31 March 2016

Review: The Elephant in the Room by Jack Bender

Review: I Am the Elephant in th Room by Jack BenderJack Bender is probably best known for his work on television shows, including Lost, The Sopranos, and Game of Thrones. It is not as well known that he is also a painter, sometimes working in mixed media.

The Elephant in the Room is a collection of short stories in words and illustrations. The overriding theme is social commentary, and the pieces are told with humor and honesty. The artwork and graphics are gorgeous, and I have looked through and read this book several times already. I'm so impressed with how much Bender is able to say in just a few words accompanied by powerful images.

Copyright Jack BenderIn "Animal Logic," we get two-page snapshots into the human condition from different animals' perspectives. "Urban Acrobats" is a kind of love story plus a stark look at what happens when conformity is enforced. The highs and lows of a woman's life play out in "Wanda Woke Up" (see the scan for the opening spread of this story; click to enlarge), and "My Wife Was Killed by an Alligator" was inspired by a true event. The final story, "Who We Are," explores what we lose and gain in the journey to self-discovery and adulthood.

A good number of the bold, colorful paintings are clearly influenced by cubism, and all of them are modern. The Elephant in the Room is as much an art book as it is a collection of stories, and it's a book to keep and enjoy multiple times and in different ways. Look at the pictures, read the words, share a thought or two.

Highly recommended for pretty much everyone. Jack Bender is both a great storyteller and an accomplished artist. Buy The Elephant in the Room for yourself and for gifts and think about it as fruitful book club choice.

Note on the Scan: The scan is used here in the context of a review. All rights and copyrights remain with Jack Bender.

Published by Inkshares, April 2016
ISBN-13: 9781941758793
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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30 March 2016

Wordless Wednesday 387

Forsythia, 2016

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29 March 2016

Today's Read: Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser

Review: Sweetgirl by Travis MulhauserWhat would do if you found a neglected baby in the home of dangerous man? You'd probably do just what Percy James did: try to sneak the baby out of the house and protect her. Although she did the right thing, Percy could not have predicted the full range of events she triggered when she headed out into the snowstorm with that child in her arms.

Nine days after Mama disappeared I heard she was throwing down with Shelton Potter. Gentry said she was off on a bad one and wandering around the farmhouse like a goddamn ghost.

Mama bought her booze at Night Moves, where Gentry worked the counter, and he stopped by to tell me he saw her at Shelton's while he was out there delivering a keg.
Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser (Ecco, 2016, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: northern Michigan, modern times
  • Circumstances: Just as a winter storm starts to build up steam, Percy James heads off to rescue her mother from her latest drug and drink bender. When she gets to the local dealer's house in the woods, she finds him and his girlfriend passed out and a baby girl half frozen in her crib. Percy, unable to drive home, takes the baby cross-country to a family friend's cabin, setting off a deadly game of survival. Battling the elements and bad, bad people, Percy is forced to use all her resources to get the baby to safety.
  • Characters: Percy James, a teenager with a good head on her shoulders; Jenna, the baby; Carletta, Percy's strung-out mother; Portis, a family friend who offers help; Shelton, a drug dealer and all-round nasty person; Kayla, the baby's druggie mother; various other people, good and bad
  • Themes: survival, family, doing the right thing
  • Genre: literary fiction, adventure, thriller 
  • Thoughts: I'm not sure what I expected when I started this book, but once I picked it it up, I read it all in one go. The characters were easy to envision—to root for or hate—and the pace of the action keep my attention. Although the story is dark, there is a patina of hope, and I even found moments of humor.
  • Recommendations: For anyone looking for an action-packed story with believable characters. You'll feel the cold and the fear. You'll hope the good guys succeed and the bad guys get what they deserve. But you'll not be convinced there could ever be a Hollywood ending.

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28 March 2016

12 Books to Read in April

I often talk about the physical (print) books on my reading list, but I sometimes forget to let you know what's new on my eReader. Here are 12 books (all to be published in April) that caught my attention.

