30 April 2016

Weekend Cooking: 3 Culinary Mysteries for May

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.

It's been a long while since I wrote about culinary cozy mysteries. Each of the three I feature today will be released next week from Berkley Prime Crime and include recipes that were mentioned in the story. These kinds of light mysteries feature likeable characters and sometimes a little romance, making them perfect for the beach, for an afternoon on the porch with a cup of tea, or for a rainy day by the fireplace.

Hearse and Gardens by Kathleen BridgeKathleen Bridge's newest entry in her Hamptons Home & Garden mystery series is Hearse and Gardens. Our protagonist was once a Manhattan interior designer, but Meg Barrett left the city for the peace and quiet of the Hamptons. She loves the area, but her days are anything but slow. Not only does she have to sort out legal issues before she can buy a beachfront cottage but she discovers a literal skeleton in the closet in a Montauk estate. This mystery takes us into the pop art world, where a Warhol painting, family feuds, and high society all play a role. Reviewers mention that Meg is a smart, capable character and that it's easy to connect to her predicaments. First paragraph:
"You have been served." Four words you never want to hear.
Recipes include Cajun shrimp, and the book also contains a guide to shopping for and using vintage items.

Berry the Hatchet by Peg CochranBerry the Hatchet is the third entry in Peg Cochran's Cranberry Cove mystery series, set in Michigan. Monica Albertson left Chicago to help her brother, Jeff, on his cranberry farm located on the shores of Lake Michigan. In an effort to boost the local the economy, the town decides to hold a late-winter festival. But before the first day is over, someone has died, and the prime suspects are Monica's mother and stepmother. Can Monica and Jeff find the real killer before their family is torn apart? One of the fun things about cozy mysteries is the setting, and reviewers have commented on how much they liked getting to know the small lakeside town and Monica's friends and customers. First paragraph:
Cranberry Cove was in an uproar.
Among the several recipes are cranberry balsamic pork chops and cranberry salsa.

Irish Stewed by Kylie LoganIf you want to get in at the beginning of a series, try Irish Stewed by Kylie Logan, which is the opening book in her Ethnic Eats mysteries. Our hero is Laurel Inwood, a personal chef to a Hollywood bigwig. Well, make that ex-chef. She's now living in a small town in Ohio working in her aunt Sophie's diner. Determined to keep up her culinary standards, Laurel decides to add ethnic dishes to the daily specials. It was a good plan until someone is found dead at their restaurant table. Good food, a cute guy, and delicious clues make this book a lovely way to spend the afternoon. First lines:
"I can explain. . . . It's like this, you see, Laurel."
There is only one recipe at the back of the book, and it's, of course, for Irish stew.

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28 April 2016

Review: Maestra by L. S. Hilton

Review: Maestra by L. S. HiltonShort take: L. S. Hilton's Maestra is a sexy, twisty thriller set in the art world of the UK and Europe.

What's it all about: Judith Rashleigh has worked hard to perfect the way she appears to the posh Londoners she hopes to befriend. She's lost her cockney accent and has distanced herself from her pedestrian background. Although she hasn't risen very high in her job at one of the major art houses, she's training herself for the day she'll be asked to meet with a wealthy client.

Meanwhile, she picks up extra cash and thrills working in the city's champagne bars, where she isn't necessarily required to do more than drink with the men, but, well, you know, sometimes the romp and/or the money is too good to pass up.

When her carefully constructed existence begins to crumble, Judith agrees to accompany a wealthy, married patron to the French Riviera. After witnessing an accidental death, Judith seizes on the opportunity hiding beneath the tragedy, determined that nothing at all will stop her from having the life she knows she deserves.

Thoughts: The publishers have compared Maestra to The Talented Mr. Ripley, and I can understand why. Judith is incredibly resourceful, with an uncanny ability to read people and do whatever is called for in any given situation, from setting up house in the correct Paris arrondissement to skipping town without a trace when circumstances become complicated.

Although the buying and selling of art plays a central role in the novel, Hilton oddly skimps a bit on the details in this realm. She does not, however, gloss over Judith's sex life, so be prepared for some hot and kinky scenes.

I enjoy books I can't figure out, and Maestra fooled me more than once. As I said, Judith is a clever woman, and like a good chess player, she is always looking several moves ahead.

Recommendations: L. S. Hilton's Maestra has earned starred reviews and a lot of buzz. While I wasn't quite as taken with the novel as were others, I am still recommending the book. It was an engrossing read that kept me guessing. And though I wish I had learned more about the business side of art collecting, I did learn a lot about after-hours sex clubs. Judith is a no-holds-barred kind of character, and I liked getting to know her -- at least on paper. The epilogue makes it clear there will be more Judith Rashleigh books to follow, and I'm looking forward to her new adventures. Rest assured, though, Maestra doesn't end on cliff hanger. Note: If you're thrown off by graphic sex, you'll want to give this a pass.

Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 20 min) was very nicely read by Emilia Fox, who had to meet several challenges in Maestra. She handled the variety of European and British accents beautifully and read through the sex scenes with aplomb. She built up the tension without tipping the listener off to what was coming up next and conveyed Judith's full range of emotions without veering into the overdramatic. A recommended audiobook.

