31 January 2017

Today's Read: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah PinboroughImagine you are a divorced women with a little boy, a possible drinking problem, a part-time job, and few friends. When a beautiful, rich woman decides to take you under her wing, would you return the friendship? Suppose the woman needed a respite from her controlling husband, who just happens to be your handsome new boss? Louise finds herself in just this situation: drawn to her boss and his wife, hiding their secrets and maybe a few of her own.

Pinch myself and say I AM AWAKE once an hour.
Look at my hands. Count my fingers.
Look at clock (or watch), look away, look back.
Stay calm and focused.
Think of a door.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (Flatiron, 2016, p. 3 [ARC])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Contemporary times; London (with flashbacks to Scotland)
  • Circumstances: Louise, a single, divorced mother, meets a handsome man at a local pub. The next morning, she discovers he's her new (married) boss. The following day, she literary bumps into a woman on the street, who then suggests they have a coffee together. The two hit it off, but Louise knows this is her boss's wife. The more Louise gets enmeshed in the couple's lives, the harder it is for her to keep a grip on what's best for her, her son, and their future. 
  • Genre: psychological thriller
  • Characters: Louise, a secretary; Adele, her new friend; David, her new boss; Louise's son, ex-husband, and his girlfriend; a boy from Adele's past
  • What I liked: Pinborough sure can draw a reader in. I may not have had much in common with the characters, but the women won my sympathies, and I wanted to know how their odd tangled relationships were going to play out. Louise is a little naive and lonely, and she finds both David and Adele hard to resist, though for different reasons. The more secrets Louise keeps, the deeper she's caught up in the couple's world. I kept thinking: something bad is going to happen . . . I just know it.
  • Polarizing issue: So, I'm there, I'm fully invested, I can barely put the novel down. But then I come to the end. The last couple of chapters and . . . I want to throw the book across the room. The ending is love it or hate it. I don't think there's any gray area. I was in the "Argh,  you have to be kidding me" camp. You'll have to read the book to see where you belong. If you're a love it kind of person, you're in great company  (Harlan Coben, Joe Hill). I want to emphasize that I loved this book until the very end, so no matter how you react to the finale, it's worth your while to read.
  • More thoughts: This is a Flatiron book, which means that editor/publisher Amy Einhorn had a hand in bringing the novel to print. I'm not sure I've ever had a miss with Einhorn, but I guess there is a first time for everything. It makes me sad to not love every bit of this book, but I have to be honest.
  • Recommendation: Despite my reaction to the ending, I still say Behind Her Eyes is worth reading. The writing is good, and Sarah Pinborough knows how to build tension and create a foreboding atmosphere. Plus I'd love to know what you think. I agree with many others: this book will be talked about.

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30 January 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Escape Edition

Late winter escape reading and viewingI am now fully into escape mode: whether books or television. Between a busy work schedule and a crazy news cycle, I need mindless, fun, entertaining.

I've also resumed my daily walks and have picked up my knitting needles and lace supplies. I'm reviving my photography habit and cooking up a storm. That's not to say I've become complacent, but that I need moments of normalcy to get through all the changes.

Reading, watching, cooking, crafting . . . all good things to help soothe the soul.

What I read last week

3 books to read in January

I hope to write reviews soon, but here are my short takes. Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron (Philomel, February 2017) was a charming magical story that's a mix of Brigadoon and The Secret Garden. Perfect for middle grade readers. As Red As Blood by Salla Simukka (Crown, January 2017) is the start of a Finnish young adult thriller trilogy. I liked the story enough to read the second book, but I'm not quite sure why this won so many starred reviews. (Audiobook read by Ann Marie Lee is not recommended; from Listening Library.) Phoenix by S. F. Said (Candlewick, October 2016) was an action-packed galactic adventure that I found hard to put down. (Audiobook read by Dave McKean is recommended; review to appear in AudioFile magazine.)

What I'm reading now

3 books to read in January

The Stone Heart is the second entry in the Nameless City series by Faith Erin Hicks (April 2017). It's a medieval Asian adventure that has great art and many layers. Although I read Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (Putnam, April 2016) last year, I decided it was time for a reread via audiobook. It is just as good (if not better) as read by Susie Riddell (Penguin Audio). March Book One by John Lewis (Top Shelf Productions, August 2013) is the congressman's--and civil rights movement's--story.

Save me from Sunday nights

TV viewing on Sunday nightsWhy does every great show seem to air on Sunday nights? We are woefully behind on many of these, so please, please no spoilers in the comments.
  • The Young Pope (HBO) is about Pius XIII, the first American pope. Stars Jude Law and Diane Keaton.
  • Secrets of the Six Wives (PBS), hosted by historian Lucy Worsley, looks at the marriages of Henry VIII's wives from the women's viewpoints.
  • Mercy Street (PBS) is about a Civil War hospital that sees victims of both armies and focuses on two nurses, one Union and one Confederate.
  • Homeland (SHO) gives us a look at the CIA and its fight against terrorism. Claire Danes is absolutely amazing.
  • The Affair (SHO) is about two couples linked by an affair. I hate all the characters but can't seem to stop watching the series.
  • Victoria (PBS) stars Jenna Coleman as the young queen and covers the early years of her reign. Good acting and fabulous costumes and sets.
  • Black Sails (Stars) imagines Captain Flint and John Silver in the years before Treasure Island.
What's up this week

Besides my Wednesday photo, I have two reviews and a giveaway (on Thursday) planned. And, of course, Weekend Cooking. Here's to a sane, calm week with lots of escapes from reality.

