31 August 2016

Wordless Wednesday 409

Red Boat

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30 August 2016

Today's Read: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Review: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye WatkinsCan you envision a future in which California must be evacuated because of drought? Would you stay or go? How would you cope with the encroaching desert sands? Luz and Ray live in that future and must decide how best to survive.

Punting the prairie dog into the library was a mistake. Luz Dunn knew that now, but it had been a long time since she'd seen a little live thing, and the beast had startled her. She'd woke near noon having dreamed a grand plan and intending to enact it: she would try on every dress in the house. They hung like plumage in the master closet, in every luscious color, each one unspeakably expensive--imagine the ones the starlet had taken with her!
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead, 2015, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Southern California, in the not too distant future.
  • Circumstances: Luz and Ray, struggling to survive in drought-ridden California, are squatting in the house abandoned by a movie star. After meeting some creepy people when on a food scrounging mission, they begin to envision a different future for themselves in the still green east. The only trouble is the secrets they're hiding make it difficult for them to obtain evacuation passes. With the help of a dubious friend, they hatch a scheme to escape to the still verdant east.
  • Genre: adult dystopian
  • Themes: relationships, friendships, cults, environment, conspiracy theories, survival, parenthood
  • Characters: Luz, an ex-childhood actress; Ray, a military veteran, and Luz's boyfriend; Lonnie and his followers at a co-op along the coast; Levi and his followers at a desert community; various other people both along the coast and in the desert
  • Thoughts in general: I really wanted to love this book because I enjoy dystopian fiction and I liked Vaye Watkins's short story collection, Battleborn. Unfortunately, her novel fell flat for me. The premise was good and believable: California is already experiencing major drought, so it didn't take much imagination to extend that situation into the future. The setup was solid, and I was invested for the first 75 pages or so, but then the plot seemed to spin out of control.
  • What I didn't like: The characters' motivations were often murky, and their inner thoughts were either (I'm sorry to say) boring or in the WTF realm. I was frustrated by their choices. Despite this, I was committed enough until a point just past three-quarters of the way through when a character "magically" gets out of a predicament. Without spoilers, let me say this: at one point Ray has a major problem; a little while later he no longer has that problem, but we have no clue how he solved it. Really? You took me this far, at least tell me how he gets out of the bad situation. Sigh.
  • Recommendation: I cannot in good conscience recommend this book, even to die-hard adult dystopian lovers. I really should have DNF'd it, but by the time I hit my breaking point, I was too far along. However, note that Gold Fame Citrus has received ALL THE STARS: Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, and BookList, for example, sang the novel's praises. It was also a Book of the Month Club pick. I, however, didn't feel the love.
  • Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 27 min) read by Jorjeana Marie and MacLeod Andrews. Their performances were okay but could not compensate for the book's flaws. I truly have nothing else to say about the production; I'm just so mad at myself for not bailing on the book.

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29 August 2016

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Is It Fall Yet?

Thoughts on Reading from Beth Fish ReadsYou know what makes me happy? Just a few more days left in August and the promise (I hope) of cooler weather. I'm so ready for the crisp mornings and comfortable evenings of fall.

Book Organizing Progress Report: I have finally gotten all my print books organized. I have stacks of books to give to my neighbors or to the senior center, and I've entered my entire print reading list into Libib.

I am glad I made the switch and have found only one flaw so far. The Libib database trails new books by about a month, so I won't be able to scan my October books for another week or so. I can, however, enter the data by hand, if I want.

I've decided to just accept this annoyance and add new books around the 15th of the month before they're published. Truth is, I rarely read ahead, so I think this will work. We'll see.

Next up are adding and culling my eBooks and audiobooks, which I'll tackle a little at time.

Yet Another App: Yeah, yeah, no one needs more social media sites for getting more book information. Or, well, do we? I've signed up for the Reco app, which is another way to record books and share the books I'm reading, have read, and want to read. This app doesn't allow you to upload your own creative photos (like Litsy), but there is a very cool list feature, which I'm going to play around with. Fits right into my "Reading on Topic" posts, which I really love to put together.

Hey, guess what? I'm @BethFishReads on the Reco app (surprised, aren't you?), so follow me there if you're so inclined. I'm still getting the hang of it, but I do know how to follow you back.

What I'm Reading and Listening To

Thoughts on Reading from Beth Fish Reads

My reading was pretty slow this past week because my focus was on other things. I've been listening to Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins and read by Jorjeana Marie and MacLeod Andrews, which is a kind of an adult dystopian story based on an all-too-believable premise: the droughting of America (like that verb I made up?). My review will be up this week.

I'm finishing up The Emerald Lie by Ken Bruen in print, which I started a few weeks ago and put down for absolutely no reason. This is my first Bruen, but will not be my last. The series is Irish crime, with dark humor and a great main character. I need to start from the beginning.

I've also been reading Wonder Women by Sam Maggs. I like the short takes on interesting, innovative, smart women from all walks of life, many of whom have been lost to history: spies, scientists, explorers, and more. The book won't come out until October, but I couldn't wait to read it.

