also makes some nice metal boxes, most of which come with plastic lids.
  • I love the containers shown on What Lisa Cooks, but alas they're plastic. Regardless, I may cave and get some silicon cups to use as dividers in our glass containers.
One question for you: If you have any good packed lunch ideas or pins, let me know. I feel so inadequate when it comes to lunch, especially when Mr. BFR doesn't have access to a microwave (meaning no leftovers from dinner).

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17 September 2015

Middle Grade Historical Fiction & Nonfiction: A Fall Roundup

middle grade books fall 2015 roundup @ BethFishReads.comAs I mentioned earlier in the week, books written for the middle grade audience span the full range of genres and styles found in books for written for adults. I've already introduced you to this season's contemporary fiction and more fanciful fiction.

Before I get to the focus of today's post, I want to mention some classes of middle grade books I've omitted this week, simply as a way to narrow down my choices. I did not include books written for the youngest readers in this age group or those that are part of ongoing series. I also left out comics and books containing fun graphics.

Now let's turn to my last fall middle grade roundup: historical fiction, books in verse, and nonfiction. Enjoy!

Taking a Step into the Past

  • Middle grade historical fiction, fall 2015The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall is about how 13-year-old Arthur paid for one careless act done while still grieving his father's death. Sentenced to work for the very trash picker he injured, Arthur learns that looks can be deceiving and beauty can be hidden beneath the junk. Loosely based on a real folk artist from the 1960s. Major themes: redemption, the importance of art, grief, and friendship. [Knopf, September]
  • The Bamboo Sword by Margi Preus is set in 1850s Japan and introduces us to 13-year-old Yoshi, who dreams of being a samurai so he can fight the newly arrived Westerners. But when the realities of impending war catch up with him, Yoshi ends up befriending an American cabin boy who was separated from his ship This action-packed, well-researched story is illustrated with period Japanese art. Major themes: culture clash, prejudice, friendship, and 19th-century Japanese culture. [Amulet, September]
  • A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen tells the story of a family that was caught on opposites sides of the Berlin Wall when it went up, virtually overnight, in 1961. Four years later, 12-year-old Gerta, her older brother, and her mother are living under suspicion in East Berlin; is there any hope for freedom? The book includes several period photographs. Major themes: freedom, living under the communist regime, and the personal side of politics and the cold war. [Scholastic, August]
  • River Runs Deep by Jennifer Bradbury is set in 1842 and tells the story of 12-year-old Elias's stay in Mammoth Cave, at a kind of hospital that was supposed to cure him of tuberculosis. Elias undergoes much more than medical treatment as he learns of the cave's place in tourism and as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Loosely based on a real story and illustrated with maps. Major themes: 19th-century medical practices, slavery, and friendship. [Atheneum, September]
  • I Don't Know How the Story Ends by J. B. Cheaney takes us to Hollywood as World War I is winding down and the movie industry is gearing up and where 12-year-old Izzy befriends a teenage filmmaker who recruits her and her sister as his stars. Izzy learns she has a knack for writing screenplays but has trouble seeing the future as long as her physician father, stationed in France to tend to the wounded, remains in danger. Major themes: family, war, the movie industry, and hope. [Jabberwocky, October]
  • Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith is a story of loss and healing told by two boys, one from New England recovering from the death of a friend and the other from NOLA dealing with the after effects of Hurricane Katrina. When the boys meet, they bond, helping each other move forward. Major themes: loss, looking beyond class and ethnic differences, forgiveness, and hope. [Schwartz & Wade, July]
Stories Told in Verse
    Middle grade stories in verse @ BethFishReads.com
  • House Arrest by K. A. Holt is a novel in verse about 12-year-old Timothy, who after being arrested for his only act of theft (for medical supplies for his brother) must serve a year under house arrest. His court-ordered journal tells his story of grief and anger over his much younger brother's illness and his father's desertion. Audience: older MG readers. Major themes: poverty, divorce, and taking responsibility for one's actions. [Chronicle, September]
  • Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle is a memoir in verse that readers of all ages can relate to. Most of the very readable poems concern the things Engle sees, dreams of, and learns growing up in California and visiting Cuba before the revolution and cold war politics cut her off from half her family. Affecting, honest, and emotional. The book concludes with a timeline of cold war events. Major themes: culture clash, immigration, family, and personal side of politics. [Atheneum, August]
True Stories
  • Middle grade nonfiction @ BethFishReads.comSomewhere There Is Still a Sun by Michael Gruenbaum (with Todd Hasak-Lowy) is the memoir of a Holocaust survivor who was incarcerated at the age of nine in a Czechoslovakian transport camp, where he remained for over two years. This age-appropriate story is told in the present tense, giving readers an immediate and personal sense of what it was like for a child to live under unimaginable conditions. Some photographs and family papers illustrate the book. Major themes: survival, will to live, humanity, family, and Nazi policies. [Aladdin, August]
  • This Side of Wild by Gary Paulson is a short collection of true tales of the author's encounters with dogs, horses, and more both in the wild and at home. The conversational, informal style of these stories will capture the hearts of animal lovers of all ages. Illustrations and fun facts supplement the text. Major themes: animal behavior, appreciating nature, and adventurous curiosity. [Simon & Schuster, September]