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28 January 2017

Weekend Cooking: A Quartet of Books

Sprializer CookbooksNew Gadget News: A couple of weeks ago I broke down and got myself a spiralizer. I bought one with just three blades and have been having a blast. Because my gadget cost under $30, I decided even if I use it infrequently, I'll likely get my money's worth.

Even before my spiralizer arrived on my doorstep I had already checked two cookbooks out of the library. Boy am I happy I didn't buy one. If you're spiralizer naive (like I was), then here's what you need to know: It's just a way to cut veggies in a fancy way. You do not need a cookbook. I was pretty much chuckling at myself once I started playing with my sprializer and realized the obvious. Just throw those zucchini noodles into the pasta sauce and let them cook until your desired doneness. Nothing magical at all.

So, although I'm sure the books shown here are fine cookbooks, I never used them. Save yourself some time and money and leave the specialty cookbooks on the library or bookstore shelf. Our favorite things so far are the vegetable (summer squash) noodles and curly (baked) fries.

Nonfiction Food Books

Review: Mincemeat by Leonardo LucarelliIn Mincemeeat, Leonardo Lucarelli shares the story of his unconventional path to becoming a professional chef. He was born in India to Italian hippie parents but was raised in Italy. He began cooking at a young age and worked in a series of restaurants to help pay for his college and graduate school. Unlike celebrity chefs, Lucarelli did not end up on television, but instead continues to work in the very tough restaurant business. There wasn't a lot new in this memoir--except it mostly takes place in Italy--and I was annoyed that Lucarelli described every woman in sexual terms or by her looks. The audiobook was read by Will Damron, who put in a clean and clear performance (full audiobook review is available through AudioFile magazine). [Print: Other Press, 2016; Audiobook: Random House Audio, 2016]

Review: A Square Meal by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew CoeA Square Meal, by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe, examines the American diet from World War I through the Depression to the start of World War II. Diet trends, nutritional standards, government programs, sociopolitical issues, and environmental factors all played a part in how the nation fed itself (or not) through tough times. Especially interesting is the beginning of food advertising and lobbying and the fictional women (Aunt Sammy and Betty Crocker) who influenced how and what American women cooked. I enjoyed Susan Eriksen's expressive reading of the audiobook, though she could have distinguished quotes from narrative text a little more strongly (full audiobook review will be available through AudioFile magazie). [Print (with photos and recipes): Harper, 2016; Audio: Tantor Audio, 2016]

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.

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27 January 2017

Sound Recommendations: Two Novels for Winter Listening

Review: Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeighI introduced you to Jennifer McVeigh's fantastic Leopard at the Door (Putnam, 2017) in December, and direct you to that post for the background information about this historical novel, which is based on true events and set in Kenya in the 1950s. The protagonist is a young woman, Rachel, who returns to Africa after finishing secondary school in England. McVeigh does a good job of balancing action with Rachel's adjustment to a Kenya that is no longer the utopia of her childhood memories. The novel explores the Mau Mau Rebellion and doesn't shrink from the horrors of colonial rule or the mixed feelings of whites who were sympathetic to the Kikuyu. I highly recommend this novel to those who are interested in colonial Kenya, forgotten historical events, coming-of-age stories, and books about family dynamics.

Audiobook notes: Although I had intended to read Leopard at the Door in print, I ultimately decided to listen to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 12 hr, 15 min), which was read by Katharine McEwan, whose British accent was perfect for the protagonist. McEwan's performance was expressive, yet it often felt rushed, and her American accent fell short. My recommendation is to listen to a sample before buying or borrowing the audiobook.

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale (Del Rey, 2017) is a cross-genre novel that is deserving of all its buzz. Set in the Russian frontier of days gone by (medieval times?), it is the story of Vasilisa, a girl who can see folk-belief creatures, and what happens when her father remarries and a churchman from court comes to stay in the village. This is a many layered novel, a kind of fairy tale within a fairy tale, that also explores the friction between pagan beliefs and the Catholic Church, gender roles, families, and the joy of free thought and living according to one's true nature. I loved the details of Russian life, the woods, the creatures, and Valsilisa's conflicts. I'm giving this two thumbs up and I recommend it especially to those of you who like your magic mixed with realism and who read fantasy or fairy tales.

Audiobook notes: I listened to the unabridged audiobook of The Bear and the Nightingale (Random House Audio; 11 hr, 48 min) read by Kathleen Gati. This was my first time with Gati, but I can tell you it won't be my last. I loved her varied cadence, good pacing, believable Russian accent, and her well-done characterizations. I was glued to my earbuds. I appreciated that Gati generally restricted her accent to the dialogue so it didn't become overwhelming. Don't hesitate to listen to this audiobook.

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25 January 2017

Wordless Wednesday 430

Lily, 2017

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23 January 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Reading in January

What to Read in JanuaryWhat an amazing weekend: I was unable to march (no marches in my area), but I was glued to the TV and thrilled and chilled by the UNBELIEVABLE turnout around the world (even Antarctica) for the Woman's March.

I was pretty much locked onto the coverage on Saturday. So, although I didn't work much this weekend, I didn't get a lot of reading in either. I was overwhelmed by the crowds and the speeches. The support from our friends in other countries was beyond moving. Thank you to all who participated on their feet and in their hearts.