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27 August 2016

Weekend Cooking: Healing Foods

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.

Banana, Peach, Coconut Ice PopsAs some of you know, Mr. BFR had surgery this past week (all went smoothly, and he's on the mend). As a consequence, I didn't really cook anything interesting.

We ate light early in the week: things like grilled salmon, a simple stir-fry, tuna fish sandwiches, and plenty of vegetables. I cooked ahead for the day of the operation and for Mr. BFR's early days of recovery.

I made chicken noodle soup, homemade applesauce, pound cake, and hummus and once home, scrambled eggs, toast with honey, and all kinds of comfort foods.

One thing he specifically requested was ice pops. Boy, am I glad I took the time to make them. After the dryness of the operating room, Mr. BFR's throat was scratchy and a little sore. He said the ice pops really helped.

I've made all kinds of frozen treats over the years, but recently we've been experimenting with coconut milk, which makes an excellent base. Sometimes I add a few tablespoons of whiskey, rum, or liqueur to the mix, but I didn't want to use alcohol -- not even a tiny bit. The postsurgery painkillers don't mix well with booze.

Here's what Mr. BFR asked for.

Banana, Peach, Coconut Ice Pops (original recipe from Beth Fish Reads)

Banana, Peach, Coconut Ice PopsNote that my molds hold 2 cups of liquid and make six ice pops. You may have to adjust the proportions to fit your model. If you don't have molds, do a web search for how to make them in paper cups.
  • 1 banana, cut up
  • 1 ripe peach, cut up (no need to peel)
  • 1/2 can (13.5-ounce can) coconut milk (we used regular, not low fat)
  • Ground cinnamon to taste
Place all the ingredients in a blender container and blend until fairly smooth. Pour into ice pop molds and freeze until hard, about 4 hours.

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26 August 2016

8 Short Book Reviews: Summer Picks and Pans

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris -- Despite knowing pretty much what was going to happen (though not how it was going to happen), I really liked this creepy book about the seemingly perfect couple. As I said on Litsy: Narrator Georgia Macguire did an excellent job with the slow-building tension. Sucked me right in and had me by the earbuds until the end. (Macmillian Audio)

Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joana Cannon -- I loved this book! A great quote on every page. This is a combo mystery / coming-of-age story set in England in the mid-1970s. Ten-year-old Grace and Tilly are determined to find out what happened to the neighbor lady, who disappeared without a trace. This is one of my favorites of the year. (Scribner)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead -- here's basically all I have to say: This book. It slayed me. Read it . . . now. Bahni Turpin was an amazing narrator; see my review in AudioFile. (Random House Audio)

Deadline by Mira Grant -- Book 2 in the Newsflesh series wasn't quite as good as the first one (Feed), mostly because it had a slow buildup. Nonetheless, I still got caught up in the conspiracy theory aspects of this zombie story and I love the way the 2040s aren't really all that different from today. Well, except, of course, for the zombies. The ending! Now I have to read Book 3. Narrators Chris Patton and Nell Geisslinger make a good team; kicking up the action and the emotions. (Hachette Audio)

Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon -- This Prohibition Era story of two women who love and want to mother the same young girl just didn't do it for me. I didn't really care what happened to any of the characters. If I hadn't been listening for a freelance assignment, I would have bailed. Basically, I was bored. Narrator Rebecca Lowman was unable to keep my attention. (Penguin Audio)

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena -- A good twisty thriller that I easily got caught up in, despite there being no one to really root for. I give this a solid 3 stars; worth the read. Kirsten Potter did a nice job keeping me invested and setting the pace. (Penguin Audio)

Still listening to: Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson and read by multiple narrators -- Not as good as the first book in the Remnant Chronicles (Kiss of Deception) because there isn't much going on. I'm just more than halfway done and no real progress has been made. Plus there's the issue of a lingering love triangle. ARGH. (Listening Library)

Still reading: I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows -- I have only a few chapters left but life got in the way. Hope to finish this excellent novel tonight. Love the story of a family trying to survive the Depression and Dust Bowl summer of 1934. Beautifully written with vivid characters and easy-to-visualize setting. (Henry Holt)

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24 August 2016

Wordless Wednesday 408

Coneflower, 2016

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22 August 2016

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Late Summer & a Look at My eReader

8 Books on My eReaderWhat's with reading this summer?

Judging from my Twitter feed I am not alone in lamenting the slowdown in reading over the last few weeks. First we had week-long, back-to-back political conventions. Then, before we even had time to take a breath, it was time for the Summer Olympics.What's a reader to do?

My normal reading habits are to listen to an audiobook from the end of work until we sit down to eat dinner. Then I typically have a couple of hours for print/eReading until we cap off the evening with about an hour of TV.

Because we've just had about four weeks of nightly viewing, pretty much all my reading has been via audiobooks. I am soooo freakin behind in my print reading!

