30 December 2015

Wordless Wednesday 374

Happy New Year!

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28 December 2015

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Looking Back & Looking Forward

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts from Beth Fish ReadsHappy last week of 2015! Hard to believe that in only a few days, it'll be time to put up new calendars, open new planners, and think about the year ahead. Today's Stacked-Up Book Thoughts is a combination year-end review and a look ahead.

All about 2015. I'm way too lazy this year to figure out how many hours I listened to audiobooks, but I do have a total number: 63, which is actually surprisingly low for me. I'm usually much closer to 80 audiobooks, but this year family issues and bad weather (meaning no daily walks) really cut into my listening time.

The first book I wrote about was Descent by Tim Johnston and the last book I wrote about was The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen. The last book I read, as of today, was Illuminae by Annie Kaufman and Jan Kristoff, and the last book I listened to, as of today, was Deceptions by Kelley Armstrong.

I read, reviewed, or featured 320 books across a variety of venues (here and freelance). For the first time since I started blogging in 2008, I didn't review every book I read or listened to.

Some miscellaneous observations:

  • I started out strong in comics, spurred on by the birth of Panels and the ending of Fables, but read very few graphic novels or comics in the last half of the year.
  • I read, reviewed, or featured about twice as many female authors than male authors.
  • I did not keep track of diversity stats because I got confused by what I consider diverse (see later for more thoughts on diversity).
  • I read many more middle grade books than I have in other years.
All about 2016. I have no set-in-stone reading goals for the coming year. I hope to continue to read across genres and across audiences and a nice combination of backlist and brand new. In addition, I've decided to commit to absolutely no reading challenges for next year, though I thought about the Read My Own Damn Books and Clean Your Reader challenges. Still, as tempting as these are, I'm not signing up.

I still plan to post my Wordless Wednesday photos, and I continue to look forward to hosting Weekend Cooking. I will also continue to write about books in a variety of ways, including but not limited to the following types of posts:
  • Full reviews
  • Bullet reviews
  • Reading on Topic
  • Today's Read
  • Sound Recommendations
  • Imprint updates (aka Imprint Friday)
  • Middle grade round-ups
Although I like writing in-depth reviews, I also like talking about books in informal ways. After some brainstorming, I've come up with some new ideas and new kinds of posts for next year. Now to see how soon I get around to writing them!

Besides the posts you find here, I often talk about books on Twitter and love sharing upcoming books with a photo and a quick hint at what's inside the covers. I tweet about incoming books every 10 days or so and have so much fun interacting with other book nerds who are as excited as I am about new releases or who encourage me to read the new books I've bought. Follow along if you're so inclined.

A note on diversity. I've thought long and hard about how to keep track of my diversity statistics. Last January, many bloggers and Book Riot writers waxed poetic about the importance of diverse books, and I fully support all such efforts. But what exactly is diversity? For Book Riot (if I understand correctly), it means reading books written by people of color. For other people, diversity might mean reading about people who are different from themselves or just like themselves, or it might mean reading books in translation or books from non-Western countries.

I'm not completely sure what diversity means to me, but I think I'm more interested in diverse subjects and characters than I am in diverse authors. I want to see Jewish characters who are not dealing with World War II or immigration. I want to see black characters who are not dealing with slavery or civil rights. I want to see LGBTQ characters who are not dealing with coming out or AIDS. I want to read more books that take place in non-Western settings and perhaps more books in translation. I'm still thinking about my views on diversity. If I come up with any answers, I'll let you know.

Do you have any reading goals for 2016? • How do you define diversity?

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26 December 2015

Weekend Cooking: Nantucket Cranberry Pie

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.

Weekend Cooking @ BethFishReads.comMerry Christmas, Happy Holidays to all of you. We had a quiet holiday at home and with friends. A couple of special dinners, a Christmas Day hike, and lots of time to read and relax. Hope your weekend is going exactly as you planned.

Our week has been filled with a little bit of crazy. On Tuesday, I was playing helper while Mr. BFR was installing a new toilet in our house. I turned one of the valves the wrong way, and we had a mini-geyser in the bathroom! Ooops. At least the bathroom ceiling is now really, really clean.

On Christmas Eve afternoon, I succumbed to some Twitter talk about Laurie Colwin's cranberry cake (she called it a pie) and decided that it'd be a great addition to the holiday food choices. Plus I had all the ingredients in the house and the cake is dead easy to make. So, about an hour before I was supposed to start roasting the chicken, I whipped up the cake.

Well, apparently I didn't put my springform together correctly because 20 minutes into the baking, smoke started billowing out of the oven! The cranberry juices had leaked onto the bottom of the oven, and the sugar was burning (not flaming). After turning on the exhaust fan and dismantling the smoke alarms . . . I took the half-baked cake out of the oven and we began the big cleanup.

Yep! we spent the better part of the afternoon scraping burned sugar out of the oven. ARGH. At least the oven is now really, really clean.

I decided to see if I could rescue the cake by putting it back in the oven to finish baking. (Yes, I did wrap the springform in foil this time.) Hey, you know what? The cake was very edible! It didn't rise or brown as it normally does and the fruit juices (which are supposed to mingle with the batter) had mostly dripped away, but it still tasted good. So this is truly a foolproof recipe!