I'm Reading Nonfiction

  • What to Read in JanuaryKrazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand (Harper) I've been enjoying the well-written and well-researched biography of George Herriman, one of the nation's earliest cartoonists. I have a copy of the book in audio, but I'm glad went for print because of the photographs and many reproductions of Herriman's work. It's a long book, and I'm reading it in 50-page chunks.
  • A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe (Harper): My current audiobook is a look a food and nutrition trends from World War I to World War II in America. This examination of how we as a nation did and did not take care of those in need is particularly relevant in today's political atmosphere. Nicely read by Susan Eriksen.
What's New on My eReader

What to Read in JanuaryI had a few library holds come in and accepted a few ARCs. Here are two middle grade books and three food books I hope to get to very soon.
  • The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish (HarperCollins): A young boy moves from Boston to small-town Georgia in the aftermath of a family tragedy.
  • The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla and Julie McLaughli (HarperCollins): A boy adjusts to the new reality after his father returns, injured, from Afghanistan.
  • In Winter's Kitchen by Beth Dooley (Milkweed): An Easterner discovers life in the upper Midwest doesn't mean giving up good food and good cooking.
  • Packed! by Becky Alexander and Michelle Lake (Penguin Random House): Hoping to pick up some new ideas for packed (and at-home) lunches.
  • Food52: Mighty Salads (Ten Speed Press): Main dish salads for lunch and dinner.

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21 January 2017

Weekend Cooking: Fannie's Last Supper (Film)

Fannie's Last Supper: Documentary FilmThe other day I was looking for some escape viewing (seriously, how much politics can a person take!) and stumbled across Fannie's Last Supper a documentary film by Chris Kimball, who until recently was with America's Test Kitchen.

The idea behind the movie--and book--was to re-create a 12-course meal from the original Fannie Farmer cookbook, which was published in 1896. The task was not just to cook the recipes but to cook them in as an authentic way as possible, starting with the cast-iron and masonry wood-burning stove.

Kimbell and Erin McMurrer, the director of America's Test Kitchen, spent 18-months researching and perfecting the recipes for a Victorian formal meal that would be over in just a couple of hours. They cooked over wood, they made their own gelatin from calves' feet, they developed their own food colorings from plants, and they spent days making the perfect stocks. Even the table was set with period (antique) dishes, silver, and serving pieces.

The documentary runs about 55 minutes and is fascinating to watch, although I wouldn't say it was my favorite food film ever. I couldn't help but wonder about the project: 18 months to re-create this meal, which not only fed about a dozen guests but scored Kimball a movie and book. Because the film is so short, it's definitely worth your time, but I bet the book is probably more informative.

Take a look at the trailer. The film is available on Netflix and maybe YouTube.

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.

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20 January 2017

Review: Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Review: Theft of Swords by Michael J. SullivanWhen I read Michael J. Sullivan's Age of Myth last summer, I felt like I had just discovered my new favorite fantasy author. I'm not sure why it took me another six months to get back to Sullivan, but I'm sure glad I did.

First, a little background: Sullivan started out as a self-published author, but his books were picked up by Orbit and then Del Rey. Theft of Swords is the reissue of Sullivan's first two books, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, which were released under a single title after being professionally edited.

There are four more books in the Riyria Revelations, which were reissued in two omnibuses. A second series, the Riyria Chronicles, consists of three novels and three shorter works. Finally, the Age of Myth begins a new series, called Legends of the First Empire.

What's Theft of Swords all about? It's the story of two thieves for hire: Hadrian Blackwater, a master with the sword, and Royce Melborn, a skilled picklock and solver of problems. They have a lasting friendship and solid working relationship, and their different personalities and motivations mesh well. In both books, they are hired to steal a sword but the jobs don't go as smoothly as they hoped, and the team, who call themselves Riyria, get caught up in bigger affairs, including the doings at court and schemes of the church.

Although the books focus on Hadrian and Royce, there are a number of side plots, all of which enrich the story and kept my interest. We have politics, religion, a slippery wizard, monks and farmers, prostitutes and titled lords, and even an evil beast.

Things I liked: First and foremost, I'm a fan of Hadrian and Royce. They're smart and good at their chosen profession, but they can still get into some trouble. I love their banter and the way they easily make both friend and foe. The secondary characters are clearly rendered, and I like, for example, the determination of the scholarly monk, the growth of the king, the spunk of the peasant girl, and confidence of the dwarf.

The interplay between the story lines and the pacing and transitions between the different settings work very well. You get a feel for Hadrian and Royce's personalities in the quieter moments and are caught up in worldly concerns when knights prepare for combat or villagers fight to save their homes.

All was not perfect: Although Theft of Swords was professionally edited in retrospect, these debut novels could have used a stronger editorial hand at the start (such as some cases of too much foreshadowing, a few scenes of excessive detail). The good news is that Sullivan becomes a stronger writer by the second half of Theft of Swords and, honestly, I was enjoying Hadrian and Royce's adventures so much I didn't care about the minor shortcomings.

Audiobook notes: I listened to the unabridged audiobook of Theft of Swords (Recorded Books; 22 hr, 37 min) read by Tim Gerard Reynolds. Reynolds nailed the characters' personalities, making it easy to connect with the good guys and hate the bad ones. He amped up the action scenes and brought a nice emotional level to his performance. Plus he pronounced all those difficult words (like Avempartha). If you're an audiobook fan, don't hesitate to listen.