I plan to spend the next two weeks trying to make up some ground, but after Labor Day, I think I'll just move on to fall. Discouraging, I know.

Here's what's left on my eReader for August. Not sure what I'll tackle first.

8 Books on My eReaderThe Book by Keith Houston: The subtitle says it all: "A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time." (nonficiton; Norton).

Carousel Court by Joe McGinniss Jr.: A much-praised story about a young couple who moves to southern California only to find themselves struggling in the economic downturn. Each secretly schemes to reverse their fortunes. (fiction; Simon & Schuster)

How to Party with an Infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings: This novel focuses on a single mother who tries to find her footing in San Francisco by writing a cookbook and pretending she isn't upset that the father of her child is about to marry another woman. (fiction; Simon & Schuster)

Tell me Something Real by Calla Devlin: This new adult novel is about three very different sisters who are juggling college and early careers with caring for their gravely ill mother. (fiction; Atheneum Books for Young Readers)

The French War Bride by Robin Wells: Set in contemporary Louisiana with flashbacks to occupied France, this book is about how two women, now elderly and once rivals, fared in the postwar years. (historical fiction; Berkley)

The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe: An exploration of the importance of speech as a driving force in human cultural evolution. This is supposed to be controversial. (nonfiction; Little, Brown)

Seven Skeletons by Lydia Pyne: A look the evolution of humankind through the exploration of what we know about the lifestyles of seven significant fossil hominids. Apparently I'm reliving my former academic life. (nonfiction; Viking)

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin by Stephanie Knipper: Set in Kentucky, this is the story of two sisters and a young girl with autism who has a special gift for healing. The book explores family, being different, and making sacrifices. (fiction; Algonquin)

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20 August 2016

Weekend Cooking: Cooking from Scratch

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.

Homemade instead of store bought: Weekend CookingA couple of weeks ago I shared lists of some of the foods I always make from scratch and others that I always buy. I had a few requests for some of my recipes, and I'm always happy to share.

I've already posted my maple granola recipe, so I won't repeat it here. If you see something in the ingredient list you don't like, just leave it out or substitute. I often omit the wheat germ because one of my brothers is gluten free, and I don't always have all the different seeds on hand. I don't worry about it. I change up the nuts and use whatever dried fruit I have in the house. The granola is dead easy to make, so I encourage you to give it a try.

Here's how I make guacamole and salad dressing.

Guacamole (recipe by Beth Fish Reads)

When I make guacamole, I never measure. I've been making it for so many years, I just know by sight how much of the herbs and spices to add. Thus I sucked it up and made the ultimate sacrifice for you all -- I whipped up a batch of guacamole so I could give you accurate measures. That said, you still need to taste it and adjust to your own liking. If you don't have a lime, use a lemon.
  • Homemade guacamole from Beth Fish Reads3 tablespoons minced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 just-ripe Haas avocados
Put the onion, garlic, hot sauce, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, and lime juice in a medium bowl. Cut the avocados in half, remove the pit, and scoop or cut the avocado out of their skins. I like a rustic guacamole, so I use a fork to mash the avocado into the other ingredients until well mixed but not entirely smooth. Taste and adjust the spices as needed.

Salad Dressing (recipe by Beth Fish Reads)

This is my basic salad dressing. You can use whatever neutral oil you like, if you don't like safflower oil. I change up the vinegar all the time: balsamic, red wine (as shown here), or herbal. You can even use lemon juice if you don't like vinegar. If you're not a mustard lover, leave it out. I also change up the herb, depending on my mood.
  • Homemade salad dressing from Beth Fish Reads6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons safflower oil
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Place all the ingredients into a jar and shake until well blended. Note: this also makes a decent marinade for grilled vegetables and meats.

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19 August 2016

6 Books for Late Summer Reading

I don't really want to think about the fact that two weeks from today it will already be September. How did that happen? On the other hand, I don't count summer over until after Labor Day so that means there's still plenty of time to get to the summer books I haven't read yet. Here are six that remain on my list. Have you read any of them and can you recommend them? Which ones call to you?

Contemporary Life Around the World

6 Books for Late Summer Reading
  • This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell. Set in Ireland and Los Angeles, this is a story of family, marriage and second chances. I loved O'Farrell's Instructions for a Heatwave, and her new novel promises the same astute insights into family relations mixed with a good dose of spot-on, sharp humor as a reclusive couple is forced to confront the realities of their past. (July, Knopf)
  • Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. Set in contemporary Singapore, this book has been called a modern-day Emma. Jazzy has decided to become match-maker for her BFFs, vowing to marry them all off by year's end. Caught between Asian traditions and global twenty-first-century dreams, Jazzy may have set her expectations a little too high. (July, William Morrow)
  • Housebroken by Laurie Notaro. Life is hard when you're as far from a domestic goddess as it's possible to be. I'm looking forward to this set of essays about how Notaro copes with modern life while fighting her hording tendencies, failing to keep her house clean, and dealing with her missing crafting gene. These funny pieces sound perfect for the airplane or for relaxing by the pool. (July, Ballantine)
Growing Up Hard