Nothing like a little excitement to make the holidays fun! Hope your excitement involved a little less cleanup than ours did! (Note that I've been using springform pans for decades, and this is the first time I ever had one fail me. Lesson learned: double-check that you've put the pan together correctly.)

Here's the recipe; my additions and options are in brackets. Although Colwin called this a pie, it's really more like a cake or claflouti.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie
  1. Chop enough cranberries to make 2 cups and enough walnuts to make 1/2 cup.
  2. In the bottom of a 10-inch springform or deep dish pie plate, place chopped cranberries, chopped walnuts, and 1/2 cup sugar. [I add the grated zest of an orange here.]
  3. Mix 2 eggs, 3/4 cup melted butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1 teaspoon almond extract. [You can use vanilla here instead, if you'd like.] Stir until smooth.
  4. Pour over cranberry-walnut mixture and bake for 40 minutes at 350F.
I've eaten this as is, with whipped cream, and with ice cream. Yum!!

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23 December 2015

Wordless Wednesday 373

Merry Christmas!

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21 December 2015

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Support Your Local Bookstore (Mini Rant) & Holiday Plans

Support your local bookstore rant: Over the weekend, I saw a Twitter conversation about how much an acquaintance loved visiting his local independent bookstore and buying books there. His comments about finding every title he was looking for set off my usual fit of jealousy.

If you have a good independent bookstore anywhere near you, please make an effort to support it. I live in an area ruled by Barnes & Noble. Although I have no particular issue with B&N, I miss the days of shopping at a small bookstore with a staff who recognized their regular customers and who made an effort to do some hand-selling.

I was in our B&N last week to pick up two popular, well-known books to give as Christmas gifts. I figured these books were new enough that I'd have no problem finding them in the store. When I didn't see them on the shelves, I asked for help. The clerk checked the inventory and told me neither book was in stock. I could almost accept that in mid-December, but here's the kicker: The clerk not only didn't offer to order the books for me but also failed to suggest similar books I might want to buy instead.

Fortunately, after browsing the shelves, I was able to pick up some good second choices, so I didn't leave empty handed. I can't tell you how much I wished we had a local indie with knowledgeable employees. I could have used some recommendations or a chance to order the books.

If you have an independent bookstore in your area, be grateful. Frequent the store. Go to their events. You have no idea how bleak it can be without a good local bookstore.

My holiday blogging schedule. I am going pretty light around here until January 4. I plan to post  Wordless Wednesday photos and Weekend Cooking link-ups as usual. I have a reading goals post percolating in my brain, maybe another review, and I'm thinking of a nonbook post or two. Other than that, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter, and I'll be checking my blog reader so I can keep up on all of your news and reviews.

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19 December 2015

Weekend Cooking: The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen

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.

The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen & Melissa ElsenConfession time: It's not that I dislike chocolate, but if given a choice of desserts, I pick fruity or spicy over chocolate every time. And among the classic fruit desserts, pie comes in near the top of heap.

Thus I'm not sure why it took me so long to investigate Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen's The Four & Twenty Blackbird Pie Book. The recipes within its pages hits all my flavor buttons. Most of the pies have fruit fillings, and many are enhanced with warming spices.

In case you don't know (I didn't) Emily and Melissa are sisters who (after other, separate, careers) moved from the great Midwest to Brooklyn, New York, and started baking pies professionally. They now own a pie and coffee shop called, duh, Four & Twenty Blackbirds.

So what makes the Elsens' pies so different? It all starts with the crust, and Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book contains recipes for about a dozen different varieties--not one containing solid vegetable shortening (one common brand being Crisco). Instead, the crusts call for butter or lard or both. There are cracker crusts, butter crusts, nut crusts, and chocolate crusts. Sounds intriguing, yes?

copyright The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen & Melissa ElsenBut, of course, the heart of any pie is the filling, and I can't tell you how much the flavor combinations in this book call to me, just the names give you some clues:
  • Wild Ginger Strawberry Pie
  • Farmer Cheese Thyme Pie
  • Black Currant Lemon Chiffon Pie
  • Salted Caramel Apple Pie
  • Rosemary Honey Shoofly Pie
  • Pear Anise Pie
  • Maple Lime Custard Pie
  • Cranberry Sage Pie
Okay, seriously, I might as well list the entire contents. I'm not sure there's a loser among the sixty or so primary recipes. Those of you who are true pie lovers (Hi, Care!) could spend a lovely year baking one heavenly Four & Twenty Blackbird Pie each week. You wouldn't be sorry, and your family would love you for it.

Delicious sounding is all well and good, but are the pies doable for the home baker? Why, yes they are. The recipes are arranged seasonally, and all the filling ingredients are readily available at any grocery or farmers market. For the handful of ingredients that might be hard to find in a small town, check out the resources section at the back of the book or read the tips on substitutions.

The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen & Melissa ElsenThe instructions are well written and very clear. Each step is described in detail, and the Elsens provide additional hints and tips when needed. In addition, there are absolutely stunning photographs of the pies (check out the scans), so you can see where you're headed. Finally, I appreciate the storage information for each pie, so I know how far in advance I can bake dessert for a specific occasion.