Traveling to New Places

• The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones: Set in Alaska, this novel follows Tara Marconi's transformation from Philadelphia athlete and baker to commercial fisherman in the harsh northern latitudes. Themes: friendship, self-discovery, new starts (Mariner Books) • Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjie Divakaruni: Set in India and America, this is the story of three generations of women whose choices have unexpected consequences. Themes: mothers & daughters, cultural expections (Simon & Schuster) • Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan: Set in the 1850s, this novel follows the journey of Jonah Williams who escapes from his South Carolina plantation to find freedom in the north. Themes: human spirit, friendship, survival (Algonquin). • A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry: Set in Puerto Rico, this murder mystery finds its foundation in folklore and tales of the "girl filled with poison," who may or may not be dangerous. Themes: first love, culture clash, folk beliefs (Algonquin Books for Young Readers)

Nonfiction Picks

• Jungle of Stone by William Carlsen: This is the true story of the early-1800s discovery of the fabled cities of the ancient Maya. Facing an unforgiving environment, two men survived a 2,500-mile journey to tell the world of their discoveries. History (William Morrow) • The Last Voyageurs by Lorraine Baoissoneault: In 1976 a group of Midwestern teens and high school teachers set out to reenact the 3,300-mile journey of French explorer La Salle. This is the story of their adventure told against the backdrop of the original 1680 expedition. History, travel (Pegasus) • The Path by Michael Puett and Christine Gros-Loh: Written for the general public, this book is based on Harvard professor Puett's very popular Chinese philosophy class, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of students. Philosophy (Simon & Schuster) • Pistols and Petticoats by Erika Janik: The subtitle tells it all--"175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction." This book explores the trials and tribulations of the strong women who found a place in real-life law enforcement or in the pages of crime novels. Women's issues (Beacon Press)

Family and Women

• The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Ray: Set in 1948 in Australia, this is the story of a young widow trying to come to terms with life as a single parent and a World War II veteran whose poetry seems to have been bled away. Themes: healing, moving forward, friendship (Atria) • Sunday's on the Phone to Monday by Christine Reilly: Set over thirty years in New York City, this is the story of a couple and then a family settling into its maturity. Themes: sisters, loyalty, family love (Touchstone) • Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell: Set in the late 1950s in New York City, this novel centers on three young adults whose publishing dreams--as authors or editors--are tested by personal choices and cultural expectations. Themes: ambition, friendship, the price of success (Putnam) • The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke: Set during modern times, this novel gives three fifty-year-old best friends a do-over of their fortieth year. What would they do differently? Themes: friendship, choices, fate (Washington Square Press)

What's on your eReader for April?

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26 March 2016

Weekend Cooking: The Young Chef by The Culinary Institute of America

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.

Review: The Young Chef by the Culinary Institute of AmericaHave you ever bought a kids' cookbook and been disappointed? The recipes seem too cutesy or they rely too heavily on processed foods or they don't offer any real information for budding cooks. That's been my experience too, so I approached the Culinary Institute of America's The Young Chef with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The good news is this cookbook is everything you'd want a kids' cookbook to be. Actually, it's everything you'd want for a still-learning cook of any age. I'll go even further and recommend The Young Chef to anyone who wants to practice her kitchen skills and learn new recipes.

First, The Young Chef is a fount of great information, such as food safety, cooking tips, and how to use equipment. The book also includes a guide to food prep (cutting, chopping, mise en place) and tips for proper measuring. I particularly loved the flavor profile chapter, where I learned, for example, which spices they use in Spain. This is no dumbed-down cookbook. Ever want to know the proper way to saute, steam, or grill? The Culinary Institute has it covered.

copyright Culinary Institute of America: The Young ChefThe recipes themselves are amazingly appealing. I like the family-friendly choices, like pizza (with homemade dough), lasagna, and BBQ chicken as well as the more global choices, such as curries, pot stickers, and tacos. There are breakfast dishes, homemade crackers, soft pretzels, roasted potatoes, and ice pops. You'll also find a great variety of homemade sauces and salad dressings.

The recipes directions are easy to follow and many recipes are accompanied by tips, variations, and other useful information. I'm also happy to report that there are a good number of vegetarian choices and few (if any) recipes call for processed foods. Click the scan to see a recipe and all the information that comes with it. This how kids (and adults) learn so much more than just how to follow a recipe. Note that there are many color photos throughout the book, so we can see exactly what is going on.

I love the Culinary Institute of America's The Young Chef so much that I'm recommending it not only to those of you who cook with kids but to anyone who wants to learn more or wants to feel more confident in the kitchen.

Photo note: The scan comes from page 111 and is used here in the context of a review. All rights remain with the original copyright holder: The Culinary Institute of America.