6 Books for Late Summer Reading
  • Age of Consent by Marti Leimbach. Thirty years after she was seduced by the man who was dating her mother, Bobbie returns to her native Washington, DC to put him behind bars. After learning he had a history of abusing young teens, Bobbie finally finds the courage to confront him, her mother, and her own past actions. Is it ever too late to try to make things right? (July, Doubleday)
  • Absalom's Daughters by Suzanne Feldman. Set in the 1950s and involving a road trip through the Jim Crow South, this novel explores sisters, racism, and dreams of easy street. As half-sisters Cassie (brown skinned) and Judith (white skinned) drive north to Virginia to lay claim to their late-father's estate, they learn the hard price of seeking freedom and that there's more to life than being rich. (August, Atria)
  • It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover. At twenty-five, Lily is financially secure and has a brand-new boyfriend. She's beginning to believe she's outrun her unhappy Maine childhood and slowly lets down her guard. But trouble follows trouble, and Lily finds herself living the very life she swore she would escape. Can the cycle of abuse be broken or will Lily have to run again? (July, Henry Holt)

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17 August 2016

Wordless Wednesday 407

Brugges, 2008

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16 August 2016

Today's Read: Trials of the Earth by Mary Mann Hamilton

Review: Trials of the Earth by Mary Mann HamiltonCould you picture yourself as a pioneer woman? In 1884, at the age of eighteen, Mary Mann Hamilton moved with her new husband to the muddy wilderness of the Mississippi Delta to start a new life.

In the early 1880s my father brought his family from Missouri down into the wild country of Arkansas that was just beginning to settle up. The Kansas City and Memphis [Railway] was just being graded through, and trains were running only as far as the little sawmill town of Sedgwick, so there we stopped to wait until the road was completed into the prairie country near Jonesboro, where my father expected to buy a home. Within a week he took pneumonia and three days later died, leaving my mother and six children stranded and helpless in a strange country.
Trials of the Earth by Mary Mann Hamilton (Little, Brown, 2016, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Arkansas and Mississippi, 1880s on
  • Circumstances: The true story of a pioneer woman
  • Genre: autobiography
  • Something to know: Hamilton wrote her book to enter a publishing contest in the 1930s. Although she didn't win, she kept the manuscript, which was discovered and published by the University of Mississippi Press in the 1990s. The writing contest that inspired Hamilton was sponsored by Little, Brown, which recently acquired the rights to the book that got away and republished it last month, giving this amazing story a wider audience.
  • Thoughts: I'm still reading, but I can tell you that Hamilton holds nothing back--the brutal daily workload, the rough life of a logging camp, the violence of the backwoods, and the constant dangers. Hamilton's incredible physical and mental strength shine through this autobiography, though she is unassuming as she tells her story. Despite the rigors of pioneering life, she loved her children, admired the beauty of the natural world, and made deep friendships.
  • Recommendations: This is an important and fascinating firsthand account of the waning pioneer days told from a woman's viewpoint and set in a region few Americans associate with homesteading. If you like true stories, autobiography, and/or history revealed from a personal perspective, you must add Mary Mann Hamilton's Trials of the Earth to your list.

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15 August 2016

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Organizing My Reading List

Organizin My Reading ListIt's the Olympics! What does that have to do with reading? It means that instead of reading I've been watching sports. On the other hand, it doesn't mean that books aren't top-most on my mind.

I've been taking advantage of Olympics coverage to take a journey through my bookshelves. I've talked about culling books a couple of times before (the pain, the hows), and I've also talked about book database apps (check this out).

Here's what I did last week and what I'll be doing this coming week: Culling books and changing my book database to Libib.

For several years, my dream has been to have my unread print books, eBooks, and audiobooks in a single, searchable place. (I'm not concerned about the books I've read because I have a record here on Beth Fish Reads, over on Litsy, and via various freelance reviewing gigs.) My trouble has always been that when it comes time to pick my next book, I have to check too many places to see my available choices.

Although it sounds incredibly painful, I've decided to give up on LibaryThing and GoodReads and commit to Libib. Yes, I'm going to rescan all my unread print books and enter all my unread eBooks and unlistened to audiobooks into a single private database.

Why do I like Libib? Two things: I can see the publisher's summary without a zillion mouse clicks and I can perform easy searches. It's all in the custom tags, which I can create based on the way I choose my next read: genre, audience, and medium (as well as publishing date and diversity issues). I love that Libib allows me to easily search my entire TBR based on my current mood, whether that's a contemporary YA audiobook, a middle grade fantasy print book, or an adult thriller eBook.

I plan to be done entering all my print books by the end of the Olympics. It'll take me another couple of weeks to add my eBooks to Libib, and by the end of September I should be done with my audiobooks. I hope all my book stack dreams will come true just as the weather changes, the nights become longer, and I'm ready to tackle my TBR with a vengeance.