Here's another thing that I love about this book: Not all the pies are baked in a traditional round pie pan. I'm intrigued by the concept of the slab pie, which is baked in a 16- by 11-in. baking sheet: This is, as the recipe introduction says, the perfect size and shape to feed a crowd. I think it'd be great on a buffet at a cookout. There are also recipes for mini tarts, individual pies, galettes, and other variations.

Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen's The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book is not your ordinary dessert cookbook. The unique spice combinations are geared to make the fruit flavors pop. This is the perfect cookbook for the baker who wants to push gently into new territory without turning her back on tradition. For a couple of recipes from the book, check out this article from Edible Brooklyn. Other recipes pop up on a simple Internet search, if you care to look.

Published by Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781455520510
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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17 December 2015

Review: Ninja Timmy by Henrik Tamm

Ninja Timmy by Henrik TammEvery once in a while a book written for a middle grade audience breaks out to become a family favorite--the Narnia series and Harry Potter immediately come to mind. Henrik Tamm's Ninja Timmy carries the same power, and Timmy, the crime-fighting cat, will soon become a beloved character for readers of all ages.

What's it about: Timmy (who likes to think he's no longer a kitten) and his friend Simon the mink like to invent and build practical machines, sometimes with the help with their friends Jasper and Casper, piglet brothers who happen to be math whizzes. One bad day, the four have a run-in with the town bullies, the wild boar Gribble cousins. Luckily, Timmy is rescued by Albert, an old man who builds magical toys. Meanwhile, the city is experiencing a crime spree: Someone is stealing all the human and animal childen's laughter. With Albert's help, Timmy and his gang decide to transform themselves into ninjas and make the streets safe once again. But will the four animal friends be able to stop whoever is behind the evil scheme?

Ninja Timmy by Henrik TammThe characters: Each character has a unique personality and no one is without flaws. Jasper and Casper bicker, as brothers do; Timmy wants to be a leader but is often afraid; Simon is sometimes too vain. Even Albert, the adult human, has to face the consequences of his poor decisions. Yet together, the ninja gang overcome their weakness to do what's right for each other and for the town.

The world: First, I love how comfortably the animal and human citizens of the city interact and live together. There is nothing surprising about a talking animal or a friendship between a cat and and man. Timmy's world is magical, but it's also very much familiar, making it easy to relate to the story and the setting. I also like the hint of steampunk in Albert and Timmy's toys and machines. Oh and don't forget the motorcycle-riding iguanas (hint: stay away from them)!

The story: The plot itself moves along well and seems to hit that perfect mix of action and character development. Although Ninja Timmy is written for the upper end of the middle grade audience, it's not quite as complex as an adult fantasy. However, the friendships, ethical dilemmas, personal growth, and even sweet young love add enough layers to keep older readers' attention.

Genre & audience: middle grade fantasy with steampunk elements.

Ninja Timmy by Henrik TammThemes: bullying, laughing, doing the right thing, friendship, magic, working as a team, forgiveness, redemption, facing up to one's mistakes, asking for help

Illustrations: You might not recognize Henrik Tamm's name, but I know you recognize his work. He is a Hollywood conceptual designer and has worked on Shrek and the Narnia movies. The illustrations in Ninja Timmy (see the scans) are simply gorgeous, sparking the imagination and bringing the story to life.

Recommendation: Henrik Tamm's Ninja Timmy is perfect for anyone who likes stories with lovable characters, a little magic, and a lot of action. This would be a great choice for a family read-along--everyone will fall in love with Timmy and his friends. Oh, and I'm happy to say the book ends with the promise of more stories to come. I can't wait to see what the Magical Ninjas will be doing next. (Click the images to enlarge; all rights remain with Tamm.)

Published by Penguin Random House / Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780385744515
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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16 December 2015

Wordless Wednesday 372

Abstract, 2015

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15 December 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: Here Today, Gone Tamale by Rebecca Adler

Here Today, Gone Tamale by Rebecca AdlerWhat if you were not only suddenly jobless but also jilted just before your wedding? You'd probably do what Josie Callahan did, if you were lucky enough to have a supportive family. She returned to her childhood home and helped out at her aunt and uncle's Mexican restaurant. All was going along fairly smoothly until a dead body was discovered just outside the establishment. Can Josie use her reporter skills to find the killer before anyone else bites the dust?

"Josie!" Aunt Linda's high-pitched drawl soared like a heat-seeking missile up the wooden stairs from our restaurant below, through my quaint living room, and into my sweet but tiny bedroom.