Recommendations: Michael J. Sullivan's Theft of Swords is great escape reading, with many common fantasy elements wrapped around two fabulous characters whom you'll be happy to have met. You'll enjoy good action, root for a terrific friendship, be intrigued by a few secrets, and even find some moments to laugh. Although magic, elves, and dwarfs appear in the books, this is epic fantasy not the wand-waving world of Harry Potter.

Published by Orbit, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780316187749
Source: bought (audiobook) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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18 January 2017

Wordless Wednesday 429

Creek, 2017

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17 January 2017

Today's Read: Scarred by Michael Kenneth Smith

Review of Scarred by Kenneth Michael Smith (Audiobook)Could you engage in active military combat and come out unscathed? Zach Harkin, Union sharpshooter in the Civil War, found there were limits to what a man could endure. This is the story of his journey to self-healing.

Gray early morning light seeped through the tall sycamores next to the riverbank. The hollow sound of a distant woodpecker broke the silence. The scope of a rifle followed the Confederate sharpshooter as he climbed a tree to his hidden platform. The scope's spider lines centered on the man's head and Zach Harkin squeezed the trigger.
Scarred by Michael Kenneth Smith (CreateSpace, 2016, prologue)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: l863-64, south of the Mason-Dixon Line; 1908, mostly Tennessee
  • Circumstances: When Union soldier Zach Harkin killed the man who killed his best friend, something snapped. He knew he couldn't point a weapon at another human being again. Mustered out of the army, he returned to his family in Tennessee to attempt to put the war behind him. Instead, Zach couldn't stop thinking of that final Confederate soldier he shot and the diary he recovered from the body. Determined to return the personal affects to the stranger's wife, Zach goes behind enemy lines to find a small farm in Georgia, hoping for redemption or some kind of closure.  
  • Genre: well-researched historical fiction
  • Characters: Zach Harkin, ex-sharpshooter; Chris Martin, reporter for Pulitzer who is interested in writing Zach's story; various real and fictional people Zach meets during his travels
  • What I liked: The period details in particular caught my interest, from the conditions at Andersonville to the way roaming soldiers treated civilians. I liked the way Zach is prompted to talk about his journey south by a reporter who interviews him and transcribes the story as a serial for a New York newspaper. The different perspectives of Sherman and Wirtz (the commander at Andersonville) gave me some things to think about. In addition, the novel is well-paced, and the transitions from the 1860s to 1908 were smooth and nicely handled.
  • Something I didn't like: My only real complaint is quite minor, but I feel I have to at least mention it. Smith has a tendency to tell rather than show. This did not detract from my enjoyment of the book, however.
  • Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (author published; 5 hr, 23 min) was narrated by Jeffery Lynn Hutchins, whose soft Southern accent added to my connection to the novel. Hutchins handled the dialogue particularly well, with a level of drama befitting a good storyteller. I listened to this short audiobook almost in one go; it was hard to turn it off.
  • Things to know: Michael Kenneth Smith's Scarred has earned some impressive praise, including a starred review from Kirkus. This is Smith's second book about Zach Harkins, but you do not have to read the first book to understand what is happening here. Scarred easily stands alone.
  • Recommendation: Although this book takes place during the Civil War, it isn't a story about the war. Instead it looks at the effects of war and one man's conflict among friendship, duty to country, and personal actions. Scarred would be a good match for Civil War buffs and historical fiction fans as well as anyone interested in a good story.

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16 January 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: What I'm Reading & What's on My Radar

12 books to read in JanuarySo far January's weather has me baffled. Last week we had snow, a thunderstorm (rain), an ice storm, and a sunny mild(ish) afternoon. What is with Mother Nature? I can't figure out what to wear from day to day.

Except for that one warm day, I've been cooped up inside. Not all bad, of course, because I've listened to a couple of audiobooks and I've been catching up on my cooking and my reading.

I keep vowing to ban the news from this house, but it's kind of like a train wreck, Mr. BFR and I just can't stop watching. ARGH.

What I'm Reading Now

12 books to read in January

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (Flatiron Books) is a psychological thriller set in contemporary times in London and elsewhere in the UK. I'm about halfway done, and all I'll say now is that it's hard to put down and I know that some bad, bad things are going to happen one or all of the three main characters. Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit Books) is an amazingly terrific story that is part fantasy and part historical fiction set in an imaginary world. Lots of action, terrific characters, good humor, betrayals, and friendships. Recommended audiobook (details in an upcoming review). The One Inside by Same Shepard (A. A. Knopf): I just started this earlier today and can already tell I'm going to love it. A man, his memories, the natural environment, and more.

On My Radar: Thrillers / Mystery

12 books to read in January

This Is Not Over by Holly Brown (William Morrow) is a psychological thriller with themes of motherhood, marriage, and secrets. The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry (Crown) is a mystery set in Salem, Massachusetts, that revisits some of the characters from the author's very popular The Lace Reader. Little Deaths by Emma Flint (Hachette Books) is a noir thriller set in 1965 Queens that asks, Did a struggling cocktail waitress kill her own children or is someone out to ruin her?

On My Radar: This and That

12 books to read in January

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Atlanta Monthly) is about a young girl who discovers that adults are often not who they seem to be. She is left to make sense of the world and her place in it. Signals by Tim Gautreaux (A. A. Knopf) is a short story collection that has already garnered much praise. Many of the stories are set in the South and examine contemporary life. Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang (William Morrow) is set in turn-of-the-last-century Shanghai. A Eurasian girl navigates prejudice, politics, and friendship against the background of a disappearance and murder.