Published by Houghton Mifflin, April 2016
ISBN-13: 9780470928660
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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24 March 2016

Review: Brooklyn (Film)

Brooklyn: movie BluRay reviewIt's always a treat when a book to movie adaptation provides a satisfying portrayal of a beloved story. Director John Crowley and screenplay writer Nick Hornby beautifully captured the soul of Colm Tóibín's novel about an Irish women who seeks a better future in America.

In case you don't know the story, here is the studio's summary:

Oscar Nominee Saorise Ronan lights up the screen as Ellis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant navigating through 1950s Brooklyn. Although her initial homesickness soon gives way to romance, when Ellis's life is disrupted by news from her hometown, she is forced to choose between two countries and two men on opposite sides of the world. Based on the best-selling novel, Brooklyn is a warm and wonderful story about falling in love . . . and finding your way home.
The story line of the film follows the essence of the book, and we get a clear feeling of why Ellis decides to go to America, her rocky adjustment to Brooklyn, and her later dilemma when she has to choose a country and a future. All the actors do a great job, and it's easy to become invested in their world.

I loved how the film's costumes, music, and settings bring the period details to life. Ronan's performance is spot-on, and I particularly loved the scenes set in her boardinghouse. The other girls and the landlady, with their clothes and hairstyles and gossip, gives us a sense of the single woman's life in the 1950s.

The Blu-Ray version came out earlier this month, and the movie is one of those that you'll likely want to watch more than once. Don't miss the Blu-Ray special features, which include a print to screen segment as well as shorts on the cast, story, and film making. You'll also find a photo gallery and deleted and extended scenes.

I highly recommend this movie. I love the story, and I completely agree with the professional critics: Saorise Ronan's performance is fantastic. Whether you've read the book or not, Brooklyn is a beautiful movie that's sure to win your heart.

Thanks to Think Jam and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment for the review copy of the Blu-Ray edition of Brooklyn. All thoughts are my own.

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23 March 2016

Wordless Wednesday 386

Crocus, 2016

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22 March 2016

Today's Read: Lust & Wonder by Augusten Burroughs

Review: Lust & Wonder by Augusten BurroughsI don't think I have much of a story to tell, and if I did, I'm not sure I'd share it with the world. I glad, however, that some people are willing to let us see what's it's like to take a walk in their shoes. Augusten Burroughs is one such person.

Just when I broke my sobriety and started drinking again in moderate and controlled measure exactly like a normal person, I met this guy who wasn't just a guy but a writer, and not just a writer but the author of one my favorite books.
Lust & Wonder by Augusten Burroughs (St Martin's Press, 2016, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: contemporary New York City (mostly)
  • Circumstances: Augusten Burroughs writes with incredible frankness and honesty about his struggles with alcohol and relationships and the arc of his writing career.
  • Themes: self-acceptance, coming into oneself, clarity, alcoholism, love 
  • Genre: memoir
  • Thoughts: Burroughs is one of the few people willing to share the ugly truths about themselves; he's brave and funny and holds little back. He reveals the lowest of lows when he gives in completely to his drinking as well as the false hopes that come with convenient relationships. He talks about sexual dysfunction and the loss of friends to AIDS. Yet, despite these dark themes, he maintains a sense of humor and a modicum of optimism, never giving up on the idea that things will work out, that he'll find love, and that the future surly has some lasting happiness.
  • Recommendations: If you're looking for an inspirational memoir, you'll not really find it in Burroughs. If you're looking for honesty, then he's your guy. As his editor notes, reading Burroughs's memoirs is like talking to a really good friend. You might be shocked by the stories, but you never doubt that he's a decent person who deserves more. His journey to inner peace has been long and hard, and I hope that he has at last found a safe person and place to call home.
  • Things to know: Among novels and other work, Augusten Burroughs has written two other memoirs: Running with Scissors is about his childhood and Dry is about his coming to terms with his addiction. You don't have to read these to understand Lust & Wonder, but why miss out?

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21 March 2016

Review: The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins

The Last Days of Magic by Mark TompkinsMark Thompkins's The Last Days of Magic starts with the premise that the Vatican has hidden at least some of the ancient sages' writings and that angels and demons, faeries and pixies once visibly roamed the earth. So what happened to these wielders of magic? They were driven from their last stronghold in Ireland to the Middle Kingdom, primarily by Catholic crusaders in the late 1300s.

Pulling on Norse mythology; Welsh, Gaelic, and Celtic legends; and English and European pagan history, Tompkins recounts the ultimate struggle for power over the human realm. The battle lines were drawn with Britain and the Vatican on one side and Celtic Ireland and their Sidhe on the other. Old World magical creatures and humans were left to determine which group could offer them their best future.