There are three things Aunt Linda and Uncle Eddie have in common with tamales: they're unpretentious, comforting, and fattening when consumed in excess.
Here Today, Gone Tamale by Rebecca Adler (Berkley Prime Crime, 2015, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times; Broken Boot, Texas
  • Circumstances: Josie, minus both her financĂ© and her newspaper job, returns home to work in her aunt and uncle's Tex-Mex restaurant, Milagro. When preparing for the annual Wild Wild West Festival, a major tourist draw, a local artist is found murdered just outside the restaurant. After the police arrest Milagro's newest waiter, Josie, sure the killer is still on the loose, uses all her journalism skills to try discover the true villain.
  • Characters: Josie, an ex-reporter now waitress; Lenny, her dog; Uncle Eddie and Aunt Linda, who took Josie in after she was orphaned; Senora Mari, Eddie's mother; Ryan, Josie's childhood friend and potential new love interest; Brooks, Josie's ex-boyfriend; various customers, tourists, townspeople, and police officers
  • Genre: culinary cozy mystery
  • The good: First, I really like Josie: she has some spunk and intelligence and clearly loves her family. The plot was well developed, with red herrings and plenty of suspects, and the ending made sense. Here Today, Gone Tamale has everything you want in a cozy, with its likable characters, touch of family drama, and cute dog. And, of course, there is the food. Yeah, I was craving all things Mexican when I was reading the book.
  • The not so good: At the very beginning, I had a little trouble getting all the characters straight because the action quickly turns to a community event. But once I got to know the people of Broken Boot, I got caught up in the story and wanted to know who was doing the killing and why.
  • Things to know: This is the first in a new series, which means you can start in on the ground floor. The back of the book has a few Tex-Mex recipes to help you cope with your food cravings!
The Giveaway

Thanks to the nice people at Penguin Random House, I'm happy to be able to offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address a copy of Rebecca Adler's Here Today, Gone Tamale. 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, via a random number generator, on December 21. Once the winner has been confirmed and I've passed the name and address along to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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14 December 2015

Movie Review & Giveaway: Maze Runner--The Scorch Trials

Maze Runner: Scorch Trials MovieJust about a year ago, I wrote about The Maze Runner, the first movie adaptation of James Dashner's trilogy of the same name. Tomorrow, the second installment, The Scorch Trials, will be available in DVD/BluRay and streaming.

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to participate in a viewing of The Scorch Trials and a Twitter chat with author James Dashner. I enjoyed watching this action-packed film along with fans from around the world. It's always fun to see what grabs other people's attention, from the sets to the acting and the plot. From Dashner's tweets it's obvious he's well pleased with the movie version of his popular novel.

The movie, directed by Wes Ball, stars Dylan O'Brien, Ki Hong Lee, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who are teens out to save the world from the people who took away their memories and seem to be conducting evil medical experiments (Patricia Clarkson and Aidan Gillen). Here's the summary from Twentieth Century Fox:

In this next chapter of the epic Maze Runner saga, Thomas (O'Brien) and his fellow Gladers face their greatest challenge yet: searching for clues about the mysterious and powerful organization known as WCKD. Their journey takes them to the Scorch, a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. Teaming up with resistance fighters, the Gladers take on WCKD's vastly superior forces and uncover its shocking plans for them all.
The Scorch Trials is a fast-moving film that is heavy on the action (chases, battles) while conveying the deep emotions of the characters (friendships, grief, betrayal). The filming was well done, and the sets were imaginative and believable. I was particularly impressed with the sound track, which added to the tension. Of course, Gillen plays the perfect bad guy, and Clarkson oozes smug superiority. All the teen actors also do a great job, especially O'Brien and Brodie-Sangster.

Take a look at the trailer:

The Giveaway

Thanks to the nice people at Think Jam and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I'm able to offer one of my readers with a USA mailing address a copy of the DVD/BluRay of The Scorch Trials. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner, using a random number generator, on December 21. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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12 December 2015

Weekend Cooking: Drinking in America by Susan Cheever

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.

Drinking in America by Susan CheeverAlthough I like a glass of wine with dinner and have no hesitation having a drink when the occasion calls for it, I'm a long way from being an alcoholic. What's more, as far as I know, no one in my family is addicted to alcohol (or anything else). Yet, for some reason, I have a fascination with reading about booze and its effects on individuals and society.

One of the better "drinking memoirs" is Susan Cheever's Note Found in a Bottle (1999), in which she talks about her life with and without alcohol and her relationship with her father, who was also an alcoholic. When I learned that her newest book was to be an examination of America's attitudes toward drinking, I knew I had to read it.

Susan Cheever's Drinking in America examines the role alcohol played in shaping the United States, from the moment the Pilgrims set foot on Cape Cod to the modern obsession with rehab clinics and coming clean. Cheever, of course, discusses the laws, social attitudes, politics, economics, and science of drinking in America. But this book is far from a boring history.

In particular I loved the way Cheever explodes our purified images of American icons, from Paul Revere to modern-day presidents. For example, did you know this?
A brew house was one of the first structures built in Plymouth, and it was soon joined by a local tavern. The Pilgrims believed beer was an unalloyed good, a "good creature of God." People who did not drink were suspect and "crank-brained." (p. 25)
Umm, not your second-grade teacher's version of the uptight colonists!