Published by Putnam, 2016
ISBN-13: 9780399184260
Source: Review: ebook & audiobook (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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27 April 2016

Wordless Wednesday 391

Lichen, 2016

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26 April 2016

Review & Giveaway: Finding Fraser by K. C. Dyer

Review: Finding Fraser by K. C. DyerHave you ever been such a fan of a book or series that you wanted to visit the places mentioned in the story? For Emma Sheridan, those books were the Outlander series and, most particularly the first book, Outlander. In an effort to shake the feeling that her life was going nowhere, Emma decides to travel to Scotland, retrace Claire's steps, and find very own Scotsman:

I met Jamie Fraser when I was nineteen years old. He was tall, red-headed, and at our first meeting at least, a virgin. I fell in love hard, fast and completely. He was older than me. He was taller than me. He knew how to ride a horse, wield a sword and stitch a wound. He was, in fact, the perfect man.

That he was fictional hardly entered into it.
Finding Fraser by K. C. Dyer (Berkley paperbacks, 2016)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times, set mostly in Scotland
  • Circumstances: Emma, wanting some adventure in her life, decides to travel to Scotland to visit the places made famous by the Outlander books--and to write about her experiences on her blog. The trip is nothing like she imagined, of course: Although she sees beautiful scenery and makes good friends, she also meets a thief, has some mishaps, and gets sick. But will she succeed in fulfilling her true dream of finding a red-headed Jamie all for herself?
  • Characters: Emma, a huge Outlander fan; Sophia, her sister who advises against the trip; Susan, a fellow traveler; Jack, a novelist who starts following her blog; other men and women Emma meets on her travels
  • Genre, audience: light women's fiction
  • General thoughts: This is a quick, fun read; you don't really have to be an Outlander fan to enjoy the story, but you'll connect to Emma and the places she sees more readily if you are. I laughed a little and thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel. It may be a little predictable, but it was a very pleasant way to spend a few hours.
  • Recommendations: Perfect for anyone who loves Outlander or is looking for a book to while away a lovely spring afternoon. Pack Finding Fraser in your beach bag or read it on the plane as you fly off on your own adventure--even if you aren't going to Highlands. 
The Giveaway

Thanks to Berkley Books, I'm able to offer one of my readers with a USA mailing address a copy of K. C. Dyer's Finding Fraser. 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 May 5. Once the winner has been confirmed and his or her address has been passed along to the publisher, I'll delete all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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25 April 2016

Review: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey

Review: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian FarreyShort take: Brian Farrey's The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse is a little mystery, a little magic, and a little fairy tale all mixed together in a coming-of-age story that opens doors to discussion of complex issues.

What's it about: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse is the story of two girls, each of whom is burdened with adult concerns at much too young an age. Princess Jeniah's mother is dying, and soon the twelve-year-old girl will be queen of the realm, even though she has no idea how rule her people. Aon, a peasant girl, is the only person in her village who can feel any emotion except happiness. She has lived all her twelve years hiding her sorrows, especially as she lost first her mother and then her father.

What binds these two girls? A dark, forbidding bog: home to the dreadwillow trees and other evil plants. Aon is drawn to the forest almost against her will, yet she can't make herself pass into its core. Jeniah's been recently warned by her mother that if any member of the royal family enters Dreadwillow Carse, the kingdom will fall. Curiosity gets the best of Jeniah, and she sends Aon on a mission to discover the secrets of the bog. When Aon fails to return home, Jeniah is faced with a choice: Should she save her friend or save her kingdom?

Things I liked: I loved the strengths and the weaknesses of the girls. Both Aon and Jeniah had to solve puzzles to make progress in their hope to understand the bog, protect the people of the realm, and do the right thing. Their dilemmas were complex, and there wasn't always a clear right or wrong answer--decisions have consequences, which have to be weighed against each other. Sometimes the girls had help, but often they had to rely on their own resourcefulness and sense of reason. I was glad to see they were not perfect and thus could make mistakes.

I also liked the fairy tale nature of the story. Farrey included some standard elements: a quest, a princess, an evil forest, and not-quite-human characters whose motivations were unclear. There is a strong good versus evil thread in the book, but The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse is very much a coming-of-age story that touches on real-life issues disguised as a lighter tale.

Book club alert: This would make a great parent-child book club choice because there are so many points of discussion. Here are just a few that came to mind: The obligations and nature of friendship, the importance of feeling both joy and sorrow, taking time to try to determine the consequences of one's actions, and finding one's inner strength.

Recommendation: Although Brian Farrey wrote The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse for a middle grade audience, the novel should have strong appeal across age groups. The themes and characters are complex enough to attract adult attention. It is also a perfect choice for anyone who likes fairy tales, magic, and a touch of fantasy and mystery.

One complaint: Several times throughout the book there is mention of Princess Jeniah's dark skin. I'm not sure why both girls shown on the book cover seem to have very white skin. Regardless, I still highly recommended the book.

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23 April 2016

Weekend Cooking: Deli Man (Documentary)

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: Deli Man (documentary)Is there anyone who doesn't love a good deli? The only problem is finding one that both provides the expected atmosphere and serves traditional foods with traditional flavors. Erik Anjou's documentary Deli Man introduces us to some the last remaining true delis--and their owners--in New York, Texas (yes!), California, and Toronto.

The film concentrates on the deli culture and what it takes to keep a deli up and running, but Anjou also tells us about the history, the present, and the future (fusion deli?) of the cuisine. I especially loved meeting Ziggy Gruber, who started out as a child working in his grandfather's Manhattan deli, then went to culinary school, and is now a staple of the Houston, Texas, Jewish community.