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16 September 2015

Wordless Wednesday 359

Abstracted flowers, 2015

copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.com

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15 September 2015

Other Worlds & Mysteries for Middle Grade Readers: A Fall Roundup

Fall Middle Grade Books 2015 @ Beth Fish ReadsAs I mentioned yesterday, many people associate middle grade books with magic and fantasy, and indeed some our favorite books fall into this category (think: Narnia and the early Harry Potter books). But the world of make-believe for young readers is much broader than just wizards' wands and talking creatures.

Although today's roundup starts with magical worlds it moves on to alternate history, mystery, and horror. Hold on to your pointy hat, and get ready for adventure, curses, and escape into new worlds.

Fantasy & Magic

  • A Nearer Moon, The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB, The Wrinkled Crown, Rules for Stealing StarsA Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder is about two sets of sisters—water sprites and humans—who are as close as sisters can be. When circumstances threaten to separate the pairs of siblings forever, will the girls find a way to help each other? Major themes: sisters, family, magic, legends, and environmental issues. [Atheneum, September]
  • The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB by Adam Shauhnessy is about what happens when 11-year-old Pru and her new friend Abe are selected by the Fantasy Investigation Bureau to help figure out why Viking gods are infiltrating their town and stealing from the museum. This magical adventure takes the pair on a clue-solving mission full of danger and excitement. Major themes: friendship, Viking mythology, trust, truth, and magic. [Algonquin Books for Young Readers, September]
  • The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet is the story of how 12-year-old Linny leaves her rural home to seek a way to reverse an inadvertent curse placed on her best friend. If she and her travel companions can survive the many dangers of their action-packed journey to the city, they may in fact save not just one girl but the whole world. Major themes: the merging of magic and science, friendship, and fate. [HarperCollins, November]
  • Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu reveals how 11-year-old Silly and her sisters cope with their mother's alcoholism: They've discovered portals into magical lands that, at first, offer peace and safety. But when one of the girls is trapped in the other world, the sisters realize they must find the magic in everyday life in order to bring her back. Major themes: sisters, alcoholism, parental meanness, and magical realism. Audience: older MG readers. [Katherine Tegen Books, September]
Alternate History & Different Worlds
    The Doldrums, My Diary from the Edge of the World, Fires of Invention
  • The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon is an exquisitely illustrated alternate-history story about 11-year-old Archer, who longs to go on an adventure, despite the fact that his practical mother rarely lets him out of the house. But when Archer learns his grandparents may be stranded on an iceberg, he recruits his friends to help plan a rescue mission to Antarctica. Major themes: following one's dreams, finding compromise, friendship, and family. [Greenwillow, September]
  • My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson is written in diary form and set in an alternative world in which mythical beasts and magic exist alongside the modern technology. When a dark cloud comes to take Gracie's younger, sickly brother away, the family sets off on a desperate road trip to find the fabled land with no magic, hoping to save Sam from an early death. Major themes: family, sibling relationships, helping others, and destiny. [Aladdin, November]
  • Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage is an action-packed steampunk adventure set in a land that forbids invention. When young Trenton and Kallista discover clues to a new machine, they cannot resist secretly trying to build it, little knowing that the finished project will unveil deep truths about their world. Major themes: friendship, creativity, oppressive government, and young love. [Shadow Mountain, September]
Mysteries & Puzzles
  • Curiosity House, A Pocket Full of Murder, The Blackthorn KeyCuriosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver and H. C. Chester takes us to 1930s New York City and a museum of oddities, which is also home to four specially gifted children who form their own kind of family. When paying customers start dying, the museum owner is accused of murder, leaving the kids to solve the mystery or be out on the streets. Major themes: family, loyalty, friendship, and being different. [HarperCollins, September]
  • A Pocket Full of Murder by R. J. Anderson is set in a world in which the rich have powerful magic, but the poor have only common magic. When Vettie's father is accused of murdering a university official, can she—with the help of her sisters and a street urchin—find the true killer? Major themes: socioeconomic divide, religious differences, friendship, sisters, and finding one's talents. [Atheneum, September]
  • The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands is a clever, multilayered mystery set in London in the 1660s. Young Christopher finally got some luck when he was taken from the orphanage to be apprenticed to a kindly master apothecary. But when his mentor falls victim to a serial killer, can Christopher work out the complex puzzle that will reveal the murderer and save his own future? Major themes: friendship, crafts guilds, politics, and cults. [Aladdin, September]
Spooky & Suspenseful
    Hoodoo, The Nest
  • Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith is a Southern Gothic story about a boy named Hoodoo who dreams of being a conjurer, though he can't seem to cast a single spell. He does, however, have crazy vivid dreams, which get more intense after a stranger comes to town. Can Hoodoo keep the stranger from harming his loved ones? Major themes: family, folk beliefs, and the Jim Crow South. [Clarion Books, September]
  • The Nest by Kenneth Oppel tells the creepy tale of how young Steve gets entangled with a mysterious winged being who claims to be able to help his deathly ill baby brother. The tension builds in this psychological thriller as Steve must figure out whom to trust and find the strength to overcome evil. Stark black-and-white drawings add to the mood. Major themes: family, good vs. evil, and manipulation. [Simon & Schuster, October]