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14 January 2017

Weekend Cooking: 3 Recipes to Try This Month

3 winter recipes to cook this month
What a cold January this is shaping up to be. I'm not all that upset because I've got my cooking mojo back, and I like spending time in the kitchen when it's snowing outside.

This week I tried three new recipes. Each one was a winner and has been pinned to my Pinterest Recipes: Tried and Liked board. I will definitely make these again.

I've snagged the photos from the websites mentioned, and you'll find the recipes by clicking the links or visiting my Pinterest board. Note that I made changes to some of the recipes, so you might want to take a moment to see what I did.

3 winter recipes to cook this monthCold Sesame Noodles with Broccoli and Kale (from Bon Appetit): I tried an experiment this week, which was to cook something on Sunday that was specifically meant for our lunches. This cold noodle dish was so good, we both looked forward to noon. I recommend this dish for lunches, but I think it'd also be good for a summer dinner or to take to a potluck.

I did, however, change the recipe to suit our needs and the ingredients I had on hand. Here's what I did:
  • I didn't have sambal oelek, so I used hot red pepper flakes, though any hot sauce would have worked too.
  • I used spinach instead of kale because we were having kale with a dinner during the week and I wanted a different green.
  • I used soba noodles instead of ramen because we like them better.
  • I left out the mint because I forgot to buy it. I don't think I'd use it, though; the dish was perfect as it was.
3 winter recipes to cook this monthTuscan Chicken with White Beans and Kale (from Cooking Light): I love one-dish dinners, and this quick-cooking chicken dinner was so easy to make. I used one of my large cast-iron skillets and had dinner on the table in about a half hour. This was just as tasty on the second night.

The only thing I changed in this recipe was to use dried thyme. I didn't like the look of the fresh in the grocery store, and I was too lazy to see if there was any still growing in the garden. Oh and I added a handful of chopped grape tomatoes to the skillet just to use them up. Note too that I had to cook my chicken about 8 minutes at the end, instead of the suggested 4 minutes.

3 winter recipes to cook this monthRoasted Vegetable Pasta with Walnuts and Sage (from Diabetic Living): Although neither of us is diabetic, I like looking through this magazine for its nutritious recipes, which are perfect for any healthy lifestyle. I almost always find something I'd like to try.

This recipe involves a few pots and pans, but the results were well worth the cleanup. It was so warming and perfect for a winter night. Plus it's vegetarian and surprising low calorie.

I made only a few changes to the recipe:
  •  First, I served it over brown rice because we had been eating noodles for lunch, and I really wasn't in the mood for more pasta.
  • Second, I didn't use the low-fat cream cheese called for in the recipe. I had a little light cream I wanted to use up, so I stirred that into the sauce instead.
  • Finally, I had about a quarter cup of white wine to use up, so I threw that in there too. I'm not sure this added very much to the final dish, but I was happy to get that bottle out of the refrigerator!
Hope at least one of these recipes catches your eye!

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13 January 2017

Friday the 13th Is Your Lucky Day; or a Review of Warren the 13th: The All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio & Will Staehle

Review: Warren the 13th: The All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and Will StaehleIt's Friday the 13th, but you're in luck! Not only have I befriended all the black cats for you but I'm here to introduce you to your new best friend: Warren the 13th, the coolest, quirkiest boy I know.

Warren's a smart, curious, hardworking boy who lives in his family's hotel. Sure he loves his home and his attic room, but being 13th does carry a downside. It's true--for example, he's an orphan, and his guardians are his lazy uncle and his evil aunt. Plus, no matter how diligently Warren tends to the hotel, he hasn't seen a guest in years.

Everything, however, is about to change. Warren the 13th: The All Seeing Eye, written by Tania del Rio and illustrated by WIll Staehle (Quirk Books, 2015), is all about the hunt for a treasure that Warren's aunt believes is hidden in the hotel. Warren, isn't quite as excited about this as you might think: He has a feeling the All-Seeing Eye might be as full of dark magic as his aunt is.

Review: Warren the 13th: The All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and Will StaehleWhat is the eye? What will happen if it's found? Can Warren figure out the clues before his aunt does? Who is friend and who is foe?

Besides being a fun, slightly spooky (in a good way), action-packed story about a clever, unique boy, Warren the 13th: The All-Seeing Eye is a delight just to look at. The red and black color scheme threads its way throughout the book, and the fun fonts, creepy drawings, and mysterious clues kept me turning the pages. The collage I put together (originally created for Litsy) gives you an idea of the graphic design. Del Rio and Staehle have created a winning combination of art and story.

More luck is coming your way because Quirk Books, Del Rio, and Staehle are celebrating this year's first Friday the 13th (as in today) with Warren and his friends. First is a super new illustration that doesn't appear in The All-Seeing Eye, but it does appear on the cover of a brand-new short story and activity book that you can download at Scribd: "Warren the 13th and the Unlucky Day." The adventure takes place on Friday, January 13, and the puzzles tie back to the Warren's world. There's even a cookie recipe with Warren-inspired decorations.

Warren the 13: The Unlucky Day by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

I love this drawing of Warren hanging from the clock. Is he trying to hold time back or is hoping to speed ahead to Saturday? And is that a lightening bolt? I guess I'll have to read the story to find out what's going on.

Warren the 13: The Whispering Woods by Tania del Rio and Will StaehleNeed even more good luck? The second Warren book--Warren the 13th: The Whispering Woods-- is scheduled to be released in the spring. Hey, isn't that about 13 weeks away? I can't wait to see what Warren and his friends will get into next. You can bet I'll be solving the new puzzles right along with the gang as they head off on their next adventure.