One of the big takeaways for me was learning about the astonishing decline of the delicatessen since the 1950s. Sure, there are plenty of places to get a corned beef or pastrami sandwich these days, but very few that are still serving in-house cured meats, traditional kugels, chopped liver, kreplach, and hand-sliced nova. It's a sad fact: As the owners of the kosher and Jewish delis age, few younger people are willing to put in the long hours required to keep the food culture alive.

By the end of Deli Man, I had a renewed interest in making more of my grandmothers' recipes. It made me miss so many of the foods of my childhood, which my family ate for Sunday brunch and almost any other time we all got together--happy or sad, holiday or every day.

If you like to eat, if you have interest in food history, and/or if you love a good delicatessen, then you won't want to miss this well-done documentary. Be prepared to crave some good rye bread (impossible to find in my town--sorry, local bakeries and Wegman's). Deli Man is available for streaming on Amazon and perhaps from other sources as well.

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21 April 2016

12 Books to Read This Spring: Stacked-Up Book Thoughts

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts from Beth Fish ReadsBooks, books, books! I'm drowning in great books lately. I've been sharing my reading notes, reviews, wish list, and more over on the Litsy App, and I love the short form for shooting off quick thoughts and mini recommendations. If you have iOS, I encourage you to join in. I'm there as @BethFishReads (of course).

But I understand if you don't want yet another app and another social media account to maintain. Also, if you don't have an iPhone, then you can't get it . . . yet. So today's Stacked-Up Book Thoughts is a way to catch you all up on my thoughts about the books I've been reading and listening to.

I may write full reviews here or maybe not. But this is what's been on my reading radar.


recommended audiobooks from Beth Fish Reads Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld--I am a huge fan of Austen's Pride & Prejudice and loved this modern-day retelling. All the main elements of the original story are there, but they've been folded and turned to fit a thoroughly contemporary setting. Reality TV, parenthood, gender identity, yoga, fitness, brain surgery, and social media. Austen as you've never seen her. Cassandra Campbell's narration is absolutely perfect. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh--This reworking of the story of Shahrzad and her 1001 nights is the first in a new series. Here Shazi is a teen, and her sultan is a prince. I liked their changing relationship, each one's motivations and stumbling blocks, and especially the descriptions of the food and clothes. I wasn't thrilled with Ariana Delawari's performance (it was choppy and her characterizations weren't strong), so I may switch to print for book two. The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick--If you're an M. F. K. Fisher fan you will love this fictional account of her entry into adulthood, her first marriage, and the circumstances that led to her divorce and remarriage. I thought Warlick captured Fisher's personality beautifully. Cassandra Campbell is totally awesome as the narrator. The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell--I love this series! Historical fiction at its best: Saxons, Danes, the pagans, the Church, love, battles, politics. Britain in the 800s comes alive. I'm not totally won over by Jonathan Keeble's performance (though his pronunciations and diction are clear), but I'm committed to the audios.


Recommended fiction from Beth Fish ReadsTears in the Grass by Lynda A. Archer--Three generations of women on the Canadian plains balance traditional culture with modern life and face the consequences of their life choices. The major themes are mothers and daughters, spiritual life, Native American life, and holding on to one's heritage and beliefs in the face of contemporary homogenization. I love the writing. Daredevils by Shawn Vestal--I don't know why I'm attracted to books that explore polygamy, but there you have it. In this novel, a teen is forced into a plural marriage with a much older man. Her dreams of escaping the Mormon community may be fulfilled when she meets a boy her own age. Set in the 1970s in the American west, this is a complex coming-of-age story. Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson--Get ready for some crazy fun as an ex-con, an atheist female vicar, and a former brothel receptionist team up to execute a get-rich-quick scheme. All is going fine until Jesus decides to have a say. Translated from the Swedish. My Mrs. Brown by William Norwich--This is a light, charming novel about an older woman who is searching for that one, perfect dress. Indulge yourself as you follow her from England to New York's fashion district.


Recommended nonfiction from Beth Fish ReadsThe Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman--I spend quite a few hours watching my bird feeders and recording the species that feel comfortable in my yard. So this book, which sets out to dispel the notion that birds are, well bird-brained, is a natural fit for me. I'm learning about the secret life of birds from around the world. Life by John Brockman--In my younger years I was in academia, studying and teaching human evolution and genetics. This book explores evolutionary theory and biology from a variety of viewpoints, and it's pushing all my buttons (mostly in a good way). Granted it's not for everyone, but I'm hooked. Paper by Mark Kurlansky--I would read anything Kurlansky wrote, but I'm particularly excited about his newest. I'm kind of a paper freak, and I'm enjoying this look into the far-reaching effects of paper's invention as well as the outlook for its future. The Wander Society by Keri Smith--I'm so in love with this little book that fits my soul. Go forth and see the world through new eyes; pay attention to the little things. There is so much to discover right in your own backyard or neighborhood. Recommended for anyone who likes to walk and explore without restriction.

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19 April 2016

Wordless Wednesday 390

Apple Blossoms, April 2016

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Today's Read: Rare Objects of Kathleen Tessaro

Rare Objects by Kathleen TessaroWhat if you had trouble molding your personality, dreams, and passions to fit society's expectations? Maeve Fanning, a first-generation Irish girl living in North Boston during the Depression, would learn firsthand the devastating price of failing to tamp down her wildness.