Wish me luck.

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13 August 2016

Weekend Cooking: Stir by Jessica Fechtor

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: Stir by Jessical FechtorA few weeks ago my friend Kathy from the blog Bermuda Onion wrote about the memoir Stir by Jessica Fechtor. About 15 minutes after I read her review, I checked a copy out of my library's Overdrive service.

Oh what a story. In a nutshell, at the age of twenty-eight, while at a graduate school conference in Vermont, Fechtor had a burst brain aneurysm while on a treadmill. She was away from home and without her family, but fortunately, friends and colleagues acted fast and got her admitted to the local hospital, which immediately transferred her to a level 1 trauma unit in Stowe.

From there, Fechtor underwent repeated surgeries, battled infections, lost the sight in one eye, temporarily lost her sense of smell, and was required to wear a helmet on her head for almost two years. She underwent therapy, was forced to put her professional life on hold, was told she might not be able to have children, and had many psychological hurdles to clear.

Throughout it all, she was fortunate to have the never-ending support of her family, her husband, her in-laws, and close friends. The other strong element in her life that kept Fechtor motivated and helped her heal was spending time in her beloved kitchen, baking, hosting parties, and feeding those she loves best.

Stir is an emotionally strong memoir with four interwoven paths: Fechtor and her husband's families, their courtship, her accident and recovery, and food and cooking. This is not your typical food memoir. Fechtor didn't travel the world discovering new flavors and ingredients. She didn't find god, love, or miracles in the kitchen.

Stir is, however, ripe with the deep significance of food and cooking: the idea of food as the symbol for life, for moving forward, for growing; the act of cooking as solace, as nurturing, as giving; and the way people are bound together over something as small as an almond cookie that comes in a fancy orange tin.

Get out your tissues because you'll cry with Jessica Fechtor -- sometimes with joy and sometimes with sorrow. Then wash your hands and head to the kitchen and be kind to yourself and your loved ones.

The food: Fechtor included a handful of recipes in Stir and all look wonderful. Many of them can be found on her popular food blog Sweet Amadine, which she started when she was still trying to teach herself how to reenter the world after she was released from the hospital. In 2009, a friend of hers told her to create a food blog to help fill her days, and so Fechtor did. You'll find her story and a ton of delicious recipes there.

I'll leave you with a passage from Stir I love -- one that might change me.
Being sick, it turns out, is an education in the art of guesting. I didn't see it that way at the time, likely because I didn't know that there were important things still to learn. . . .

A good guest allows herself to be hosted. That means saying, "yes, please," when you're offered a cup of tea instead of rushing to get it yourself. It means staying in your chair, enjoying good company and your first glass of wine while your host ladles soup into bowls. . . . To allow her to take care of  you is to allow your host her generosity. I'd always been too distracted by my own desire to be useful to understand this. I got it now.
Published by Avery, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781594631320
Source: borrowed (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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11 August 2016

Sound Recommendations: 4 Summer Audiobooks

Catching up with some short reviews today, all in my current summer favorites of fantasy and thriller.

Parents, Watch Your Children

4 Summer Audiobooks
  • What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan: I'm not sure why I held off on reading this much-buzzed book. It is a very well done thriller about a young boy who goes missing after getting permission from his mom to run ahead to a playground. The story is told from multiple viewpoints and different times. Macmillan did a good job with how both traditional media and social media can quickly move from sympathetic to vicious. I was particularly drawn to the male detective and how the case affected him. The audiobook was read by Penelope Rawlins and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, who kept my attention throughout; I had a hard time turning off the book! (Harper Audio; 12 h, 2 min; print: William Morrow, December 2015)
  • The Couple Next Door by Shari Lepena: I didn't realize when I started this audiobook that it was going to be another missing child story, although the circumstances here are different. When Anne and Marco's baby-sitter cancels last minute, the couple decides to have dinner with the neighbors anyway. They set up the baby monitor and take turns checking on the baby every half hour, but when they get home at 1:00 a.m., their daughter's crib is empty. This is a good twisty thriller with a small cast. I was completely caught up in working out exactly who did what and why. I didn't really like any of the characters (except maybe the detective), but I don't think we are meant to like them. The audiobook was read by Kirsten Potter, who set the mood and picked up on the characters' personalities. (Penguin Audio, 8 hr, 40 min; Pamela Dorman, August 23, 2016)