Here are some other things I learned:
  • Although Washington's troops were low on food and decent boots that horrible winter they spent in Valley Forge, they somehow had enough rum that the general was able to order double rations to help the men survive the cold.
  • Remember Johnny Appleseed merrily planting wholesome apple trees throughout the east? Well apparently he was not planting eating apples, but cider apples. Thanks to him, even the poorest of settlers could indulge in a warming drink.
  • Richard Nixon was the ultimate cheap date, known to get almost falling-down drunk on just a couple of drinks. Sometimes he'd be passed out from alcohol and unable to handle a middle-of-the-night international emergency--the only drinking president thought to have been this incapacitated.
Cheever's conversational style and eye-opening stories make this book difficult to put down. On the more serious side, she examines the role alcohol played in all our major historical events, including war, the settling of the west, the women's movement, and the writer's life. I had no idea how alcohol went from being a normal part of everyday life in the United States to being banned during Prohibition to becoming the touchy issue it is today.

Susan Cheever's Drinking in America is a very readable account of a sideways view of American history. You don't want to miss this one.

Published by Hachette Book Group / Twelve, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781455513871
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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10 December 2015

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Reading at the End of the Year

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts from Beth Fish ReadsEach December, as the holidays and the end of the year come ever closer, my reading life changes. I rely even more heavily on audiobooks and turn to escape reading and favorite genres instead of literary fiction and nonfiction.

This year is turning out to be no different. I plan to spend the last three weeks of 2015 lost in fantasy worlds and puzzling out mysteries. I may turn to women's fiction and will throw in a few middle grade books for good measure. I'm also thinking about light nonfiction. In any case, I plan to go where my mood takes me.


I have a number of fantasies and cozy mysteries queued up for December listening, but wanted to mention some audiobooks that I haven't reviewed on my blog.

  • I listened to The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 59 min) read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher, last month. While I enjoyed the story and thought the audiobook production to be fine, I was not wowed. I like quirky characters and trying to figure out who is telling the truth, but ultimately the book didn't live up to the hype for me.
  • I downloaded The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (Recorded Books; 13 hr, 18 min) read by George Guidall on the off chance that my husband and I would listen to it on a recent road trip. I ended up listening on my own and really loved the production. Guidall nailed the characters, pacing, and emotions.
  • Orhan Pamuk's A Strangeness in My Mind (Random House Audio; 21 hr, 56 min) is a beautiful book that's part family saga and part tribute to Istanbul. John Lee's performance was brilliant. (My full review will appear in AudioFile magazine.)
  • I'm currently listening to Visions, the second Cainsville book by Kelley Armstrong (Penguin Audio; 15 hr, 2 min) read by Carine Montbertrand and Mozhan Marno. If you like urban fantasy, myths, and omens mixed with great characters, good humor, and plenty of action, then this series will be a good match. Montbertrand and Marno make a good team and are keeping me well entertained.
Print Books

Here are some books at the top of my holiday reading pile.

  • I can't believe I've had Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Knopf Books for Young Readers) on my bookshelves since BEA (June). I know people have been talking about this book, but I still don't know much about it. I'm going to keep it that way and go into this one blind.
  • What better way to escape the holiday stress than to sit down with Michael Connelly? The Crossing (Little, Brown) is the newest Bosch book, and I'm happy to see it features Mickey Haller too! I'll pour myself a shot of whiskey and settle in for a great read.
  • I missed Jamie Kain's The Good Sister (St. Martin's Griffin) in hardcover, but it was released in paperback just this week. The story is about three sisters and touches on some tough subjects. Not exactly fluff reading, but this emotional novel will be a good foil to my other picks.
  • I'm fascinated with the premise of J. C. Carleson's Placebo Junkies (Knopf Books for Young Readers). It's about a seventeen-year-old girl who has become a professional pharmaceutical trial volunteer. What happens when the side effects of the drugs start to manifest themselves? According to reviews, there is enough humor to offset any sadness.

I really should join Kerry's Clean Your Reader Challenge for next year. In the meantime, here's what I have loaded on my reading devices.

  • I'm almost done with Kate Morton's The Lake House (Atria), which has been taking me way too long to read. The story and the pacing are great, but I keep getting distracted by work and other activities. I should finish this in a couple of days. Loving it!
  • The Box Wine Sailors by Amy McCullough (Chicago Review Press) looks like it could be a good match for me . . . or not (ask me about my reaction to Wild). Here's the basis for this true-life story: A twenty-something couple with minimal sailing experience buy a boat unsuited for ocean travel, quit their jobs, and attempt to sail south along the Pacific coast. I'm going to give it a try.
  • Ticket to India by N. H. Senzai (Paula Wiseman Books) is a contemporary adventure set in India. Two sisters board a train, heading north to their grandmother's village. After they become separated, twelve-year-old Maya continues the trip alone. This coming-of-age story explores themes surrounding the Great Partition.
  • Christopher Buckley's The Relic Master (Simon & Schuster) promises to be a rollicking adventure set in 1517 and involving Catholic relics, the rise of Protestantism, and quirky characters. Although the themes sound serious, reviewers assure us that the humor wins out.
Have you read any of the books I'm considering for my year-end reading? If so, which ones do you recommend?

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09 December 2015

Wordless Wednesday 371

Historic Graveyard, 2015

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08 December 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: The Bone Hunters by Robert J. Mrazek

The Bone Hunters by Robert J. MrazekWhat if you had the chance to solve one of the biggest mysteries in the field of physical anthropology / paleoanthropology? Would you get involved? How about if you were putting your life in danger? For General (Retired) Steve Macaulay and archaeologist Lexy Vaughan, the answer is easy. They're on board, no matter the risk.

