30 March 2017

Giveaway! Mark Tompkins's Last Days of Magic & Tarot Deck

Last Days of Magic by Mark TompkinsAlmost exactly a year ago I reviewed Mark Tompkins's The Last Days of Magic (Penguin Random House / Viking). I mentioned the book was multilayered and would have broad appeal, beyond the realm of fantasy fans.

The novel has now been reissued in paperback, and the publishers are celebrating with a very cool giveaway. Before I get to the details, you might want to know a little more about The Last Days of Magic than just my review. So here's the summary from Indie Bound:

What became of magic in the world? Who needed to do away with it, and for what reasons? Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales, and Biblical mysteries, The Last Days of Magic brilliantly imagines answers to these questions, sweeping us back to a world where humans and magical beings co-exist as they had for centuries.

Aisling, a goddess in human form, was born to rule both domains and with her twin, Anya unite the Celts with the powerful faeries of the Middle Kingdom. But within medieval Ireland interests are divided, and far from its shores greater forces are mustering. Both England and Rome have a stake in driving magic from the Emerald Isle. Jordan, the Vatican commander tasked with vanquishing the remnants of otherworldly creatures from a disenchanted Europe, has built a career on such plots. But increasingly he finds himself torn between duty and his desire to understand the magic that has been forbidden.

As kings prepare, exorcists gather, and divisions widen between the warring clans of Ireland, Aisling and Jordan must come to terms with powers given and withheld, while a world that can still foster magic hangs in the balance. Loyalties are tested, betrayals sown, and the coming war will have repercussions that ripple centuries later, in today's world and in particular for a young graduate student named Sara Hill.

The Last Days of Magic introduces us to unforgettable characters who grapple with quests for power, human frailty, and the longing for knowledge that has been made taboo. Mark Tompkins has crafted a remarkable tale a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions.
As I said in my review: The Last Days of Magic "is recommended for anyone interested in fantasy, mythology, the rise of Catholicism, Ireland, magic, and pagan legends." I bet at least one of these themes is calling to you.

The Giveaway

Thanks to the fabulous people at Viking / Penguin Books, I can offer one of my readers a copy of the paperback edition of The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins plus this very cool deck of tarot cards, which have a Celtic vibe to match the novel. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win both the paperback novel and the tarot cards is to have a USA mailing address and to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on April 6. Once the winner has been confirmed and I've passed the address along to the publisher, I'll delete all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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29 March 2017

Wordless Wednesday 439

Bridge Is Out

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28 March 2017

Today's Read: Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love

Could you survive as leader of a South Central LA gang? What if you avoided the limelight because, like Lola, you've learned it can be rough if you're woman in power . . . especially in the drug world.

Lola stands across the craggy square of backyard she shares with Garcia. He mans the grill, rusted tongs and Corona with lime in hand, making the center of a cluster of men, their biceps bare and beaded with sweat, Crenshaw Six tattoos evident in their standard uniform of wife-beaters and torn cargo pants. If Lola were alone with Garcia, she would take her turn over the smoking meat, too, but as afternoon transforms Huntington Park from light to shadow, Lola stays away from the heat. Her place now is at the center of a cluster of women, their necks craning toward any high-pitched squeak that might be gossip, each one standing with a single hip cocked, as if at any second someone might place a sleeping child there for comfort.
Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love (Crown, 2017, p. 1 [uncorrected proof])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times; Los Angeles, elsewhere in the US Southwest
  • Circumstances: When Lola's gang, the Crenshaw Six, is given the chance to take over the territory of a rival dealer, they jump at the opportunity, even though they have to put up a guarantee. Thus Lola's life is on the line, under the guise as girlfriend to Garcia, the presumed man in charge. All they have to do is intercept a drop-off and their boss, the drug lord, will make them rich. The gang, however, runs into trouble, and Lola must find a way to save herself and her crew from death by assassination.
  • Genre: contemporary thriller, mystery, crime fiction
  • Themes: women's roles, Latino Americans, the drug culture, revenge
  • Why I want to read Lola: I'm not normally drawn to books set in the drug culture, but I'm curious about Lola, who rose from a very bad childhood to a position of power in a world that doesn't generally respect women. She's been called ruthless, smart, and a survivor and has been compared to Lisbeth Salander (but isn't every tough female character these days?) mixed with a touch of Walter White.
  • What reviewers have said: Most reviews describe the novel as action packed and mentioned that Lola was vividly portrayed. A couple of readers commented on the number of characters and the difficulty keeping them straight. Some thought the plot didn't hold up, but others are looking forward to a second book about Lola. Generally, however, the reviews have been more positive than negative.
  • About the author: Melissa Scrivner Lover, daughter of a police officer and a court reporter, is a television screenwriter for crime shows, including CSI: Miami. This is her first novel.

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25 March 2017

Weekend Cooking: 3 Great Kitchen Hacks

3 great kicken hacksSpring is in the air around here and my cooking mojo is out of wack. It doesn't feel quite like stew weather, but we're not into light salad time either. I've made pizza, pasta dishes, and risotto, which are all easy and act like good season spanners.