Looking back is a dangerous thing. I've spent much of my time studying other ages, searching out the treasures of ancient worlds, but I've always found it best to move forward, eyes front, in one's own life. Hindsight casts a harsh, unforgiving light, and histories too tender and raw are stripped bare of the thousand shadowy self-deceptions that few of us can afford to see ourselves without.
Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro (Harper, 2016, prologue; uncorrected proofs)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: 1930s; Boston area; New York City
  • Circumstances: After leaving home, Maeve has a rocky start in New York, eventually ending up being committed to a home for the mentally unstable. Returning to her mother's Boston apartment, Maeve reinvents herself as "May," landing a job at a shady antiques shop. When one of her socialite clients, Diana, turns out to have been a fellow inmate at the asylum, the two women bond over their secret shared experience. But the more May is lured into the world of the rich and powerful, the more her proper, well-bred facade begins to crack. How long can May pretend to be who she isn't?
  • Characters: Maeve/May, an Irish woman who tries to rein in her wild side; Diana, a frenemy and bad influence; James, Diana's brother and one of May's lovers; May's mother, bosses, other boyfriends, clients, and acquaintances
  • Themes: alcoholism, friendship, women's issues, betrayal, secrets, prejudice, business ethics (or lack thereof), the Depression, mother-daughter relationships
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • General thoughts: The first few chapters have drawn me in to Maeve's story and her struggle to balance her passions with her ambition and society's expectations
  • Reviews—The Good: Reviews have been fairly positive, mentioning Tessaro's focus on the restrictions women faced in the 1930s. Interesting aspects of the plot involve Prohibition, questionable business dealings, class differences, and secrets.
  • Reviews—The Not So Good: At the same time, reviewers have mentioned that the first part of the novel is better than the slower-paced last part. Kirkus complained that there was too much telling and not enough showing. And at least one reviewer noted that Tessaro didn't break new ground with this story.
  • Recommendations: So far, I'm interested in Maeve/May's journey toward independence and her desire to better herself. Based on the first third of the novel, I can recommend the book to fans of Kathleen Tassaro (The Perfume Collector) and anyone interested in the early 1930s. We'll see if I'm still on board as the story progresses.

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18 April 2016

Review: Something New by Lucy Knisley

Review: Something New by Lucy KnisleyI've been a fan of Lucy Knisley's graphic memoirs since she first published French Milk, and I've enjoyed following her life in food and travel and family.

The topic of her latest memoir, Something New, should be evident from the cover. This time, Knisley writes about her wedding, from the day she met John to their dating, breakup, and reconnection and then the months leading up to their big day.

In her usual candidness, Knisley shares the joys, the uncertainties, the frustrations, and the craziness of planning a wedding that suited both her and John's taste and met the expectations of their parents. Some episodes will make you nod in agreement (buying the dress), and others will have you choosing sides (live music or playlist?). In all cases, however, you'll connect to Knisley's honesty and the universal heaven/hell of the modern-day bride and groom's journey to the marriage ceremony.

copyright: Lucy KnisleyThe art is classic Knisley. I had no trouble getting a sense of both the action and the emotions in her full-color drawings, and I found her lettering to be clear and easy to read. This memoir is supplemented by photographs, and I had fun comparing Knisley's artwork to them. I've shared one of my favorite pages (click the scan to see it full size), but keep in mind the page comes from an eGalley, so it's possible changes were made before publication.

Seeing as I've never met Knisley, I was a little surprised that my eyes welled up when I reached the pages depicting the wedding and reception. It's a testament to her truth in writing and drawing.

Put Lucy Knisley's Something New on your reading list. It's a winner and recommended to anyone who has ever attended a wedding, whether as guest or as bride or groom. (Note: The scan used in the context of a review--all rights remain with the copyright holder: Lucy Knisley and/or First Second.)

Published by First Second, May 3, 2016
ISBN-13: 9781626722491
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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16 April 2016

Weekend Cooking: 3 Ideas for Weeknight Dinners

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.

Can you tell I'm smiling over here? The weather has turned the corner (I hope), my taxes are filed, my busy work season is done, and I have time to read and cook and walk and take photos. Ahhhhh. Let the stress go!

This week I want to share some winning dinners I've made in the last month or so: two chicken and one meat. (If you're not a meat eater, you could try subbing tempeh, mushrooms, or tofu -- or just leave the meat substitute out completely.) All three are on our make-again list and appear on my Recipes: Tried and Liked board over at Pinterest. These were weekday dinners for me because they could be made in under an hour.

Be sure to check out my notes so you see where I strayed off the recipes.

King Ranch Chicken and QuinoaKing Ranch Chicken and Quinoa Casserole: This was really good and easy to put together. I made the quinoa in my rice cooker, so I didn't have to watch it. The recipe calls for cooked chicken breast from a rotisserie chicken, but I used leftovers from a chicken I roasted earlier in the week. I don't like the taste of low-fat cheese, and I don't think it melts right, so we used white, full-fat Cheddar. Finally, I didn't bother with step 1, which called for toasting the quinoa. I didn't see the point because it was going to be layered in the casserole, which would soften it back up. I thought the 8x8 pan was really full (probably because I had extra chicken), so next time I'm going use a 9x9 pan.

Collard Greens Saute with Chicken and White BeansCollard Greens Saute with Chicken and White Beans: This cooked up in no time, and I bet it would be good with any sturdy greens, so if you prefer kale or chard, go for it! You may notice a trend here--again, although the recipe called for cooked chicken breast from a rotisserie chicken, I used the leftovers from a roasted chicken I made at home. Apparently this dish was developed in conjunction with a shrimp recipe, so I had to make a couple of other changes. I used canned white beans, and instead of leftover cooking liquid, I used low-sodium chicken broth. I know people commonly use sugar when they cook collards, but I left it out and we didn't miss it. I made one change to the directions: At the end, I added the chicken mixture to the pan with the collards and heated it all through before sprinkling with the bacon.