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14 September 2015

Contemporary Middle Grade Fiction: A Fall Roundup

Contemporary Middle Grade Fiction 2015 @ Beth Fish ReadsDo you shy away from middle grade books because you think they're one-dimensional or all about wizards? The truth is that middle grade stories cover the full range of genres and styles, from contemporary fiction to memoir, poetry, nonfiction, and of course fantasy.

Although these books are not as complex as adult literary fiction, the stories address big issues, opening readers' minds and sparking important discussions. Today is all about contemporary fiction, and posts later in the week will cover other genres.

Read these books yourself, take notes for gift-giving, or try a readalong with a middle grader in your life.

Surviving Middle School

Goodbye Stranger by Stead, Connect the Stars by de los Santos, Don't Vote for me by Dolzer
  • Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead is about two groups of students who are navigating the rocky waters of middle school. Told from three perspectives, the novel explores different ways kids respond to social pressures and problems at home. Major themes: social media, changing friendships, young love, and popularity. Audience: older MG readers. [Wendy Lamb Books, August]
  • Connect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague focuses on Audry and Aaron who meet at a wilderness camp meant to help give middle grade children confidence and social skills while they learn about the outdoors. The campers, who each have different issues (such as being too introspective, untrusting, or overly sad) learn to rely on each other and become true friends. Major themes: friendship, bullying, trust, self-identity, and family. [HarperCollins, September]
  • Don't Vote for Me by Krista Van Dolzer looks at what happens when a self-described band geek decides to challenge the popular girl for class president. The more David gets to know his opponent, the more he questions his desire to win. Major themes: popularity, family issues, and seeing people for who they really are. [Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August]
Dealing with Grief