The Last Days of Magic can be read on several levels. For example, you can read it as an epic war story colored by great romances. You can also read it as a tale of Catholicism vs. the pagans--you decide which side you would have been on. No matter how you approach the novel, you'll have a lot to think about.

What was the nature of the pre-Catholic world? Did Jacob really wrestle an angel? Did King Solomon really have magical powers? Did pixies and leprechauns inhabit the Celtic lands? What kind of power did druids and witches control? You might also begin to question what you've been told by the Catholic Church. And, finally, you will wonder if the magic has truly been lost forever.

The novel was a bit of a slow start for me because there are quite a few characters, factions, and belief systems. But once the foundation was set and the political and battlefield action picked up, the story had my full attention. The Last Days of Magic is an emotional read. I was fully invested in the characters: hating some, rooting for others, and trying to figure out each one's long-term game plan.

Although the bulk of the novel takes place in the late fourteenth century, it is framed by a modern-day story. I understand the purpose of this frame and it did give me something more to think about, but I don't think it served as a strong anchor.

Regardless, Mark Tompkins's The Last Days of Magic is a smart, sometimes brutal, look at how the Church bled the world of all that didn't fit their agenda. The novel is recommended for anyone interested in fantasy, mythology, the rise of Catholicism, Ireland, magic, and pagan legends.

Note on the audiobook: I started out reading The Last Days of Magic in print but then switched to the audiobook (Penguin Audio; 14 hr, 44 min), read by Sile Bermingham. Bermingham's pronunciations of the Celtic and Welsh words seemed believable enough to me. I always appreciate knowing how a word is properly said (for example, the Celtic Sidhe sounds like she). On the down side, Bermingham did not clearly distinguish among the characters, so it was sometimes difficult to determine who was speaking. In addition, her European accents, especially Italian, often threatened to go over the top. Finally, moments of over-dramatization were distracting. I recommend reading this one in print.

Published by Penguin Random House / Viking Books, 2016
ISBN-13: 9780525429531
Source: Review--both print & audio (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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19 March 2016

Weekend Cooking: The Cookies & Cups Cookbook by Shelly Jaronsky

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.

Review: The Cookies & Cups Cookbook by Shelly JaronskyI discovered popular food blogger Shelly Jaronsky's site Cookies & Cups when poking around looking for recipes for my electric pressure cooker (a post about that in a few weeks). Although I liked her savory recipes just fine, my attention was drawn to her beautiful baked goods. Then I happened to notice her first cookbook was coming out this spring, so I went off to investigate.

The Cookies & Cups Cookbook is a dessert lover's dream and is true to Jaronsky's motto: Always Eat Dessert First (don't you love that?). This cookbook is a little bit different in that the beginning chapters are all about the sweet treats, which are the unabashed stars. Tucked into the back of the book is where you'll find the family-friendly dinner recipes, just to round things out.

Although my review copy is a black-and-white PDF, I can tell from Jaronsky's site and by the cover that the final book is going to be gorgeous. Pretty much every recipe is accompanied by an eye-catching photograph that makes you want to head straight for the kitchen. The color scheme appears to be a yummy chocolate brown and vanilla white. Perfect for a baking book.

Don't miss the introductory material. I connected with Jaronsky's fun, light, chatty style. I also liked that she is an approachable, unapologetic baker: she does things her way because she gets the results she loves. Her recipes are very straightforward and almost all of them use everyday ingredients, except maybe the chocolate. Jaronsky likes good-quality chocolate and is happy to let us know the brands she bakes with.

The recipes range from classic (such as snickerdoodles) to fancy (salted caramel apple butter bars) and include cookies, bars, cakes, and pies. You'll also find breakfast treats (cinnamon swirl bread and scones) and snacks (brown butter soft pretzel nuggets). As I mentioned, The Cookies & Cups Cookbook also contains some dinner dishes, including pastas, soups, and sandwiches.

Jaronsky's recipes are as down to earth as she is: easy directions and few (if any) complicated techniques. Throughout The Cookies & Cups Cookbook you'll find tips and tricks, recipes for homemade staples (like taco seasoning and buttermilk), and fun-to-read recipe introductions.

I recommend Shelly Jaronsky's The Cookies & Cups Cookbook to anyone who is looking for a nice collection of reliable everyday desserts. I was not bowled over by the savory recipes, but let's face it: It's not that jalapeno popper pizza or Thai burgers don't sound good, it's just that the iced lemon cookies, upside down cakes, and toffee-speckled banana bread are the real stars here.