Italian Slab PieItalian Slab Pie: Okay, so I had never heard of a slab pie before, but sausage & puff pastry? Yeah, I was giving this a try. The recipe calls for jarred marinara sauce, but I used salt-free tomato sauce and added my own seasonings (basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and whatever else caught my eye). I couldn't find fresh basil at the store (grrrr) so I just sprinkled on dried. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly. (I know! Don't fall over in a faint!) This was fabulous, and I will be making it again. I can see changing around the ground meat and flavorings for all kinds of different dinners: Lamb, Greek seasonings, and feta? Pork, Southwestern flavors, and queso? I don't know, I have to think on this. The only thing I would do differently next time is to blot the sausage really well to eliminate the extra grease/fat. The photo for this is my own -- doesn't it look beautiful?

Hope one these sounds good to you! And if you have interesting ways to use up leftover roast chicken, be sure to let me know.

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14 April 2016

Review: Immaculate Heart by Camille DeAngelis

Review: Immaculate Heart by Camille DeAngelisWhy I read Immaculate Heart by Camille DeAngelis: I've always been attracted to books set in Ireland. I was drawn to the premise: What would happen if the Virgin Mary appeared to a group of teenagers? Who would believe them? How would they be changed?

What's it all about: In a small town in Ireland, four teens claim to have seen the Virgin Mary. After a woman is miraculously cured by the waters of a well, the area briefly becomes a pilgrimage site. But when Rome refuses to recognize the visitations, one girl begins to deny the events, and two kids leave Ireland, the world soon forgets about Ballymorris and its connection to Mary.

Twenty-five years later, an American journalist is in town to attend a family funeral. He had been to Ballymorris only once before, in the months before the miracles, but he and his late sister had befriended all four children involved. Sensing there may be a story here, the journalist begins investigating the veracity of the events.

My reactions: Frankly, I'm having a hard time solidifying my opinion. The journalist (who either was unnamed or whose name was used so rarely I don't remember it) interviews the three women who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary (the man no longer lives in town), reads diaries and newspaper articles, and talks to various townspeople to try to determine if the miracle was real or was a teen prank. He wants to know what the four people saw and whether they all received the same message. Instead of clear answers, he--and we--get a lot to think about.

The story captured my attention, and I was interested in learning more about the miracle, what Mary said to the children, and if Mary still visited them. However, I didn't find the novel overly satisfying. Several aspects of the plot bothered me--for example, Why did the three women open up to the journalist after having been silent for so many years? In addition, I'm not quite sure how I wanted the book to end, but I wanted something more concrete than what I got.

On the other hand, DeAngelis proposes some interesting theories of the afterlife, time, forgiveness, and what God may know about our true selves.

• Themes: friendship, family, siblings, faith, miracles, the church

• Recommendations: Camille DeAngelis's Immaculate Heart would probably appeal more strongly to readers familiar the Catholic Church. The novel is an engaging, thought-provoking character study that could have had a stronger ending.

Published by St. Martin's Press, 2016
ISBN-13: 9781250046512
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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13 April 2016

Wordless Wednesday 389

Feed & Grain Store, 2016

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12 April 2016

Today's Read & Giveaway: The Haters by Jesse Andrews

Review: The Haters by Jesse AndrewsImagine that you and your best friend were stuck at high school jazz camp with a bunch of other guys but then met a hot girl who decided the three of you could form a band and go on the road, playing your music in bars. What could possibly go wrong?

Jazz camp was mostly dudes. It was just a scene of way too many dudes.

Corey and I were in Shippensburg University Memorial Auditorium for orientation, and it was dudes as far as the eye could see. Dudes were trying with all their might to be mellow and cool. . . .
The Haters by Jesse Andrew (Abrams/Amulet, 2016, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times; life on the road, the U.S. South
  • Circumstances: After only one day, Wes and Corey have decided that jazz camp isn't for them, so they're grateful when Ash, one of the few girls, asks them if they want to jam with her. Convinced they're a trio made in heaven, the boys agree to Ash's scheme to ditch camp and head south, looking for bars to play in and soaking in the romance of being a band on the road. It doesn't hurt that both Wes and Corey think Ash is one of the coolest girls they've ever met. Plus, Ash has a car and seemingly endless money. The trip, of course, is nothing at all what they imagined it would be.
  • Characters: Wes, an electric bass player whose adoptive parents give him lots of leeway; Corey, a drummer whose parents are overprotective; Ash, a guitar player whose divorced mega-rich parents barely pay attention to her; people they meet on the road
  • Themes: friendship, first love/sex, coming of age, self-discovery, facing the consequences of one's actions, parenting, music
  • Genre: contemporary young adult fiction 
  • General thoughts: Although I am/was nothing like any of the characters, I really enjoyed their story. Wes, Corey, and Ash are basically good kids who are at that age at which they don't quite understand they're not yet adults. Each has a unique personality and is dealing with different family and personal issues, but in many ways, they're all very typical teens. I particularly liked Wes, who is the book's narrator. What happens to the trio on the road is sometimes funny, sometimes cringe worthy, and sometimes disturbing but is all pretty much believable.
  • Thoughts on the music: I loved all the references to songs and bands throughout the book: jazz, rock, rap, grunge, pop, blues, and more. No matter what your musical interests, there are sure to be many artists or styles you'll recognize.
  • Things to know: Author Jesse Andrews also wrote Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which was adapted for the movies. Visit The Haters website for a video, a playlist, and the author's tour dates.
  • Recommendations: This is a fun and fast read that will strike a chord (ha!) with many readers. This is more of a coming-of-age story than it is a typical teen book. There is a bit of romance and sex, but the music, the road trip, and the interpersonal dynamics among the trio are what stand out. I suggest giving the novel a try.
  • Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 8 hr, 37 min) was read by Michael Crouch. Crouch's voice fits a teen boy almost perfectly, and his cadences, stresses, and accents brought the dialogue of all the characters to life. This is my first experience with Crouch, and I'm happy to have gotten a chance to hear him. This is a recommended listen.
The Giveaway