Visit a Fantasy World

4 Summer Audiobooks
  • Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson: I loved Pearson's Jenna Fox dystopian books, so decided it was a safe bet to try her fantasy series (the third installment is out this fall). The story features Lia, a princess who doesn't want either the position or the arranged marriage that goes with it. She runs away to start a new life as a peasant girl, but two boys are tracking her. One an assassin and the other her intended husband. For the first two-thirds of the book, neither Lia nor we know which boy is which--very clever.  I give the book 4 stars for characters and world building, but the audiobook, read by Emily Rankin, was only so-so. I have no real complaints, I just wasn't wowed. (Listening Library, 13 hr, 31 min; Henry Holt, July 2014) 
  • Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan: Why oh why haven't I read Sullivan before? I loved, loved, loved this book and its creatures, people, and politics. The story has many familiar epic fantasy elements, but there are enough twists so not everything is predictable. Excellent world building and relatable, flawed characters plus a terrific mix of fantasy and reality (including war and racial tensions). I can't wait for the next book, but in the meantime I'm going to read Sullivan's other books set in the same world but in a different time period. It took me a little bit to get into Tim Gerard Reynolds's performance of the audiobook, but then it clicked, and I devoured it, enjoying his pacing and expressive narration. (Recorded Books, 16 hr, 35 min; Del Rey, June 2016)

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10 August 2016

Wordless Wednesday 406

August Sky, 2016

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09 August 2016

Today's Read: The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta

Review: The Last Good Girl by Allison LeottaWhat if you joined a much-too-large college women's club, becoming one of thousands of rape victims? Emily, daughter of the university's president, isn't sure what to do after she has been sexually assaulted after attending a frat party.

The guy had beautiful white teeth and a dimple that appeared when she made him laugh, but all Emily could think of was, College is where romance goes to die.

They stood on prime real estate, belly-up to the bar at Lucky's, pressed together by the swell of bodies around them.
The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta (Touchstone, 2016, opening page)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: outside Detroit, on a college campus, modern times
  • Circumstances: Emily is filled with optimism on her first day of college as she heads off with her new roommates to her first fraternity party. What happens after she meets Dylan, a cute older boy, is not what Emily wanted. Devastated and ashamed, she tries to move past the sexual assault, until months later—against all advice—she decides to press charges. Then one evening in March, Emily fails to come home. Dylan is the last person to have seen her. When Anna Curtis, federal prosecutor is assigned the case, she won't stop looking until Emily is found . . . dead or alive.
  • Genre: legal thriller
  • Themes: campus sexual assault, date-rape drugs, Greek life, university politics, social class differences
  • Characters: Emily, student and victim; Dylan, fraternity member, rich kid; Anna, federal lawyer; various FBI agents, frat members, and university staff and students
  • Thoughts: Lots to like in this legal thriller. Although the sense of danger/tension was low, the plot was tight, and the main characters were clear and consistent. The author took on a couple of contemporary sociocultural issues, making the case for action without letting the larger themes detract from the plot. The Last Good Girl is the fifth book in the Anna Curtis series, but I didn't feel lost in terms of the backstory.
  • Recommendation: Not the most heart-pounding thriller I've read, but Allison Leotta wrote a solid novel based on important contemporary issues. Don't hesitate to read The Last Good Girl, especially if you have an interest in seeing sex crimes brought to justice.
  • Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Simon & Schuster Audio; 9 hr, 23 min) read by the talented Tavia Gilbert. Although I usually love Gilbert's work, her performance here felt rushed, and I noticed some breathiness. My advice: Don't shy away from the audio, but keep your expectations in check.

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08 August 2016

6 Thrillers to Read in August

How can it be August already? Time to pack the bags and head off on vacation to escape the summer heat. Along with your bathing suit, sun block, and beach chair, don't forget a stash of books. Here are a half dozen new thrillers; look for them at a bookstore near you.

6 Thrillers to Read in August
  • The Darkness Knows by Cheryl Honigford: After the murder of a radio star, an up-and-coming actress helps a handsome private detective solve the crime. Set in 1930s Chicago, this debut sets the stage for a new series and introduces a likeable duo. (Landmark, August 2)
  • The House between Tides by Sarah Maine: I'm just past halfway in this atmospheric Gothic mystery set in the Outer Hebrides. Alternating between the early 1900s and modern times, the story has pulled me in totally--crumbling mansion, a skeleton beneath the floor, and closed-mouthed islanders. (Atria, August 2)
  • Watching Edie by Camilla Way: Set in England, this psychological thriller focuses on two childhood friends who are reunited in their thirties. One is a single mom; the other moves in, saying she can lend a hand, but what are her true motives? (New American Library, August 2)
6 Thrillers to Read in August
  • The Couple Next Door by Sheri Lapena: I just started to listening to this thriller about a parent's worse nightmare. After a night of celebrating with their neighbors, Anne and Marco discover their infant daughter has been taken from her crib. The police aren't buying the couple's story. (Pamela Dorman, August 23)
  • Unknown Caller by Debra Spark: When Joel goes to the airport to pick up the teenage daughter he's never met, she fails to get off the plane. Is this a cruel joke played by his ex-wife, or has something really happened to the girl? (Louisiana State University Press, August 22)
  • Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris: This sounds like a pretty creepy psychological thriller. Everyone wants to be Jack and Grace. But if they are really the perfect couple, how come Grace is never seen out and about on her own? (St. Martin's Press, August 9)

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06 August 2016

Weekend Cooking: 6 Links for Food Lovers

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.