Take a look at following video to meet Jaronsky and get a feel for her personality, while she makes her favorite chocolate chip cookies. You can find the recipe by clicking the link.

Published by Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books, April 2016
ISBN-13: 9781501102516
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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17 March 2016

6 Books to Put at the Top of Your Reading List

I truly love being a freelance book editor, but it does have one drawback. Each year as winter wanes, my workload becomes close to insane, which means I don't have the time or desire to devour books for pleasure. But that's okay because my reward come April is to immerse myself in all the great books. Here are six (in alphabetical order by title) at the very top of my must-read list.

The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick is a novel based on the life of one of my favorite (food) authors, M.F.K. Fisher. In particular the story focuses on Fisher's deepening relationship with artist Tim Parrish, while she was still married to her first husband, Al. The background is Europe in the 1930s, and rumors of war are still a few years away. (Viking Books, Feb. 2016) I credit Christine Heppermann with renewing my interest in poetry. Her Ask Me How I Got Here is a novel in verse about a young girl who has to make a difficult decision that will affect her future and her psyche. (Greenwillow, May 2016) One of my favorite fantasy series (read and listened to in my prebogging days) is Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori. I nearly squealed aloud when I heard she has another book coming out. Emperor of the Eight Islands is the first in a new fantasy / adventure series set in medieval Japan. (FSG, April 2016)

I'm so curious about Jhumpa Lahiri's memoir, In Other Words, not just because I admire her work but because I'm interested in what she has to say about language itself and her decision to write only in Italian. How does an author make such a transition and how does it affect her craft? (Knopf, Feb. 2016) When I first read Edna O'Brien, many years ago, I instantly connected to her writing style and her Ireland. The Little Red Chairs, her new novel, looks at love and desire in a small Irish village juxtaposed with contemporary violence and hatred. (Little, Brown, March 2016) Just because Peter Geye's Wintering comes last in the list doesn't mean it's last in my mind. This is pretty much my absolutely most anticipated novel of the season. I'll be reading it on my first free afternoon. Can't wait to lose myself in the story: What happens after the elderly Harry Eide disappears from his sickbed, hightailing it for the northern Minnesota woods? (Knopf, June 2016)

What's at the top of your reading list?

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16 March 2016

Wordless Wednesday 385

Through the Garden Gate, 2016

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14 March 2016

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Books and Apps

I am in the heart of my busy season, working ten hours a day, seven days a week. Thus, although I'm still reading for pleasure, I don't have a ton of energy to write thoughtful reviews for this space.

Fortunately, I like to write about books in general, so expect a variety of bookish posts (plus my photographs & Weekend Cooking), but not too many in-depth reviews over the next couple of weeks.

New Litsy App

 If you have iOS I encourage you get the Litsy app. I am totally in love with it, and if anything would stop me from blogging on a regular basis, it would be that app. I'm posting mini reviews of everything I'm reading and keeping track of the books I'm hoping to read. Plus I'm having a ton fun composing photographs to accompany my posts on Litsy. Find me there as BethFishReads (duh!)

If you pop on over to Litsy, you'll be able to see my thoughts on Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser (a tense story with good characters), my gushing about Augusten Burroughs's Lust & Wonder (I love all his memoirs and this one is a don't miss), my disappointment with Seven Black Diamonds by Melissa Marr (it was a DNF), and my mini review of the audio of Padma Lakshmi's Love, Loss, and What We Ate (an interesting memoir).

In addition, I've posted in-progress blurbs, a few quotes, and some books I'm adding to my wish list. Litsy is where I'm hanging out these days! I would love to see you there, so be sure to let me know if you've set up an account and what your user name is.

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12 March 2016

Weekend Cooking: The Mad Feast by Matthew Gavin Frank

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.

What do you really know about American cooking? Once you get past barbecue, crab cakes, and maple syrup what else can you name? In The Mad Feast, Matthew Gavin Frank takes us on a region-by-region tour of the country to investigate the signature dish of each state.

The essays included in The Mad Feast are mostly light and fun, although Frank's free-ranging thoughts sometimes veer off into lists and random observations about people, the past, horticulture, and even linguistics. He talks about food and history and how these have mixed to produce our regional culinary quirks.