He came awake to the gaunt, beaming face of Carlos leaning over his hospital bed. Macaulay only wished it had been the face he had seen when he was regaining consciousness on the beach. Had Lexy been there or had it been delirium?

Macaulay's head was throbbing, but it wasn't from a hangover. He reached up with his left hand and felt the bandage on his forehead. He remembered slamming into the steering wheel when the Goose hit the water.
The Bone Hunters by Robert J. Mrazek (Signet, 2015, p. 82)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: various places around the world; mostly modern times, with a few flashbacks to the 1940s
  • Circumstances: In 1941, the original fossilized bones of the Homo erectus specimen known as Peking Man were boxed for transport to the United States for safe keeping. The bones presumably left China, but were never seen again. In modern times in China, a grass-roots cult forms around the lost fossil, prompting the Chinese government to up its efforts to find and destroy Peking Man. Meanwhile, Steve, Lexy, and U.S. officials team up, determined to locate the famous fossil before it is truly lost forever.
  • Characters: Steve Macaulay, retired air force general; Alexandra Vaughan, well-respected archaeologist; Barnaby Finchem, Lexy's mentor; various U.S. agents and officials; bad guys in China and Germany; other friends and enemies around the world
  • Genre & themes: action / adventure, mystery, international politics, China, paleoanthropology
  • Why I want to read this: I read the first Macaulay-Vaughan book, Valhalla, and loved the action, the mystery, and the archaeological aspects to the story. Plus it involved Vikings! Steve and Lexy have a good chemistry and their skills complement each other. I have a doctorate in physical anthropology, so reading The Bone Hunters is a given.
  • Things to know: The story of the missing Peking Man specimen is true. Indeed the bones were lost in 1941 while en route to New York. What happened to the fossil has remained a mystery ever since. Mrazek includes an Author's Note with a brief history of the discovery of Peking Man and its disappearance. The fictionalized adventure story promises to be pure fun. Think Indian Jones, but without the hat and whip.
Valhalla by Robert J. MrazekThe Giveaway

Thanks to the nice people at Penguin Random House, I'm happy to be able to offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address not only a copy of Robert J. Mrazek's The Bone Hunters (published on December 1) but also a copy of the first Steve Macualay-Alexandra Vaughan book, Valhalla. (These books are perfect for holiday escape reading!) All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win the two books is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner, via a random number generator, on December 18. Once the winner has been confirmed and I've passed the name and address along to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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07 December 2015

Best Books Read in 2015

Best Books Read in 2015 from Beth Fish ReadsSome years I make several best-of lists, separating out audiobooks from print and fiction from nonfiction. This year I'm making only one list, combing media and genres.

I know there are still a few weeks left in the year, and, yes, I may read my new favorite book tomorrow. Nevertheless, I'm posting today.

Note: I read the books in this list during 2015; the books were not necessarily published in 2015. Note too that these are the books I still remember and still think about, regardless of my overall review. Thus this is not simply a list of my most positive reviews. (Books listed in alphabetical order; links are to my review.)

  • Best Books Read in 2015 from Beth Fish ReadsBlackout by Sarah Hepola (nonfiction): "This can't-stop-reading memoir gives alcoholism a context within Gen X sociocultural pressures and post-feminism expectations."
  • Descent by Tim Johnston (fiction): "a complex psychological novel, studded with precisely balanced action."
  • Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine Kuderick (poetry): "The power of Kuderick's words hit me hard, and I felt the truth of Kenna's story and the hope between the lines."
  • The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (fiction): "It's different, fresh, horrifying, and mesmerizing."
  • Like Family by Paolo Giordano (fiction)" "A beautifully written slip of a book with an emotional depth that will capture your attention from beginning to end."
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (fiction): "a look at the everyday life of two people trying to find a way out of loneliness while preserving their dignity and independence and honoring their pasts."
  • Rywka's Diary by Anita Friedman & Rywka Lipszyc (nonfiction): "Beautifully and sensitively translated, Rywka Lipszyc's diary provides an eloquent and surprising perspective on life, hope, and faith in one of the worst of the Jewish ghettos."
  • The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton (fiction): "Whether writing about the typical, goofy antics of teenage boys or the horrors carried out in the name of greed and intolerance, Scotton perfectly captures each scene."
  • A Series of Small Maneuvers by Eliot Treichel (fiction): "This is less a survival in the wilderness story and more about a girl finding her way after her world is forever altered."
  • A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern (fiction): A respectful, realistic, and sensitive examination of ethical dilemmas and what it means to be disabled. (Review will appear here and on the AudioFile website.)
  • Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (fiction): "Just read the damn book. Seriously. And if you haven't read it since it first came out, consider a reread."
  • Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson (fiction): "a powerful, stunningly real novel. Put Christie Watson on your permanent must-read list."

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05 December 2015

Weekend Cooking: 4 Cookbooks for Gift Giving

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.

Cookbooks for gift giving from www.BethFishReads.comLooking for a little something different to give to your foodie friends this holiday season? I have a few suggestions that might be a perfect match for someone on your list, whether an experienced cook or a child. Note: I have read but haven't tested any of these cookbooks; still, I feel confident recommending them.