Young and old(ish) alike will be charmed by Warren the 13th, the puzzles, the stories, and the illustrations. The mysteries are perfect for the whole family. Remember: You don't have to be a kid to fall under Warren's spell.

To learn more about The All-Seeing Eye, check out Warren's official website. To discover what The Whispering Woods is all about, visit the Quirk Books website. Don't forget to read the special Friday the 13th story. And, finally, check out the Warren the 13th book trailer. Way too much fun.

Stay safe this Friday 13th!

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11 January 2017

Wordless Wednesday 428

Winter walk, 2017

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10 January 2017

Today's Read & Giveaway: Dead Cold Brew by Cleo Coyle

What would you do if your boyfriend, daughter, business, and friend were all somehow caught up in a murder, a jewel theft, and a decades-old cold case crime? If you were Clare Cosi, master coffee roaster, you'd do your best to get to the bottom of the situation and save all you hold dear.

He was red-faced again, too much wine with dinner.

In the ship's dining room Angelica Campana watched her husband drink, all smiles—until the gallant ship's offer complimented her dress, her hair, made her laugh.

That's when the storm clouds returned, forming in Gustavo's dark, cold gaze. Their tablemates failed to notice. Nor did they question her husband's thirst for more Primitivo. They saw only the portents. And she knew what was coming.
Dead Cold Brew by Cleo Coyle (Berkley Prime Crime, 2017, prologue [eGalley])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: mainly contemporary times, New York City; flashbacks to the 1950s on the Andrea Doria
  • Circumstances: Sixty years after Angelica Campana and her daughter were saved—in multiple ways—from the sinking Andrea Doria, Clare Cosi is tapped to develop a signature coffee blend for a brand new luxury liner named in the fated ship's honor. Besides managing the Village Blend coffee house, Clare is juggling a romance with NYPD detective Matt, a business relationship with ex-husband Matt and his family, and a parenting relationship with daughter Joy. When a murder, a jewel theft, a cop killer, friends with secrets, and a cold case crime all seem to be linked to Clare's sphere, she knows she has to be involved in the hunt for the bad guy(s) and the motivation behind the chaos.
  • Genre: cozy culinary-style mystery
  • Characters: Clare, master coffee roaster; her ex-husband (Matt) and his family; her boyfriend Mike; her daughter Joy; various people in the past and present related to the coffeehouse business, the cold case crime, and the original Andrea Doria
  • What I liked: This is a complex mystery that also stars a police detective, so it's a little more gritty than the normal culinary cozy fare. I made an emotional connection to the characters, easily rooting for Clare and Mike and seeing the issues with Mike's behavior. There are several story lines, which not only keep the action moving but give this mystery some oomph. I like the New York City setting and the tie-in to the sinking of the Andrea Doria. Oh and did I mention coffee and yummy baked goods?
  • Things to know: Although this is the sixteenth book in Coyle's Coffeehouse mystery series, it's only the second one I've read. There was enough background to the main characters that I didn't feel lost. Because this is a culinary cozy, you'll find a few recipes at the end of the book, mostly for sweet treats. They all look good and are written in a conversational style with tips from Clare. Cleo Coyle is the pen name for a wife-husband team.
  • Recommendations: A good series for culinary cozy fans who like a little more complexity in their mysteries. Dead Cold Brew is a popular and longstanding series with many fans, and I'm among them. Don't be put off by the number of Clare Cosi books, you can jump right in. This book sets some of the main characters off in new directions, so it's not a bad place to start.
The Giveaway

Thanks to the nice people a Berkley Prime Crime I can offer a copy of Cleo Coyle's Dead Cold Brew to one of my readers. All you need to do to enter for a chance to win is to have a US or Canada mailing address and fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on January 16. Once the winner has been confirmed and his or her address has been passed on to the publisher, I'll erase all personal data from my computer. Good luck!

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09 January 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Brrrr, It's Cold Out There

Books for JanuaryThe freezing temperatures and high winds have pushed the wind chill factor below zero. It's way too cold to walk and take the camera out, so I switched gears this weekend. I spent Saturday afternoon with hot tea, an audiobook, and my knitting needles. I cast on to make myself a winter hat, and it and the book were finished by bedtime. Pretty much heaven.

I have a busy week coming up: a full editing schedule, a freelance review, and a couple of appointments. I'm not sure how much print reading I'll get done, but I'll have audiobook time when I'm in the car, while I'm cooking, and in the evening.

The Books I Finished Last Week

Books for January

Reviews for all of these will appear soon(ish) on the blog.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Del Rey): A complex fairy tale within a fairy tale retelling set in medieval Russia. So, so good.
  • Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh (Putnam): Based on true events, this novel takes place in Kenya after the war. I couldn't put it down.
  • Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell; Riverhead): A very short book that is a little bit thriller, a little bit mystery, and a whole lot creepy. I read this all in one go.
  • Dead Cold Brew by Cleo Coyle (Berkley): A fun culinary-type mystery set in a coffeehouse in New York City. Great escape reading.
Recent Library Books

Books for January

I'm hoping to read these before I have to return them. I guess I'd better get started.
  • Skinnytaste Fast & Slow by Gina Homolka and Heather K. Jones (Clarkson Potter): So many of you have sung the praises of Skinnytaste that I finally checked the latest book out of the library. Hoping this will give me some good weekday dinner ideas.
  • Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter): I'm a huge Ina Garten fan and decided to check her newest collection of recipes out of the library before buying it.
  • Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris (William Morrow): My friend Amanda from The Zen Leaf, alerted me to this book last week. I was lucky enough to snag a copy from the library.
  • Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman (Ecco): A memoir by a California native who found her true home in the far northern regions of the world.
What's Up This Week

If you're a mystery fan, be sure to come back tomorrow for a giveaway (United States & Canada addresses only). Besides my Wednesday photo, I plan at least one review at the end of the week. I'm thinking of a cookbook review for Weekend Cooking, but I might write about the memoir Mincemeat.