A Series of Small Maneuvers by Treichel, Dear Opl by Sackier, The Thing about Jellyfish by Benjamin
  • A Series of Small Maneuvers by Eliot Treichel looks at how a young teen copes with her father's accidental death, which occurred when they were on a father–daughter canoe trip. This is less a survival in the wilderness story than one about a girl finding her way after her world is forever altered. Major themes: grief, family, responsibility, and friendship. Audience: older MG readers. [Ooligan Press, November]
  • Dear Opl by Shelley Sackier introduces us to Opal, who comforted herself with food in the aftermath of her father's sudden death. After a disturbing medical checkup, she takes on a pen name and starts a blog to vent her feelings; soon others are turning to "Opl" for advice. Sensitively written and spiked with humor. Major themes: weight and body image, popularity, grief, self-esteem, health, and family. [Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August]
  • The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is about how 12-year-old Suzy copes with her friend's drowning just weeks before the start of seventh grade. Told in the present and in flashbacks over the course of their friendship, Suzy struggles to understand both the accident and the ways her friend changed over the previous year. Major themes: friendship, being different, family, maturing, and mean girls; minor themes of divorce and a gay relationship. [Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September]
Taking on Bigger Issues

Orbiting Jupiter by Schmidt, A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Vrabel, Until I Find Julian by Giff
  • Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt is about a young teen who is placed in foster care after spending time in a series of state-run homes for troubled boys. Although he slowly becomes comfortable with his new family, he can't stop dreaming about meeting his infant daughter. Major themes: first impressions, class differences, teen parenthood, fathers, and domestic abuse. Audience: older MG readers. [Clarion Books, October]
  • A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel is about a young girl whose family relocates from Seattle to a small town in South Carolina. The move is fraught with extra challenges for 12-year-old Alice because she is legally blind as a result of her albinism. Major themes: living with a disability, family, independence, and mental health issues. [Sky Pony Press, October]
  • Until I Find Julian by Patricia Reilly Giff documents young Mateo's secret journey from a village in Mexico, across the border, to a town in Alabama to find his older brother, who is an undocumented laborer. This age-appropriate story shows us the personal side of an important contemporary issue. Major themes: brothers, friendship, trust, and hope for a better future. [Wendy Lamb Books, September]

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12 September 2015

Weekend Cooking: Slice Harvester by Colin Atrophy Hagendorf

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. 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.

Slice Harvester by Colin Atrophy HagendorfIf you're reading a Weekend Cooking post, then it's a fair bet that you love a good food-centric memoir as well as I do. Some of these kinds of memoirs are inspirational, some are lovely. Colin Atrophy Hagendorf's Slice Harvester is just plain fun.

Many food books have been born from a successful blog or a clever gimmick, and Slice Harvester is no exception. Here's Hagendorf's story: In 2009, while out drinking with friends, he decided to begin a quest to eat a slice of pizza in every pizzeria in all of Manhattan. About two years and just over four hundred slices later, Hagendorf ate his last slice on Wall Street, sitting across the table from his girlfriend while a newspaper photographer recorded the event.

The plan: Hagendorf began at the north end of Manhattan and worked his way across and down the island until he had visited all the pizzerias he could find. He was an experienced eZine writer and publisher, so it seemed natural to him to start a blog, Slice Harvester, where he could make his reviews public.

The approach: Generally, Hagendorf would try four to six pizza places in one go, snapping photos and taking notes. He was often accompanied by a friend or two and would eat and/or share one slice of plain pizza in each place. He went on harvesting trip once every week or ten days.

What's in the book? Slice Harvester is a memoir; it's not a place-by-place description of eating pizza in New York. Written in a conversational, street-cool punk style, Hagendorf talks about his friends, his family, his life, and of course, pizza. Along the way, we learn about the punk scene, we meet the owners of pizzerias, and we get a unique view of the city. We also learn how he found a direction for his life and discovered that sobriety is not such a bad thing.

The good and the bad: I really enjoyed getting to know Hagendorf, whose life is so completely different from mine. He's a fairly good writer with a strong personal style, and I loved the many literary references that pop up throughout the memoir. On the other hand, some (okay, most) of the punk cultural references went over my head, and I have to admit to skimming every so often. Although I liked the handful of black-and-white illustrations, I wish the book had contained photographs of the places Hagendorf wrote about.