 For example, in the chapter on Ohio, we learn that heirloom tomatoes got their start there in the late 1800s, when people still thought the fruit was poisonous. So perhaps that botanical event has twisted and rambled through the state and through time to Cincinnati and was instrumental in the birth of that city's famous style of chili. In the chapter on Hawaii, we learn how shave ice has links to Asian immigrants who worked the cane and pineapple fields a hundred years ago.

You won't want to read The Mad Feast from front to back all in one go. This is the kind of book to pick up and read piecemeal. I looked first at the five states I've lived in. Then I checked out states I'm pretty familiar with. I'll get to the rest, bit by bit.

Although each chapter contains at least one recipe, The Mad Feast isn't quite a cookbook. Many of the recipes are historic and some quite frankly are not that appealing (an apple gelatin/fudge from the 1940s?). Others, however, like Arizona's green chile pinto beans, look pretty tasty. The book is also not a travel guide, but it'd be fun to check out a state's portrait if you're planing a trip. Note too that Matthew Gavin Frank's observations are a bit irreverent, sometimes off the wall, but always entertaining.

To be honest, I'm not sure if The Mad Feast is shelf-worthy, but I'd definitely encourage you to check it out of the library. It'd also make a great gift for anyone interested in regional American foods and for trivia fans.

Liveright Publishing, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781631490736
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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10 March 2016

3 Picks for Fantasy / Speculative Fiction Fans

One of my favorite reading indulgences is fantasy and speculative fiction (though not science fiction). Here are three recommendations--each geared to a different age group, and I plan to read them all.

3 recommendations for speculative fiction and fantasy fans
  • Winterwood by Jacey Bedford: Set in England in 1800, this is an alternate history, fantasy/adventure geared to an adult audience. Our hero is Captain Rossalinde Tremaync, a cross-dressing privateer who's also a secret witch. Reviewers say this first in a new series has good world building and plenty of action, making it an engaging read. Keywords & themes: ghosts, fae, dark magic, ancient wrongs, new allies, treasure hunt, mystery. Data: Daw Books, February 2016
  • I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan: Set in contemporary times mostly in the Mall of America, this is a combination of paranormal, humor, and speculative fiction geared to a young adult audience. Our hero is Sarah Evans a teenager from New York City who was accidentally poisoned and sent to purgatory at the mall. Reviewers say this a fun read, escape reading peppered with humor and deadly puns. Keywords & themes: life after death, friendship, righting wrongs, changing the future, self-discovery, a little postmortem romance Data: Delacorte Press, March 2016
  • The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson: Set in the make-believe land of Solace this is a fantasy with steampunk elements geared to a middle grade audience Our hero is Lina Winterbock, who is a young but ambitious archivist known to be far thinking and a bit of rule breaker. Reviewers say it's set in the same world as Mark of the Dragonfly (click for my review), but can easily be read as a stand-alone. They note the slow start but assure us we will be well-rewarded by the end. Keywords & themes: resourcefulness, calculated rebellion, friendship, adventure, a world at war Data: Delcorte Books for Young Readers, March 2016

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09 March 2016

Wordless Wednesday 384

Slide, 2016

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08 March 2016

Today's Read: Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce

Featuring Small Mercies by Eddie JoyceWhat if one of your family members was a first responder who lost his life when the World Trade Center collapsed? Now imagine it's a decade later and your family is gathering to celebrate his son's birthday. What memories, unfinished business, and anger would you still be carrying, even as you still harbor your love? And would your issues be the same as everyone else's?

Gail wakes with a pierced heart, same as every day. Her mouth is dry. She reaches for the glass of water on her nightstand, but it has warmed in the night. Next to her, Michael gently snores away last night's fun.
Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce (Penguin Paperback, 2016, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Staten Island, 2011
  • Circumstances: As they get ready to celebrate his birthday, Bobby Jr. and his family remember his father--a firefighter who was killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. But the story is less about 9/11 than it is about a family whose inside drama is dusted with tragedy. 
  • Genre: contemporary fiction; family drama
  • Themes: family, grief, fathers and sons, moving forward, making sense of the past, modern American life
  • Characters: primarily the Amendalas, an Irish-Italian family; Gail, the mother; Michael, the father; Tina, the widow; Bobby Jr., the son; Peter, the lawyer brother; Franky, the alcoholic brother
  • Reviews: Although no one implies that this is a flawless novel, almost all reviewers mention the believable characters and the truthful take on 21st-century America. They also mention that Small Mercies is not really about 9/11, instead it's about a family and how it has fared after the attacks. 
  • Something to know: this is a paperback back release; the book was originally published in 2015