6 Links for Food LoversAm I the only one who has multiple food-related Pinterest boards but rarely remembers to actually use them when it comes time to plan dinner? I'm sure I'm not. We all have good intentions when we pin that delicious-looking pie, beautiful salad, or perfectly decorated cake.

Even though I usually forget to use my boards, I have an additional problem. I save food-related articles to a special notebook in Evernote. I read the article and tell myself I need that advice or I must remember to make that recipe. Again, do I actually look at Evernote when I'm getting ready to make dinner or a snack? Of course, I don't.

Well, just because I don't remember to go back and use the information in my Evernote files doesn't mean you can't. So in the spirit of sharing, here are six articles I thought you might like to read. Maybe after I post the links here, I'll be more motivated to give some of the recipes a try.
  • The Right Way to Freeze Basically Everything: We're coming into the big harvest months here in the Northern Hemisphere: From August through October, the markets are bursting with fruits and vegetables. I no longer do much (okay, any) canning, but I love my freezers. Here are some great tips from Bon Appetit magazine on the hows and whats of freezing. I particularly like the sections labeled "Keep in mind."
  • 17 Boozy Popsicles to Enjoy This Summer: It's still plenty hot out, and because I don't have central air-conditioning, I'm always looking for good ways to cool down. Marie Claire has gathered up a bunch of recipes for delicious-sounding adult ice pops. Those bourbon and peach pops are calling to me! Now I just need to find my Popsicle molds.
  • 21 Things to Cook in a Cast Iron Skillet on the Grill (or Over the Fire): Many years ago, I bought a whole box of cast-iron pans at a house auction. I love them and use them often, though not every day. This article from Kitchn caught my eye. I like the idea of taking my cast-iron out to the grill--anything to keep from heating up the kitchen this summer. The recipes cover the whole day, from breakfast to dessert.
  • 18 Light Summer Dinners: I often visit the site Cookie + Kate and love this list of summer dinners that are pretty on the plate and easy on the cook. They are all vegetarian, most are vegan, and some are gluten free. Since I'm not a vegan, I could see adding leftover roasted chicken, an egg, or a bit of cheese to a couple of these meals, although they look pretty darn good just as they are.
  • 17 Easy Make-Ahead Recipes You’ll Want to Bring Camping: Ignore that word camping if you wouldn't be caught dead in a tent or camper. Replace it with picnic, cookout in the park, tailgating, or even grilling on the back deck. Brit + Co. rounded up some awesome dishes that are made at home and heated up on the grill or fire: the shrimp dinner and breakfast sandwiches both look fantastic.
  • 10 Super Healthy Smoothie Recipes: Every time one of you posts a smoothie recipe, I'm all: Yeah, I need to start making smoothies. Do I do it? No. But I did save this recent article from Runners World for protein-packed nutritious drinks. Banana ginger and strawberry-kiwi both sound refreshing. Maybe I really will make a smoothie this weekend . . . or soon.
Now that I've armed you with tips and tricks and recipes, I hope you--and I--will find a few new meals to try before the fall weather sets in.

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04 August 2016

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Confessions of a Book Nerd

Confessions of a Book NerdEvery time I think about getting a handle on the books that live in my house, I also think about my relationship with books and reading. I find the thinking about books to be way easier than the culling, organizing, and prioritizing.

In fact, I had planned on going through my bookshelves a few days ago because I need to get the stacks of books off the floor. Instead, I put on an audiobook and did something else.

Right before I started that audiobook, I had the following random bookish thoughts.

1. I used to save every book I read, whether I liked the story or not. Over the years, I've become very selective about what I keep. Granted, I still have piles of books all over the house plus overstuffed bookshelves. For some odd reason, though, I perceive myself as being ruthless about culling books.

Confessions of a Book Nerd2. I'm a polygamous reader. As a foundation, I always have a print book, an audiobook, and an eBook in my rotation. In addition, I likely have a science book, a fat book, and an "Oh look it's shiny and new" book in progress. More often than not I finish all the books I start, but I don't worry about it too much.

3. I used to finish every book I started, even if I didn't like it. Now I have no problem whatsoever abandoning books that don't call me. This is different from those books that somehow get pushed to the side for the new and shiny (see point 2).

4. I go through years-long stages of being yea or nay about writing in books. This summer, I've suddenly begun to write directly in my books again. It's kind of fun.

Confessions of a Book Nerd5. I used to never read a mystery series out of order. Now  I'm not so picky and will read anything in the crime / thriller / mystery genre regardless of series installment.

6. That said, for almost every other genre, I'm a strict in-order reader. Curses to all those damn trilogies.

7. I love surprises. I've read books based on the title or cover or author alone. It's exciting to go into a book totally blind. What's more, I never read the author's note or the foreword until I've finished the book. I really don't understand people who read the end first (these people, I am told, actually exist).

8. My eyes/ears are always bigger than the time I actually have to read/listen. I buy books and accept review books with all the sincerest intentions in the world. Reality sinks in every day, but I still remain full of hope.