Recommendation: Colin Hagendorf's Slice Harvester is both an interesting memoir and a fun way to explore New York. It isn't the best food memoir I've ever read, but it held my attention. Be warned: by the time you finish Hagendorf's story, you'll be craving pizza -- especially one from the only pizzeria to have won his coveted 8-slice rating: Pizza Suprema, across from Madison Square Garden. (The link takes you to Hagendorf's original review.)

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781476705880
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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10 September 2015

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 12 Short Takes

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts from Beth Fish ReadsStacked-Up Book Thoughts are my random notes about books I've read or listened to, movies and TV I've watched, books I'm looking forward to, and events I hope to get to.

Audiobooks: This summer has been my slowest audiobook time since the 1980s. First it rained every day, so I couldn't get out for my walk, which is prime listening time. Then we did some traveling. Then the temperatures and humidity skyrocketed, so again I've been unable to get many walks in. Fall can't get here fast enough for me.

Regardless, I still managed to get some listening in. The following books are all recommended and you'll eventually find reviews at AudioFile magazine, and here on my blog.

American Meteor, The Lost Landscape, The Girl from the Garden, A Paris Affair
  • American Meteor by Norman Lock follows the life of Stephen Moran, who witnesses or plays a part in many important historical events of the last half of the 19th century (such as the Civil War, Lincoln's assassination, the building of the railroad, Custer's Last Stand). Mark Bramhall's narration is terrific.
  • Even if you've never read a Joyce Carol Oates book before, do not miss her beautiful memoir, The Lost Landscape. All I really want to say is that it's emotional, poetic, funny, and amazing. Cassandra Campbell's performance is brilliant.
  • Parnez Foroutan's The Girl from the Garden focuses on three generations of women in a Jewish family living in Iran, set mostly in the early 20th century. The themes are family sacrifice, women's roles, marriage, motherhood, prejudice, and class divisions. Narrator Lameece Issaq nicely captured the characters' personalities.
  • Polly Stone and Simon Vance share the narration of Tatiana de Rosnay's A Paris Affair, a wonderful collection of stories, all of which feature infidelities. The circumstances and consequences of the affairs will surprise you, make you laugh, and sometimes make you angry. Stone and Vance bring a very French feel to their spot-on performances.
Books I'm Reading Now: Lately I've been reading and skimming and evaluating a ton of middle grade books for a group of roundups, which will appear on my blog next week (I hope). I am so impressed with the quality and diversity of books for young readers this year, and I can't wait to share my discoveries with you. Here are four books--two nonfiction, two fiction--I haven't reviewed yet.

White Dresses, Dr. Mutter;s Marvels, The Fall of Princes, The Golden Specific
  • White Dresses by Mary Pflum Peterson is a fascinating memoir centered her relationship with her mother. Themes involve sexuality, hording, spirituality, and mental health.
  • Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz delves into the strange but real life of one of America's surgical pioneers. Dr. Mutter's Marvels, newly out in paperback, takes us into the OR and the good doctor's fight for sterilization and anesthesia. I'm totally hooked by this story.
  • I wrote about Robert Goolrick's The Fall of Princes on Tuesday, so I'll just quickly say here that it's an emotionally complex story of a regular working man who recalls, with mixed feelings, his glory days as a Wall Street 1 percenter.
  • Thank goodness that all that I loved about S. E. Grove's first book in the Mapmaker's series is back in The Golden Specific. In fact, the second installment in this unique, time-bending, alternate history/fantasy series may be even better, as our young heroes grow and mature. I've only just begun this book, but the scent of adventure is in the air.
What I've Watched: Besides our regular shows on HBO and SHO, we finished up all the available (free) episodes for Blue Bloods, Justified, and Longmire. We don't have a current obsession, but here are four things that have appeared on our screen.