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07 March 2016

Sound Recommendations: 3 Late Winter Novels

Review: Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson (audiobook)I'm sure Julia Claiborne Johnson's Be Frank with Me would be great in print, but it is absolutely fabulous in audio. Basic plot & thoughts: A reclusive single-book author is forced to churn out another best-seller before her money runs out. Her New York editor sends Alice, a recent college graduate, to California to be her personal assistant and help out with her son, Frank, who has a form of Asperger syndrome. Alice rarely sees her boss, but becomes 9-year-old Frank's constant companion and gets to know the handyman/piano teacher as well. Much charm and mayhem ensues. Audio: In narrator Tavia Gilbert's expert hands, Frank is the runaway star of the audiobook (Harper Audio; 8 hr, 37 min). Her performance is completely brilliant, and you'll soon forget that there's only one narrator. Recommendation: Do not miss this audiobook; I see many awards in its future.

Review: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee (audiobook)Even an admirable performance couldn't save Alexander Chee's The Queen of the Night for me. Basic plot & thoughts: World-famous opera singer Lilliet Berne has a secret past that is getting more and more difficult to hide and a controlling ex-lover who is getting harder and harder to escape. The plot was almost painfully slow, and I didn't care enough about any of the characters to either hate or love them. The late-19th-century period details were lovely but not enough to keep me interested. On the other hand, opera buffs will probably like the parts that focus on composers, the life of a professional singer, and the operas themselves. Audio: Narrator Lisa Flanagan handled the many needed European accents with good skill, and her performance was expressive and engaging (Blackstone Audio; 19 hr, 6 min). Recommendation: Unless you are a true opera fan, I'd pass on this one.

Review: Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (audiobook)I could barely bring myself to stop listening to Sonya Hartnett's brilliant Golden Boys. Basic plot & thoughts: This is a coming-of-age story set in a small Australian town in the early 1980s about two 12-year-olds--Freya Kiley from a large, struggling Catholic family, and Colt Jenson, the well-off new kid on the block--and their families and friends. There is so much to love about this disturbingly authentic look at what happens when adolescents begin to see their parents for who they really are, flaws and all. In particular, Harnett nails children's neighborhood friendships, the one's formed more by proximity than by true commonalities. The novel sheds light on a couple of tough issues and their effects on families. My only complaint is the ambiguous ending. Audio: I was impressed with narrator David Vatousios's ability to tap in to the characters' personalities and to keep the tension humming right to the end (Bolinda; 7 hr, 2 min). Recommendation: Highly recommended in either print or audio.

Note: My full audiobook reviews of these titles are available through AudioFile magazine.

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05 March 2016

Weekend Cooking: Sunday Dinners by Dina Crowell

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.

Review: Sunday Dinners by Dina CrowellSunday Dinner, by Dina Crowell, the blogger behind Buttercream Bakehouse, is collection of the recipes she grew up on. Each one was handed down from her parents, and they recall lazy weekend meals when the whole family would be gathered around the table.

There are no real surprises or fancy dishes in this cookbook, but does all food have to be on the cutting edge? There is much to say for the down-home comfy meals that are spiced with love and laughter, friends and family. And that's exactly what Crowell shares with us in her new cookbook.

Family favorites in Crowell's universe include the expected chili, and mac n' cheese, and shepherd's pie. But you'll also find a world of flavors such as Cajun rice, picadillo, vodka penne, soy chicken, and Thai coconut soup. No matter the ethnic origin of the recipe, though, the ingredients are all commonly found in any grocery store around the country.

The recipes are dead easy to make, and several call for a slow cooker. In case it matters to you, know that Crowell doesn't hesitate to use premade spice mixes, frozen vegetables, and jarred sauces when it makes sense. Almost all of the recipes are accompanied by a full-page photograph of the finished dish, which I know is important to many cooks.

I don't have a lot to say about Sunday Dinners except this: If you're looking for a good basic cookbook with familiar foods to serve to  both family and company, then you should give this cookbook a try. I would also recommend it as a great gift for people just settling in to their first apartments. Sunday Dinners will get them through a lot of casual dinner parties.

A couple of warnings: If you're a vegetarian, you won't find many recipes that will suit your diet. In addition, if you have a lifetime of experience cooking roasts and turkey breasts and oven-fried chicken, Sunday Dinners might not have very many new recipes for you, so check it out before you buy.