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07 January 2017

Weekend Cooking: Changes in My Kitchen

The Kitchen Journal: What's New in My KitchenWhen I sat down to write this post, I wasn't at all sure what I was going to say. After the last six weeks of holiday cooking, I had no new cookbooks or recipes I wanted to try. Once we finished up the leftovers from our New Year's Eve party, we spent the rest of the week eating light, light, light.

Then while I was cleaning up the kitchen one night I started thinking about some of the changes we made during the last 18 months or so and what we hope to do this year, starting with my plans for spending one of my kitchen-shop gift cards.

I should at least mention the electric pressure cooker, which was new to me last year. You'll read all about my experiences with it and how it compares to my old friend the stovetop model in a future post. In the meantime, here's what's happening in my kitchen.

Cast Iron

The Kitchen Journal: What's New in My KitchenMany years ago I bought eight cast iron skillets at an estate sale. Once I cleaned and reseasoned them, we used them intermittently with our copper-bottomed stainless-steel pans. Then came the no-stick pan decade. Yeah, clean-up is easy, but after a while, no matter how careful we were, we noticed the plastic started to wear off and, one by one, the pans had to be replaced.

Early last year we stopped buying new ones and have turned back to our trusty cast-iron and safe stainless-steel. We use our cast-iron for everything, from roasting chicken and veggies to frying eggs. And you know what? Our well-seasoned pans are virtually no-stick and clean-up is a breeze: wipe them out, add a little oil, and place them in the oven for 10 minutes. I can't figure out why we fell for the no-stick hype.

Ditching the Plastic

The Kitchen Journal: What's New in My KitchenSometime in 2015 I was dealing with the stack of cheap plastic containers that seemed to fill an entire cabinet. Many of them were discolored, some were missing lids, and I had already developed a healthy skepticism about using them in the microwave. In a fit of "what the heck are we doing?" we tossed all the containers in a bin and hauled it down to the basement. I resurrected our glass and porcelain refrigerator dishes, and we bought some additional pieces as needed.

Even though glass is heavy and breakable, we haven't once regretted making the switch, even when one of us has to pack a lunch. I love cutting down on plastics, though we still use plastic bags and plastic wrap.

Replacing My Egg Cooker

The Kitchen Journal: What's New in My KitchenIn the #$%^ years since I rented my first apartment, I've always had an egg cooker. Sorry, you can't convince me that I don't need it. The first two were made by Sunbeam and each lasted many more years than most small appliances do. My second one bit the dust last month and I set out to replace it. Not an easy thing, as it turns out. I bought and returned two units before I tried the Cuisinart.

Right from the start this little machine made perfect hard-boiled and poached eggs. I even tried the small omelet pan that comes with it. Okay, so not quite the omelet you'd make in your *cast-iron* pan, but kind of nice to let the machine do the cooking for me. And easy-peasy clean-up too.

In the Future

As I mentioned, I have a gift card burning a hole in my pocket. Although I'm mostly a coffee drinker, I like hot tea in the afternoon during the cooler half of the year. I usually drink some kind of breakfast tea (Irish, English, estate), but occasionally I go for green tea or chai. I'm still boiling my water the old-fashioned way, using a whistling tea kettle I got as a Christmas present a long time ago. At least part of my gift card money is going to a stainless-steel kettle with different temperature settings. As for spending the rest of the card? Hummmm, I'll have to see what catches my eye.

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.

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05 January 2017

12 Novels to Read in January; Or What's on My eReader

It's a new month (and a new year), and I'm in the mood to look forward. Although I still have plenty of backlist books that live near the top of my reading list, today I'm all about what's coming out in January. I was just looking at my ebooks for my next read, and found 12 novels that caught my eye.

Thrills and Chills

12 Novels to Read in January
  • Different Class by Joanne Harris (Touchstone): Harris's newest novel is a thriller set in a British prep school and involves a Latin teacher, a new headmaster, and a past scandal.
  • Containment by Hank Parker (Touchstone): The first sign of trouble is seen in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in this bioterrorism thriller that pits a mad scientist against the good ones.
  • My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry (Pamela Dorman): A newly married London lawyer makes some questionable friends who, years later, threaten to turn her world and marriage upside down.
Leave the USA Behind

12 Novels to Read in January
  • Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac (Soho): Set in Argentina, this novel in translation tells the story of a student gone slightly off-kilter and explores humanity: past, present, and future.
  • Dance on the Volcano by Marie Vieux-Chauvet (Archipelago): Newly translated into English this story about sisters is set during the Haitian revolution and looks at racial and economic divides.
  • A Word for Love by Emily Robbins (Riverhead): An American exchange student in Syria gets caught up in the life, loves, and secrets of her host family.
Past Wars