The Fall, Bitten, Wild, Lovejoy

  • If you are into creepy psychological thrillers, then you'll love The Fall starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan. A woman detective superintendent is called to Belfast to find and capture a serial killer. In the meantime, we see the killer in the act and as he lives his other life, as a husband and father. Loved!
  • I adore Kelley Armstrong, so it was a duh that I would give Bitten, starring Laura Vandervoort and Greyston Holt, a try. I haven't finished the first season yet, but the plot seems to be following the book fairly closely (or at least closely enough). The jury is still out on this: Mr. BFR is bored (but he's not into werewolves), and I'm just not convinced that the spirit of the book is there.
  • Confession: I could not get past about page 70 of Cheryl Strayed's memoir. She mostly just made me mad. But Mr. BFR is a Reese Witherspoon fan, so we watched the movie version of Wild, when it became available on HBO. Witherspoon was good, but I was still bored and still totally uninspired by Strayed's adventure.
  • I love Ian McShane and was so happy to see him on Ray Donovan this season. Then I heard he was going to have a small but important part in next season's Game of Thrones. All this made me nostalgic for my first introduction to McShane: the mystery series Lovejoy, which aired from 1986 to 1994. Antiques expert, con man, ladies' mad, and rogue -- Lovejoy was always getting into and out of scrapes, running just a few steps ahead of the creditors. Way too much fun not to rewatch.
So that's about it for me. Still praying for cooler weather but happy to have such good entertainment to keep me happy when I'm stuck inside with the A/C.

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09 September 2015

Wordless Wednesday 358

Rose, 2015

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08 September 2015

Today's Read: The Fall of Princes by Robert Goolrick

The Fall of Princes by Robert GoolrickRemember riding high in the wild money-making days of the 1980s? The era was a paradise for Wall Street hot shots, who indulged in everything their inflated salaries could buy. Oh how life has changed for our protagonist, Rooney, in the decades since the bubble burst.

When you strike a match, it burns brighter in the first nanosecond than it will ever burn again. That first incandescence. That instantaneous and brilliant flash. 1980 was the year, and I was the match, and that was the year I struck into blinding flame.
The Fall of Princes by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin, 2015, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: New York City & the world; 1980s & beyond
  • Circumstances: A humbled working stiff recalls his former self as a top dog in the fast-paced, drug-fueled, money-filled world of the 1980s.
  • Characters: Rooney in young adulthood as a major player in a New York investment firm and in middle age, maybe wiser and certainly poorer; friends, family, lovers, and colleagues in both time periods
  • Genre: literary fiction; fictionalized autobiography
  • Themes: greed, loss, redemption, excesses, marriage, regret
  • Discussion points: women's status in 1980s, greed, AIDS, irresponsibility, loss of wealth, marriage, adjusting to changing circumstances
  • Why I want to read this: I absolutely loved Goolrick's earlier novels and I have every hope for The Fall of Princes. Goolrick's sympathetic characters and poetic writing create an unforgettable atmosphere, pulling me into whatever story he has to tell.
  • Something to know: Goolrick himself was an ad man who lost it all in the crash and had to cope with new realities, including rehab.

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07 September 2015

Fine-Tuning Your Personal Library: What to Keep, What to Let Go

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I reduced my personal library by more than half. Since that time, I've been asked for more details on how I decided which books to keep and which ones to give away. Apparently lots of people are interested in this because Florinda of the Three R's Blog was asked the same thing.

So I thought, on this holiday Monday, that I'd try to explain my process. Just to recap, I looked at each book individually, holding it my hands while making my assessment. I did not follow the Kondo test, however, figuring that most books bring me joy.

The Easy Yes

There were several categories of books (often overlapping) that were easy to say yes to.

  • My favorite authors. This is kind of obvious, but it's true, some authors will always live on my bookshelves.
  • Books that moved me when I read them and I still remember why. I don't know about you, but sometimes I loved a book when I read it, but months or years later I couldn't tell you why. If just looking at the book brought back the words or the character or the emotion, I kept it.
  • Books that both Mr. BFR and I loved and that we still talk about or refer to.
The Easy No

When culling my library, I was surprised by how many books I had that I was never going to read or reread.
  • Genres that I just don't read, such as horror.
  • Yellowing, old paperbacks with no sentimental value.
  • Books I simply lost interest in. Most of these were DNFs (did not finish) that I kept, perhaps thinking I'd give them another chance.
  • Books I've read but didn't love enough to revisit.
All the Rest (Unread)

As you can guess, the vast majority of the books I had fell somewhere in the middle of immediate yes or no. Whether the book or ARC was new or old, I went through the following process for each unread book--and, yes, it took some time. (And clearly I need to practice using the drawing tool!)