9. I was quick to adapt to electronic editing, but I've struggled with eReading. I can't figure out why. Still, I make sure an eBook is always in my rotation (see point 2).

Confessions of a Book Nerd10. I used to write thoughtful, insightful, long book reviews of every book I read. Now I post a few thoughts on Litsy and do quick reviews here. I'm hoping my mojo returns.

11. On the other hand, I have no trouble writing reviews for freelance assignments. Perhaps the deadlines or money is a motivator.

12. On the third hand, I find I love writing round-ups and spotlights and features. Which is great because . . . well, see point 8.

13. I have mixed feelings about book acquisition. A day without new books makes me very sad, but a day with new books can be a little stressful--where to store them, when to read them, how to write about them.

Confessions of a Book Nerd14. I still buy books (see point 13). No matter how many review copies I get there will always be other books I just have to own.

15. I still use the library (see point 13). No matter how many books I own, there will always be books I want to read but don't want to save.

16. My books are basically not organized--not by genre, or series, or author, or color. Yet I can (almost) always find what I want when I want it.

17. Sometimes I question my sanity.

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03 August 2016

Wordless Wednesday 405

Favorite July Photo, 2016

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

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02 August 2016

Today's Read: The Nix by Nathan Hill

The NIx by Nathan HillWhat would you do if the mother who abandoned you decades ago made national news after being arrested for protesting at a political rally? Would you come to her rescue? Samuel Anderson, English professor and online gamer decides to help his mother, which leads him to uncover family secrets.

If Samuel had known his mother was leaving, he might have paid more attention. He might have listened more carefully to her, observed her more closely, written certain crucial things down. Maybe could have acted differently, spoken differently been a different person.

Maybe he could have been a child worth sticking around for.
The Nix by Nathan Hill (Penguin Random House, Knopf, 2016, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: the United States at four points in time: 2011, 1988, 1968, 1944
  • Circumstances: Samuel's mother left him in 1988 when he was only 11 years old. After their unexpected reunion, he decides to help her, which involves delving into her past. What he discovers makes him question family truths and see America in a new way. He might also find a way to save himself.
  • Genre: fiction; literary fiction
  • Themes: American culture and politics, family, motherhood, and following one's bliss.
  • Characters: Samuel, English professor and gamer; Faye, his mother; Sheldon Parker, the conservative politician whom Faye was protesting against; Samuel's students and colleagues at the university; Samuel's gamer friends; real people from politics, the media, and the arts
  • What does the title mean? Apparently the Nix is being from Norse mythology. According to the back of the book, it's "a spirit who appears as a white horse that steals children away."
  • Things to know: Reviewers have been all over the place. Some say it's going to be their favorite book of the year; others couldn't get past the first third; and still others though it was just okay. Kirkus gave The Nix a starred review, and EW put it on it's must-read list. It was also a BEA2016 buzz book. Author Nathan Hill is an award-winning short story writer. This is his debut novel.
  • My thoughts: I'm going to give this 600-page tome a try because the wildly mixed reviews have made me curious. I think I'm going be most interested in the sections that take place in 1968, but maybe I'll be surprised.

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01 August 2016

Giveaway: Indignation (Book to Movie)

Most of you know that I'm a big book to movie fan, thus I'm really looking forward to Indignation (James Schamus, screenwriter and director), which opened in select theaters over the weekend. It's based on a Philip Roth book of the same name (published in 2008) and is set in 1951.

In an attempt to escape his kosher butcher father and getting drafted to serve in Korea, Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) accepts a scholarship to a small conservative college in Ohio. There he is harassed by the dean (Tracy Letts) and falls for a girl with a troubled past (Sarah Gadon).

Themes are religion and anti-Semitism, sexuality, standing up for what you believe in, facing the consequences of adulthood, family and -- of course -- young love.

I haven't read the book yet, but it's been on my radar since it was published, and the excellent cast has put the movie on my must-see list. Lerman also starred in Perks of Being a Wallflower and Gadon was in the Hulu miniseries 11.22.63. Letts is a Tony Award winner, and Danny Burstein and Linda Emond were both nominated for Tonys.

The New York Times called the movie "tremendous," and it garnered positive reviews at Sundance. When I look at the stills and the trailer, my guess is that the period details and costumes are going to be great. Plus I'm curious about how the Korean War plays into the plot; it's a war that doesn't often appear in American movies and novels.

Take a look at the official trailer:

For more about the movie:
The Giveaway

Now that I've caught your attention, thanks to Roadside Attractions, I'm able to offer one of my readers with a USA mailing address a fantastic prize pack. Not only will one winner receive a $25 American Express gift card to buy tickets to the movie Indignation but he or she will also get the official movie soundtrack and a copy of the book (movie tie-in edition).

All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win a gift card, soundtrack, and book is to fill out the following form.I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on August 8. Once the winner has been confirmed and I've passed his or her address on to Roadside Attractions, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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