12 Novels to Read in January
  • Days without End by Sebastian Barry (Viking): In the mid-1800s, a young man, newly arrived from Ireland, joins the U.S. Army to fight first the western Indians and then the southern Rebels.
  • The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak (Scribner): Set in the Vietnam War era in a small town in Pennsylvania, this novel focuses on the effects of war on three generations of men and their families.
  • The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn (Berkley): In 1914 England, a young woman accepts a position as lady's maid for a Northumberland family, unprepared for how war would affect her relationship with the family.
Contemporary Life

12 Novels to Read in January
  • The Antiques by Kris D'Agostino (Scribner): Set in upstate New York, this book is about a dysfunctional family reunited as their father lies dying during a hurricane; humor lightens the mood.
  • Traveling Light by Lynne Branard (Berkley): This road trip story is about a woman who decides to leave North Carolina for the west after inadvertently becoming the caretaker of a stranger's ashes.
  • Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson (Ecco): In a psych experiment / utopia gone wrong, can a young mother and an idealistic child psychologist find a brighter future?

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04 January 2017

Wordless Wednesday 427

I See Faces!

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03 January 2017

Today's Read: Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams

review: Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate WilliamsImagine that the head of your powerful family suffered bouts of insanity and that most of his grown children failed to produce legitimate heirs. This is what happened in England as King George III ruled the country. His subjects pinned all their hopes on Princess Charlotte, but when dreams failed them, all eyes turned to baby Victoria and the long wait until she reached the age of majority.

The Duchess of Kent had been praying for years that King William IV, George IV’s brother and successor, would die before her daughter Victoria reached the age of eighteen. She wanted to be regent in order to secure riches and power for herself and her beloved adviser, John Conroy. The king hated the duchess, and he was grimly intent on holding on to power. Victoria turned eighteen on May 24, and the king finally stopped fighting to live.
Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams (Ballantine, 2016, prologue [paperback])

Quick Facts

  • Setting: first half of 1800s; England
  • What the book is about: We learn why Victoria became the legitimate and accepted heir to the British Crown. The book is basically a dual biography: first of Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince of Wales and granddaughter of George III, and second of the early life of her much-younger cousin, Victoria.
  • Genre: nonfiction, biography
  • General thoughts: Very readable and accessible account of the lives of two women who were born to reign. Williams relies on a variety of firsthand and eyewitness accounts to describe one of the most dysfunctional families ever. It's amazing that Britain survived the Georges—especially during a time of rebellion and a general movement to democracy—to flourish into a worldwide empire under the direction of Victoria. I had never heard of Charlotte and found her story to be fascinating.
  • Thoughts on the audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 14 hr, 33 min), read by Katharine McEwan. McEwan's performance was engaging with good expression and pacing. She kept my attention and did a good job of signaling quotations and extracts. I appreciated the fact that McEwan remembered she was reading nonfiction and thus did not try to dramatize the principal players, yet her performance was easy to listen to, and I finished the audiobook in a matter of days.
  • Recommendations: Kate Williams's Becoming Queen Victoria would be a good pick for fans of biography and British history. It is also an easy way to gain some insight into Victoria's extended family before the PBS show about her life starts later this month. Audiobook fans shouldn't hesitate to listen (hit play to hear a clip).

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02 January 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Fresh Starts

I would love this post to be all about my 2016 stats--the number of books read, the breakdown by genre, the division of male and female authors, the total hours of audiobooks listened to--but, alas, I was a horrible data collector during the last half of the year.

My 2016 review index is not up to date (but I'll correct that soon), and I didn't even feel motivated to compile my favorite books of the year. Well that was last year, and this year is full of bookish hopes. I'm turning my back on the what I didn't do, and I'm looking forward what I can do in 2017. Look for more reviews and more engagement.

Discoveries. Regardless of not having accurate records to back up my claims, I managed to surprise myself in 2016. For example, I've always said I don't like science fiction, unless, of course, it was fantasy set on space ships and other worlds (see the original Star Wars). Yet I read and loved several books last year that I think are technically science fiction, including Sleeping Giants, The Fifth Season, and the Illuminae series. Who knew?

I'm also relieved to discover that I can survive a mini/semi social media break. I didn't exactly disappear, but I stopped reading blogs, stopped feeling the need to post an Instagram photo every day, and stopped closely monitoring Twitter. Although I was still mostly online, that break revived me. I feel fresh and newly interested in resuming all my usual social media activities (just as soon as I hit "mark all posts read" in my blog reader).

Finally, I learned that organizing one's entire book collection across all media is really time-consuming, a little bit boring, and a big pain in the butt. That work continues, even though I missed my goal to be done by the end of the year. I just keep thinking about how good it will feel to be done with this project.

What I listened to lately. I listened to three books last week and enjoyed them all for different reasons.

Three good audiobooks

I plan to write full reviews of these books, so I'll give you only the quick run-down here. Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams is a dual biography of the two women who were in line to succeed King George III  (Charlotte and Victoria) and the circumstances that caused Victoria to be crowned. In H Is for Hawk, author Helen Macdonald talks about the loss of her father and her experience training a goshawk. It's hard to describe in one sentence, so wait for the review. Mincemeat by Leonardo Lucarelli is also a memoir, this time about a young man on an unconventional path to becoming a professional chef in Italy.

What's up for the week and year. I'm ready to get back into the blogging and reviewing groove and to make a full return to social media. So look for me here, on your blogs (not necessarily all on the same day!), on Twitter, on Instagram, and on Litsy. On the other hand, I know I'll step back when I need to, without the guilt or pressure. I plan to find a happy place (= in the book world) to get through the coming uncertain times. Let's hope for and work toward good things in 2017.

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