Prize pack for The Haters by Jess AndrewsThanks to Abrams Books, I'm able to offer one of my readers (with a U.S. mailing address) a copy of Jesse Andrews's The Haters, a fun bumper sticker, and a copy of his Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Yep, one of you can win two books plus some swag. 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 using a random number generator on April 20. Once the winner has been confirmed and his or her address has been sent to the publicist, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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11 April 2016

Sound Recommendations: Audiobooks for Spring Listening

Review: Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben (audiobook)Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben: Coben is known for creating tense and twisty thrillers, and fans will like this standalone novel about the investigation of a high-profile New York City murder. Iraq War veteran Maya Burkett, already suffering from PTSD, was the only witness to her husband's death. Despite her frail psyche, she seems determined to help find the shooter. The deeper she digs, however, the more secrets she uncovers, making her question how well she knew her husband. I had a few issues with the way the clues were revealed, but otherwise I enjoyed the book. Audiobook: January LaVoy's expressive performance and good pacing make this a recommended audiobook (Brilliance; 10 hr, 5 min).

Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton (Audiobook)The Widow by Fiona Barton: This multilayered mystery/thriller involves the investigation of the disappearance of a little girl from her suburban London garden. Told from several viewpoints, the story touches on issues of marriage, ambition, parenthood, the press, and child pornography. Despite the difficult subject, I liked this novel all the way up to the end. To avoid spoilers, I'll just say I thought there were some unrealistic aspects to the last chapter. Audiobook: Narrators Hannah Curtis and Nicholas Guy Smith head the cast of this audiobook. Each performer captured the personality of his or her character, keeping my attention throughout. Don't hesitate to listen (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 24 min).

Review: Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell (audiobook)The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell: I can't say enough good things about this novel centered on a kind of literary treasure hunt trough modern-day Oxford and the books of the Bronte family. It was just plain fun to read about the trials and tribulations of Samantha Whipple, last surviving Bronte descendant. Between rising above her unconventional upbringing, dealing with people from her late-father's past, and discovering her own passions, Samantha has one heck of a first year at college. Audiobook: Narrator Katie Koster couldn't have done a better job portraying Samantha and tapping into the soul of this novel. Truly a don't-miss audiobook (Blackstone; 11 hr, 52 min).

NOTE: My full audiobook reviews of these titles will be available through AudioFile magazine.

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09 April 2016

Weekend Cooking: The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish

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 Elements of Pizza by Ken ForkishIf you're a long time reader of Weekend Cooking, then you might remember that I make a lot of pizza, especially on the grill. I'm of the school that says there's always more to learn, so when I saw that Ken Forkish, a James Beard cookbook winner, had a new pizza book (hitting the bookstore shelves on Tuesday), I knew I had to take a look.

Oh boy, if you like to eat pizza, if you've ever wanted to make pizza, or if you're a veteran pizza chef, you'll find a treasure trove of information in The Elements of Pizza. I learned so much about the history of pizza and loved getting a peek into Italian flour mills and mozzarella farms and meeting pizza experts.

Forkish also introduces us to all kinds of different types of pizza--Neapolitan, Roman, Chicago, New York, grandmother pies, and more--and tells us what makes each one unique. Then he gives us his secrets for a great pizza crust. I was pleased to see that his last tip is "be guided by your own tastes." So true and something we don't often see in cookbooks.

Copyright with Ten Speed Press, Ken Forkish, and/or Alan WeinerAfter a great discussion on ingredients and equipment, Forkish turns to techniques and recipes. No matter your experience level, you'll find something new in the chapters about making and shaping the dough. I have a dough recipe I love, but I plan to give some of his a try. They vary in their proportions of liquids to flour, in the time you let the dough rest, in the type flour you use, and other details. There's even a gluten-free crust.

Next are the sauce recipes. Here's where I started. I have never been satisfied with my own sauces and tend to use a canned version. I read all the text leading up Forkish's Basic Tomato Sauce (see the scan below; click to enlarge), which he says he uses most often. It's so dead easy, I was sure it'd be a hit. His sauce is unspiced (except for salt), so I added pepper, oregano, basil, onion, and garlic to mine. We found the sauce to be a little thin and not popping with a noticeable tomato flavor.

Despite my disappointment with the basic sauce, I'm going to try his New York sauce (minus the sugar) next. That one is cooked down, which we will probably like better. I may also throw in a little tomato paste, which should increase the tomato flavor and act as a thickener.

Copyright with Ten Speed Press, Ken Forkish, and/or Alan Weiner

Now for the pizza recipes themselves. One thing to know is that Forkish geared this book to the home cook, which means you don't need a fancy pizza oven to have success. In fact, the subtitle to his book is "Unlocking the Secrets to World-Class Pies at Home." The Elements of Pizza contains some mouth-watering ideas for topping your favorite savory pie. The recipes are divided into Italian, New York, artisan, and more. There are plenty of vegetarian options, but I didn't notice any vegan.