After going through my flow chart, I used following additional criteria to help me remove a book from my house:
  • If I also had an eGalley, I donated my print copy.
  • If I was only vaguely interested in the book, I checked to see if I could get it from my library or bookstore. If so, I let the review copy go.
  • If the print was really tiny, the ARC was poorly bound, or the leading was small and I could get the book or eBook from my library or bookstore, I donated my print copy.
So there you have it. I hope this clarifies my technique for culling my library. And because I know I'll have to do this again in another year, please share any tips you have for deciding which books you want to keep and which ones you're willing to donate.

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05 September 2015

Weekend Cooking: Tasting Whiskey by Lew Bryson

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. 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.

Tasting Whiskey by Lew BrysonThe fun thing about culling and organizing your personal library is discovering books you forgot you had but really wanted to read. Lew Bryson's Tasting Whiskey falls into that category. Although we generally stick to a glass of wine with dinner on a daily basis, when we go out, our drink of choice is almost always a whiskey/whisky of some sort.

I'm more of Scotch drinker, but Mr. BFR has become enamored of bourbon, and the American spirit is growing on me too. Although I've made a point of learning more about wine, I have to admit that I'm still fairly uneducated when it comes to whiskey. Need a bottle of bourbon? I've been know to grab whatever's on sale.

This is where Tasting Whiskey comes in. Bryson's well-researched and fun-to-read treatise is a great introduction to whiskeys from all over the globe. The book is beautifully styled in browns and whiskey gold, and the awesome graphics (see the scans; click to enlarge), maps, and beautiful photographs break up the text, not only providing eye candy but giving readers different ways to absorb the information.

In the early chapters, Bryson talks about the history of whiskey, how and where it's made, and the distinguishing characteristics of each type. He even sheds light on the whiskey/whisky controversy. What the heck is the correct spelling? As it turns out, the spelling variation is just a regional quirk and carries no real meaning. Regardless, many people restrict whisky for Scotch, Canadian, and Japanese spirits and use whiskey for Irish and American drinks.

The back half of Tasting Whiskey gets into the details of learning to taste the different flavors in whiskeys and provides a guide to the major producing regions (Ireland, Scotland, Canada, United States, and Japan). Here's where we learn the differences and similarities between Kentucky and Tennessee bourbons, the different peat levels of the Scotches, the reason rye isn't more popular, and the origins of Japanese distilleries.

One of my favorite lines from the book, and one that shows you Bryson's general attitude, comes from the chapter on learning to enjoy whiskeys. Just as there are wine snobs, there are whiskey snobs. Bryson has this to say:
You shouldn't let them influence your choices. Because just like there is no One Best Whiskey, there is no One Best Type of Whiskey, either. . . . To confuse personal preferences for world truths is no way to go through life. (p. 61)
Bryson ends the book with a chapter on the classic cocktails--such as the Rob Roy, Mint Julep, and Rusty Nail--and another on how to pair whiskeys with food. You'll also find resources, a glossary, and an index.

I recommend Lew Bryson's Tasting Whiskey for a wide range of readers. Naturally both the newcomer to whiskeys and the die-hard fan will find a lot to love here. But so too will readers who are interested in the history of distilled spirits and those who are curious about how whiskey is made. My favorite chapter was the one on tasting, followed by the chapters that introduce the different whiskey regions.

NOTE: The scans come from Tasting Whiskey and were used in the context of this review. All rights remain with the original copyright holder, Andrew Heath, and may not be used in another context. The photograph is my own, and I retain the copyright to that.