Custom Confections by Jen BeselCustom Confections by Jen Besel is a cute cookbook geared for middle grade kids, but I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't have a lot of fun with it. The equipment and recipes are basic, but the decorations are amazing. The secret is to use cake mixes and store-bought cookie dough, pie crusts, and puff pastry and then use them in creative ways to make mini tarts, ice cream cone cakes, and (my favorite) a pile of books cake. Some treats are no bake (stuffed strawberries) and some are frozen (ice pops). Besel provides detailed but easy-to-follow decorating instructions for the main recipes as well as the icings and fondants. Those dark chocolate truffles (at top right on the book cover) are calling to me. (Capstone Young Readers, 2014, 9781623701369)

Mug It! by Pam McElroyMug It! by Pam McElroy is a great little book for teens and college students, although you'll find plenty of grown-up recipes as well. The recipes are heavy on breakfast, snacks, and desserts, but you'll also find a handful of dinner recipes. And despite its title and cover, this cookbook also includes several mason jar recipes, such as salads, fruit parfaits, and pickles. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the mug-cooked breads, muffins, and cakes caught my immediate attention. I'm glad I looked a little deeper, however, because the pretty salads and creative dips look delicious too. Plus I know a few college students who would love to know how to make mug-size mac and cheese in their dorm-room microwave. (Pulp/Zest Books, 2015, 9781936976782)

The Cafe Spice Cookbook by Hari NayakThe Cafe Spice Cookbook by Hari Nayak is perfect for cooks who want to expand their repertoire into the fragrant and delicious world of Indian cooking. Nayak starts with an introduction to spices, techniques, and suggested equipment for us novices. The recipes are geared (as the subtitle says) for everyday meals, meaning they're easy and generally quick to make. I love that almost every recipe is accompanied by a full-color photograph, which is especially welcome when cooking unfamiliar dishes. The directions are clear and informative, and most of the ingredients are easy to find. Vegetarians may want to look through the book before buying. (Tuttle Publishing, 2015, 9780804844307)

The Simple Art of Salt Block Cooking by Jessica Harlan and Kelley SparwasserThe Simple Art of Salt Block Cooking by Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser is for the adventurous cook, although the techniques involved are easy and mostly familiar. The book goes through the basics of grilling, baking, and serving using a special block of salt. Wait! I know your first question, and here's the answer: You can buy  Himalayan salt blocks in many stores, including Home Depot. I can also answer your second question: The authors assure us that the dishes will in fact not taste too salty. Besides appetizers, sides, and main meals, you'll find recipes for breads and even sweets. What's more, the flavors are global, from Mexican to Asian to classic French. I definitely hope to give this intriguing technique a try. (Ulysses Press, 2015, 9781612434834)

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03 December 2015

8 Books for Holiday Gift Giving 2015

8 books for holiday gift giving from Beth Fish ReadsI'm betting you and I share a few things in common, and I'm probably right when I say that one of those is our love of giving books to family and friends. Of the new releases that crossed my desk this fall, here are eight I thought would be perfect for gift giving. Take a look and see if there isn't something just right for the people on your holiday list.

All the Words Are Yours by Tyler Knott GregsonFor six years, Tyler Knott Gregson (a professional photographer) has written a daily haiku celebrating love. That's more than two thousand poems! The pieces in All the Words Are Yours, Gregson's second haiku collection, run the range from romantic to evocative. Some are hand-lettered and some are typed, and almost all are accompanied by one of Gregson's beautiful photographs. Give this small tome to someone special and share the positive energy. (Perigee, 9780399176005) Here's an example:

I have simple needs, / Just you and my morning tea, / The moment I rise.

By the Book edited by Pamela PaulPamela Paul's collection of writers and other notable people talking about their reading life is now out in paperback, just in time for the holidays. By the Book contains interviews that originally appeared in the New York Times Book Review; they offer fascinating reading for inquiring literary minds. What are Neil Gaiman's reading habits? What writer would Elizabeth Gilbert like to meet? What kinds of stories call to Jhumpa Lahiri? (Picador USA, 9781250074690) Here's where Francine Prose likes to read:
The passenger seat of a car on the New York State Thruway, on a sunny day without much traffic.

Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset by Caitlin KuhwaldCaitlin Kuhwald's Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset is just too much fun not to be a part of this list. You get dolls and three-dimensional sets of Bill, Hill, the White House, the Clinton enemies, the ghosts, and more. You can change their clothes and their facial expressions to act out a variety of scenarios for the Oval Office, situation room, or White House lawn. Imagine life with Hillary as president. The dolls are printed on thick card stock in full color, and the sets open up within the pages of the book. There's even a pocket in the inside cover to store your dolls. (Quirk, 9781594748318) This one is appropriate for your friends on both sides of the aisle--as long as they have a good sense of humor.