Some of the more interesting (and I mean that in a good way) pizzas that I either want to try as is or to be inspired by are the the following:
  • Pomodoro Royal with Cheese (a very plain pizza with whole basil leaves)
  • Vodka Sauce and Sausage Pie
  • Spring Onion Pie (uses fresh mozzarella and Grana Padano cheeses)
  • Artichoke and Bacon Pizza
Okay, I'm with you, if you're thinking you don't need a cookbook to tell you what toppings to put on your pizza. That's fine because the heart of The Elements of Pizza is really in the information about techniques, ingredients, equipment, and history. As you'll find out in the following video, Forkish did a lot of research when he put together his book, and his respect for tradition while accepting the modern is clearly evident.

Recommendation: This a book to buy and have on your shelf. Even if you consider yourself to be a good pizza maker, there is always something else to learn. Ken Forkish's The Elements of Pizza is a great resource that will stand the test of time..

Forkish is the owner of a bakery, a pizzeria, and a combo restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Check out his website for more information. Forkish also has a YouTube channel, where he talks about baking bread and now about making pizza. Here's a short video that introduces the pizza cookbook:

Note on the scans: The recipe and photos are from The Elements of Pizza and are used here in the context of a review. All rights remain with the copyright holders (Ken Forkish, Alan Weiner, 10-Speed Press).

Published by Ten-Speed Press, April 19, 2016
ISBN-13: 9781607748380
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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07 April 2016

The APA's 2016 Audiobook Blogger of the Year

Beth Fish Reads is APA's 2016 Audiobook Blogger of the YearIf you heard a loud squeal coming from central Pennsylvania yesterday, that was me receiving the news I was chosen as the Audio Publishers Association's 2016 Audiobook Blogger of the Year.

To say I was stunned and overwhelmed is an understatement. Who knew when I listened to my very first audiobook (on cassettes!) back in the 1980s, that I would ever become such a vocal fan of the medium?

Thanks so much to the APA for this great honor. I think I'm still in a daze and my feet haven't touched the ground since I heard the news. Here's more about the award (from the APA's press release):

"This contest was created to recognize the valuable contribution of independent audiobook listeners who review and promote the format online," says APA President Linda Lee. "It is an opportunity to not only reward their work, but also to increase engaging discussions about audiobooks on the web and to encourage new bloggers to join the conversation."
I couldn't agree more about encouraging new listeners and reviewers: give audiobooks a chance, and never stop writing about them or talking about them!

I hope to see you all in Chicago, where I'll be at BEA and attending the Audies Gala:
[The] prize for winning the competition is 2 tickets to the black-tie Audie Awards'® Gala, which will be held on Wednesday, May 11th at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. [Beth Fish Reads] will be recognized for her achievement at the Gala and have her photo taken with Audies emcee, comedian Paula Poundstone, and contest judge Katherine Kellgren. 
Now to find that perfect dress.

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06 April 2016

Wordless Wednesday 388

My Lane, April 2016

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

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05 April 2016

Today's Read: Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

Review: Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne RindellWhat would you do to realize your dream of being a successful author or editor? Are there any limits? In the postwar years in New York City, two young men and one woman learn the answers to those questions:

Cliff: Greenwich Village in '58 was a madman's paradise. In those days a bunch of us went around together drinking too much coffee and smoking too much cannabis and talking all the time about poetry and Nietzsche and bebop. I had been running around with the same guys I knew from Columbia—give or take a colored jazz musician here or a benny addict there—and together we would get good and stoned and ride the subway down to Washington Square. I guess you could say I liked my Columbia buddies all right. They were swell enough guys but when you really got down to it they were a pack of poser wannabe-poets in tweed and I knew it was only a matter of time before I outgrew them.
Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell (Putnam, 2016, chap. 1; uncorrected proofs)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: late 1950s/early 1960s New York City
  • Circumstances: Cliff, Miles, and Eden, all just out of college, have dreams of making it in the publishing world. Cliff and Miles want to be writers, and Eden wants to be an editor. Each, however, has to overcome sociocultural expectations and to find a way around a variety of roadblocks. At the same time, they're faced with moral and ethical dilemmas and make choices they have to live with forever.
  • Characters: Cliff, the privileged son of an important editor; Miles, a Harlem native who managed to obtain a good education; Eden, a Midwestern girl trying to make it in the city; various friends and enemies in the Village and in publishing
  • Themes: friendship, sociocultural issues (religion, race, sexual identity, gender, social class), moral choices, love, father-son relationships, marriage, ambition
  • Genre: literary fiction 
  • General Thoughts: Because I'm an editor, I was immediately hooked on the publishing theme. I loved the period details concerning Eden's struggles as a woman and as a Jew in the business. Cliff's personality made me want to strangle him--what a spoiled brat! And poor Miles, such a good guy with so much to deal with: being black was only the beginning.
  • Thoughts on the Plot: The story is told from the alternating perspectives of the three main characters, and I always enjoy seeing different reactions to the same set of events and people. I can't say I especially liked any of the trio, but their sometimes cringe-worthy thoughts and actions made the book interesting.
  • Note on diversity: Bravo to Rindell for creating a Jewish character who seemed real and relatable. Eden's Jewishness has a part to play, but other than that, she's just a regular person. Thank you.
  • Recommendations: A terrific snapshot into the pre-civil rights and women's movement era. Rindell's period details of the publishing world and of the social scene in New York give the novel authenticity. The characters have to balance their all-consuming dreams against their personal ethics as well as decide how much of their true self they're willing to share with the world. Whether you agree with their choices or not, you'll have a lot to think about. In fact, Three-Martini Lunch would be a great book club choice.
  • Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition (Penguin Audio; 16 hr, 52 min) was read by Will Damron, J. D. Jackson, and Rebecca Lowman. There were no weak links in the performances, and each narrator highlighted his or her character's personality well. As a group, the pacing was good and the expressiveness kept my attention without interfering with my own interpretation of events. I also appreciated that all of the narrators kept any hint of foreshadowing from their performances. Recommended listen.