Here's a very simple slow cooker recipe that I plan to try. (Photo scanned from Sunday Dinners; all rights remain with Dina Crowell.)

Firecracker Barbacoa
Serves 4-6
  • copyright Dina Crowell3 lbs. chuck roast, fat trimmed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 chipotles from a (7 oz.) can of chipotles in adobo sauce
  • 1 small white onion, finally chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 6-8 pieces Greek-style flatbread
  • Toppings: lime, cilantro, sour cream, salsa
Place roast into slow cooker. Combine remaining ingredients (except bread and toppings) in a separate bowl and stir to combine. Pour over roast and cover. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours, or until the beef is tender and falls apart easily when shredded with a fork.

Once beef is shredded, toss with its juices and let it sit 10 minutes. Use a pair of tongs or slotted spoon to serve the barbacoa on Greek-style flatbread. Top it off with lime, cilantro, sour cream,and salsa, if desired.

Published by Cedar Fort / Front Table Books, 2016
ISBN-13: 9781462117642
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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03 March 2016

Sentenced to Be Read: Late Winter Edition

Welcome to another edition of Sentenced to Be Read, featuring a few recommended books that were released in February. Hope you find one or two that call to you.

  • Nelly Dean by Alison Case: A retelling of Wuthering Heights told from the family servant's perspective. What went on behind the scenes and below the stairs?
  • In Wilderness by Diane Thomas: Set in the southern Appalachians, this is the story of two loners who meet in the woods: obsession, salvation, suspense, and maybe even love.
  • Alive by Scott Sigler: Now out in paperback: the first in a new trilogy with science fiction and dystopian elements.
  • Faking It by Gabrielle Tozer: Contemporary novel about internships, dubious friendships, and a desperate woman who finds herself getting in over her head. The sequel to The Intern.
  • Perfect Days by Raphael Montes: A physiological thriller set in Brazil, involving three friends, a road trip, and a young man who's sure he can make the woman of his dreams fall in love with him.
  • In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen: Now out in paperback: the story of three young adults in three different cities who have unexpected connections.
  • Written on My Heart by Megan Callan Rogers: A story of a marriage, friendship, and family secrets set in Maine.

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02 March 2016

Wordless Wednesday 383

February Walk, 2016

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

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01 March 2016

Today's Read: Georgia by Dawn Tripp

Georgia by Dawn TrippWhat if you had a passion for art but were torn between the love a man who thought he knew what was best for you and your own sense of who you were and what you needed to do? That was just one dilemma faced by Georgia O'Keeffe on her journey from unknown art teacher to world icon:

I bought this house for the door. The house itself was a ruin, but I had to have that door. Over the years, I've painted it many times, all different ways: abstract, representational, blue, black, brown. I've painted it in the hot green of summer, in the dead of winter, clouds rushing past it, a lone yellow leaf drifting down. I painted the door open only once. Just before he died. In every picture after, it was closed.
Georgia by Dawn Tripp (Random House, 2016, chapter 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: United States, twentieth century
  • Circumstances: The novel focuses on Georgia O'Keeffe and her relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz. But it also introduces us to the developing artist, before she came fully into her own and started producing the work we most often associate with her. We learn of her loves and her frustrations, her family and her dreams.
  • Genre: historical fiction; literary
  • Characters: artist Georgia O'Keeffe; photographer Alfred Stieglitz; their families; famous writers and artists, especially of the 1920s and 1930s, in New York City and elsewhere; friends and other people in O'Keeffe's life.
  • Why I want to read it: I've always loved O'Keeffe's paintings but know little of her life and the influences on her art. I'm interested in women who came to age in the early twentieth century, who had to made hard choices, with little cultural support, in order to follow their passions. O'Keeffe nurtured her independent spirit in both her life and her work.
  • Mini disclosure: I consider author Dawn Tripp one of my online friends and am always happy to support her. Fortunately, she makes that easy by writing critically acclaimed books. Georgia has earned starred reviews and high praise from many respected venues and trusted readers.
  • Recommendations: From what I can tell so far, Georgia would appeal to anyone who likes vivid, intense writing; has an interest in the arts; cares about women's issues; and/or wants to read a great story.
  • Learn more: Tripp has been interviewed at The Grub Daily, Book Reporter, and Dead Darlings. If you visit her website, you'll find a Q&A, book club resources, information about photography, and more. (photo of O'Keeffe by Stieglitz; in the public domain)

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



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