Published by Storey Publishing, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781612123011
Source: Can't remember (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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03 September 2015

Sound Recommendations: A Mixed Pair

Anchor & Flares by Kate BraestrupIn her most recent collection of personal essays, Anchor & Flares, Kate Braestrup talks about the emotional roller coaster of watching her children become young adults and choose their own life paths. Along with thoughts on her personal life and a variety of related topics, Braestrup takes us into her professional world, where she is a chaplain to the Maine [game] Warden Service. Although her faith informs her worldview, Braestrup is not a proselytizer, and her musings cover a wide range, including the exemplary record of the Danes during World War II, talking with the families of accident victims, and her anticipation of the birth of her first grandchild. This is one of the rare cases in which I can wholeheartedly recommend an author-narrated audiobook. As I said in AudioFile magazine, "Braestrup's sincere compassion for others, love and respect for her family, and easy sense of humor color her delivery, inviting listeners into her world." (Hachette Audio; 8 hr, 55 min)

The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah VaughanSarah Vaughan's The Art of Baking Blind introduces us to the five finalist in a British national baking contest. The winner will become the new Mrs. Eaden (think: Betty Crocker), the face of a popular supermarket chain. The chapters alternate among the main characters, each of whom has entered the contest for a unique reason. Woven throughout the modern-day story are diary entries written in the 1960s by the original Mrs. Eaden, who was the wife of the supermarket's founder. All the contestants are facing a personal crisis or a turning point in their lives, the resolution of which hinges on how well they do in the bake-off. Narrator Julie Barrie captures each character's personality and her pronunciation of the many cooking terms gives her performance an authentic feel. Listeners who are very sensitive to swallowing and breathing noises may be bothered, but the rest of us will find the audiobook to be a light, enjoyable escape. Warning: You may start craving a Victoria sponge or perhaps some scones. (Macmillan audio; 13 hr, 18 min)

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02 September 2015

Wordless Wednesday 357

Walk through Marshlands, 2015

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01 September 2015

Today's Read: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy StewartWhat would you think of three sisters who lived alone on an isolated farm at a time when women were supposed to marry young and have a man to protect them? If you think they might cave under threats and violence, think again. Constance Kopp is willing and able to do what it takes to defend herself.

Our troubles began in the summer of 1914, the year I turned thirty-five. The Archduke of Austria had just been assassinated, the Mexicans were revolting, and absolutely nothing was happening at our house, which explains why all three of us were riding to Paterson on the most trivial of errands. Never had a larger committee been convened to make a decision about the purchase of mustard powder and the replacement of a claw hammer whose handle had split from age and misuse.
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: 1914; Paterson, New Jersey; surrounding towns and countryside
  • Circumstances: When a rich silk merchant, Henry Kaufman, crashes his car into the Kopp sisters' buggy, he refuses to make restitution. Little does he know that bullying and violence will not work on these strong women. The ensuing feud makes the newspapers and draws the attention of the law.
  • Characters: Constance, the eldest sister who tells the story; Norma, the middle sister; Fleurette, the much younger sister; Henry Kaufman, the silk merchant; Robert Heath, the sheriff; various townsfolk, women at the silk factory, a Kopp brother, and gangsters.
  • Genre: historical mystery
  • Themes: feminism, independent women, family secrets, fairness
  • Real life! Stewart wrote her novel based on a true story, which she came across when researching another book. Constance Kopp was one of the first women detectives and worked in conjunction with Sheriff Heath to catch Kaufman and his band of thugs. The incident involved shoot outs, threats, blackmail, and a sting operation.
  • Notes on the writing: I've read only the beginning of the book, but I've gotten far enough along to feel confident about Stewart's style and her sense of humor. This is sassy, action-packed, and filled with amazing period details and fantastic characters.
  • Some fun things to know: The title of the book comes from a real-life headline about the Kopps. Stewart clothed the sisters and furnished their house with items available in the 1908 Sears catalog. I learned these facts and more from a great NPR interview (click the link to read it yourself). You can see photos of the characters at Amy Stewart's website.
  • Bonus! At BEA this past May, Amy Stewart was handing out cards with the Girl Waits with Gun "signature cocktail." It's too fun to keep to myself, so I embedded the PDF here. Click the image to enlarge it or head on over to Stewart's website to download your own copy.

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



To The Blogger Guide, Blogger Buster, Tips Blogger, Our Blogger Templates, BlogU, and Exploding Boy for the code for customizing my blog. To Old Book Illustrations for my ID photo. To SEO for meta-tag analysis. To Blogger Widgets for the avatars in my comments and sidebar gadgets. To Review of the Web for more gadgets. To SuziQ from Whimpulsive for help with my comments section. To Cool Tricks N Tips for my Google +1 button.

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