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04 April 2016

5 Books Set in Alaska

Last week I included the novel The Alaskan Laundry in the list of books I want to read in April. That reminded me of other titles on my list that are also set in our most northern state. Here are five books that were (will be) published in 2016 that show us a variety of perspectives of life in Alaska.

Adult Picks

5 Books Set in Alaska• All the Winters After by SerĂ© Prince Halverson: Two strangers--a woman hiding from her husband and a man still mourning his childhood losses--find themselves occupying the same remote cabin. The story takes place over the course of a year, with the Alaskan setting playing as much of a role as the characters. Despite their deep burdens, will the pair be able to find redemption, healing, and hope? (Sourcebooks Landmark) • Queen of the Heartbreak Trail: The Life and Times of Harriet Smith Pullen, Pioneering Woman by Eleanor Phillips Brackbill: The true story of a woman who traveled west in a covered wagon, survived the hardships of pioneering, and seemingly settled down in Washington after marrying and having four children. Determined to live life on her own terms, however, Pullen left her family in the late 1800s to head north to Alaska, where she relied on her entrepreneurial spirit to gain fame and fortune and a little bit of infamy too. (Two Dots)

For a Younger Audience

5 Books Set in Alaska• The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence: Two boys are the only survivors after a sailboat sinks off the coast of Alaska. Alone and lacking supplies, food, and radio, they must overcome not only an unforgiving land and dangerous wildlife but their mutual dislike and disagreements. Action-packed and affecting. (Delacorte Books for Young Readers) • The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock: Four teens face hard choices when balancing their limited opportunities in Alaska against their dreams for the future. A coming-of-age story set in 1970s that reveals the less romantic side of growing up in an Alaskan city. (Wendy Lamb Books) • Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg: Based on true events, this novel follows a family that accepts President Roosevelt's challenge to homestead Alaska and find a new start during the Great Depression. Young Trip is inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder, but her mother will need more encouragement to feel settled into their own little house in the northern wilderness. (Nancy Paulsen Books)

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02 April 2016

Weekend Cooking: The Basque Book by Alexandra Raij, Eder Montero, and Rebecca Marx

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 Basque Book by Alex Raij and Rebecca MarxAlexandra Raij had wanted to be a chef all her life, so it seemed natural that after she graduated from culinary school and got her first job, she'd date and then marry a fellow chef. Although Raij's American-born, her parents are from Argentina, and she's always had a strong affinity for her Spanish-inspired roots. Her husband, Eder Montero, is from Basque country, and his native dishes star in their restaurant, which specializes in northern Spanish cuisine.

The subtitle of The Basque Book is "A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito." Txikito is the name of Raij and Montero's New York City restaurant, and the book is indeed a love story on a several levels: the love of a couple, of a cuisine, of a region, and of a lifelong passion.

copyright: Alexandra Raij, Eder Montero, and Rebecca MarxOne of the great things about The Basque Book is that Raij and Montero assume (rightly in my case) that their readers know very little about Basque cuisine. I love the sections on sample menus, basic techniques, and foundation recipes. I'm also thankful for the resource sections at the back of the book, which explain ingredients and give recommendations for mail-ordering.

I'm attracted to the clean flavors and simplicity of many of the dishes--spiced lamb meatballs, braised leeks, roasted pork with paprika, crab with peppercorns, eggs and mushrooms--and there are many recipes I have marked to try. I especially like the chapters focusing on appetizers and casual dining. Unfortunately for me, however, the Basque like their fish and shellfish, and I live in a land-locked small town. This means I won't be making squid or mussels or fresh sardines any time soon.

copyright: Alexandra Raij, Eder Montero, and Rebecca MarxMost of the recipes are very accessible for experienced home cooks. The directions are well written, and many are accompanied by gorgeous photographs. For an idea of the kinds of food you'll find in the book, you can click on over to the Txikito website, and check out the menu. Many of the dishes served in the restaurant appear in the cookbook. There is an entire chapter devoted to eggs and another to garden produce, so vegetarians should find a number of Basque dishes to try at home.

The Basque Book is a wonderfully informative and easy-to-follow introduction to the foods of northern Spain. After looking at the photos and skimming the recipes, you'll be dreaming of making reservations at Alexandra Raij and Eder Montero's restaurant next time you're in New York. In the meantime, you can cook up a storm in your own kitchen. Pass the gratin of artichoke hearts (see scan; click to enlarge) and a dry Rioja, and let's get eating . . . Basque-style.

Note on the scans: The recipe and photo are from The Basque Book and are used here in the context of a review. All rights remain with the copyright holders (Alex Raij, Eder Montero, Rebecca Marx, Penny de los Santos, 10-Speed Press).

Published by Ten-Speed Press, April 19, 2016
ISBN-13: 9781607747611
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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