The Time Chamber by Daria SongThe Time Chamber is Daria Song's newest adult coloring book. This volume introduces us to a red-haired fairy who lives in a cuckoo clock. We get to accompany her on her adventures into the world of humans and see our everyday items from the perspective of a very small magical being. The pages range from intricate to simple and just beg for colorful embellishment. Although Song provides the beginning of the story, it's up to readers and artists to interpret the illustrations in their own way. (Watson-Guptill, 9781607749615) Don't forget to pick up a box of colored pencils or artists' markers to go with. Hours and hours of calming creativity for the teens and adults on your list.

The Whaling Season by Peter LourieAlso new in paperback this fall is The Whaling Season by Peter Lourie. I love the books in the Scientists in the Field series, which are geared to middle grade readers but are appropriate for science geeks of any age. This amazing nonfiction adventure is packed with photographs, facts, and stories of what it's like to be an Arctic whale biologist, both in the field and in the lab. In one chapter we learn just how difficult it is to study whale anatomy (see the quote); the animals' shear size can be daunting. (Harcourt Brace, 9780544582415) Pick this up for your young scientist.
A forty-five-foot bowhead whale has a 450-pound heart. The bowhead aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the other arteries, is at least a foot in diameter. The average adult human's aorta is one and a half inches.

Plotted by Andrew DeGraffHere's a cool book: Andrew DeGraff's Plotted: A Literary Atlas. The pages of this book are chock-full of colorful maps showing us the worlds and/or the journeys we've learned about in all kinds of classic books, from Kafka to LeGuin. For example, DeGraff creates New York City from the perspective of Ellison's Invisible Man, the fictional warrens of Adams's Watership Down, and the U.S. South of Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn We see ships and ocean voyages and even the five stages of Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Each map or set of maps is introduced by a short essay (written by Daniel Harmon), identifying the original book or myth or poem or story. (Zest, 9781936976867). Engrossing browsing ahead for the literary set.

Spy vs Spy edited by John FicarraBaby boomers, Mad magazine fans, comics lovers, and cold war fanatics will all love Spy vs Spy, edited by John Ficarra. This volume collects 150 classic "Spy vs Spy" comic strips that were first published in the irreverent magazine. No matter your age, you'll find plenty to laugh at as the pointy-nosed spies attempt to thwart each other at every turn. They stop at nothing and will use every lowdown trick they can thing of. The cold war may be over, but East still fights West and spies are among us. Don't miss the short introduction by the comedian Lewis Black. (Liberty Street, 9781618931597) Children of boomers: here's the perfect gift for your liberal parents. This is also recommended to anyone you know who has a warped (in a good way) sense of humor.

The Complete Beatles Songs by Steve TurnerThe final suggestion on this list is Steve Turner's The Complete Beatles Songs. This large book contains stories, lyrics, history, and trivia about every song the Beatles ever recorded. (Note that the book doesn't include music or chords.) The text is accompanied by many photographs, some of which will be familiar and others that you may not have seen before. Turner describes the circumstances that inspired the songs, the meanings of the lyrics, and the interpersonal dynamics of the group as they went through the various stages of their career: the changing musical styles, the Eastern influences, and so on. (Dey Street, 9780062447340) This is a must-have addition to any music lover's library. Here's John looking back to 1963:
"I Want to Hold Your Hand" materialized when Paul came up with an opening line, then hit a chord on the piano. I turned to him and said, "That's it! Do that again!" In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that--both playing into each other's noses.

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02 December 2015

Wordless Wednesday 370

Spotted on a street in the Netherlands

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

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01 December 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: Like Family by Paolo Giordano

Review: Like Family by Paolo GiordanoHow fully could you welcome a housekeeper/nanny into your home? For the unnamed narrator of this novel, his wife, and their son, Mrs. A soon becomes indispensable, not just in practical matters but also in smoothing out the family dynamics.

On my thirty-fifth birthday, Mrs. A. abruptly gave up the determination that in my eyes characterized her more than any other quality and, already laid out in a bed that by then seemed too big for her body, finally abandoned the world we all know.
Like Family by Paolo Giordano (Pamela Dorman Books, 2015, p. 1) [And, yes, I shared this same quote last week.]

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times; Italy
  • Circumstances: When a young woman's first pregnancy becomes difficult, the family hires Mrs. A to help out. After the baby is born, the older woman stays on, becoming an integral part of domestic life. How much she is "like family" becomes especially clear when she's diagnosed with cancer.
  • Characters: the unnamed male narrator; Nora, his wife; Emanuele, their son; Mrs. A
  • Genre: literary fiction; in translation
  • Themes: family, marriage, parenting, friendship, love, mortality
  • Thoughts: A beautifully written slip of a book with an emotional depth that will capture your attention from beginning to end. This snapshot of an ordinary family and marriage reveals its secrets layer by layer in a perfect tempo. Like Family is a don't-miss read and a contender for my best of 2015 list.
Bonus Teaser
"What do you miss most about her?" I asked [Nora].

"I miss the way she encouraged us. People are so stingy with their encouragement. They just want to be sure you're more needy than they are. . . . Not her, she was always rooting for us." (p. 16)
The Giveaway

Thanks to Penguin Random House, in celebration of today's release of Paolo Giordano's Like Family, I'm happy to be able to offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address a copy of this short novel. 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, via a random number generator, on December 10. Once the winner has been confirmed and I've passed the name and address along to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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