I don't have any new recipes to share this week but I did learn three good hacks that I'd like to share. They were new to me in the last couple of weeks, and they're going in my permanent bag of kitchen tricks. The first one comes from a recent issue of Eating Well, the second from a random web search to see if my crazy idea was even possible, and the third was from the Budget Bytes website (I reviewed the cookbook here).

Note: The first and third photos come from the sites mentioned. The middle photo is mine.

One-Pot Pasta Dishes

3 great kicken hacksWho doesn't like pasta night? Perhaps the person who has to wash all the pots and pans. This month Eating Well provides readers with a formula for one-pot pasta dishes. I'm all for cooking pasta, protein, veggies, and seasonings in a single pot for a quick weeknight dinner and easy cleanup. I tried the lamb and spinach dish, and the technique worked very well. But, of course, I didn't follow directions exactly.

The method is great, except for one point. Boiled meat just doesn't have the same flavor as browned meat. So I decided to saute my ground lamb in the pot and then deglaze the pan with a little wine. After that, I followed the recipe, except I added additional seasonings to give it a stronger Mideast flavor profile. In addition, I stirred in the feta cheese at the end instead of passing it at the table.

The point, however, is not the specific recipe, it's the method. I loved getting a hearty pasta meal on the table in short order and using only one pot. If you like to follow recipes, check out Eating Well; they published four or five one-pot pasta recipes this month. I will be trying this with other meats or beans in the future.

Crunchy Granola in the Slow Cooker

3 great kicken hacksI love making my own granola (my recipe is here), but I hate spending all that time hovering over the oven, stirring trays of cereal every 10 or 15 minutes for a couple of hours. There had to be an easier way! I originally thought that maybe someone figured out how to make granola in an electric roasting pan, and as I started searching for that solution, I stumbled on the slow cooker idea. Whoa!!!

My life just changed for the better. We were due for a new batch of cereal and I had been delaying because, well, I just didn't want to tie up a Saturday morning in front of the oven. I immediately gave the slow-cooker idea a try and love it. I will never make granola in the oven again.

Here's the easy trick: Mix your granola ingredients in a large bowl (don't add the dried fruit yet). Spray the inside of the slow-cooker crock with cooking spray (I just lightly oiled it). Pour in the granola. Set the slow cooker on high, and (very important) place the lid on an angle so the steam can escape. Now let it cook, stirring every half hour or so, for 2 to 2.5 hours, or until the oats take on color and look toasted. When you think the cereal looks right, pour it back in the mixing bowl or spread it out on baking sheets to cool. It will crisp up as it cools. Once cool, stir in dried fruit, if you're using it.

Yes! Now I can make granola during the day, or even after work, without being glued to the kitchen!

Baked Tacos

3 great kicken hacksOkay, so I'm probably the last person on earth to discover this trick. We love tacos. Normally, I make the taco filling and leave it on the stove and then set out all the toppings on the table. Taco nights are punctuated by frequent trips to the stovetop to fill more shells. I was wandering around the Budget Bytes website not too long ago and discovered this recipe for baked beef tacos.  What? I could have a batch of tacos ready all at once? Who knew?

Like with the lamb recipe, my interest wasn't in reproducing the Budget Bytes dish. Instead I wanted to try the technique. I had chicken tacos on the menu last week and gave oven baking a try. We were sold. We had all the taco goodness right at the table; no more getting up and down.

I'm so happy to have discovered this method. I will be baking tacos, especially if serving a crowd, from now on.

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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24 March 2017

Review: Jackie (Movie)

Review: Jackie (Movie)The 2016 film Jackie starring Natalie Portman and directed by Pablo Larraín has a narrow focus, concentrating on the week or so after President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

The movie is framed around an interview Jackie Kennedy grants to a nameless jouralist, just days after the funeral when the widow has already moved out of the White House. She tells the reporter what she wants the world to know about her husband, while we see what it was like for her to travel from radiant First Lady to blood-stained widow, to single mother, and to the unknown future.

I'm not sure what stood out for me more: the sets and costuming or Portman's astounding performance. Anyone old enough to remember the Kennedys in the White House and the heart-breaking funeral procession will be amazed at how believably the film captures the details of the era: the hair, the dresses and suits, the everyday objects (phones, TVs, record players), and the general atmosphere.

The White House sets are gorgeous and I loved the way the film shows how Jackie transformed the "people's house" into an icon of history and a beacon of grace, beauty, art, and music.

Review: Jackie (Movie)Jackie does a good job showing what Jackie was up against in those last days in the White House and her determination to create a particular legacy for her husband. It wasn't just her fight to stand up to the men who wanted to control everything and move their energies on to the Johnsons but also her desire to not be protected from the truth while planning the perfect funeral for JFK and the nation.

Portman is absolutely mesmerizing as she works through a wide range of emotions, including a kind of dazed PTSD, periods of frenzied activity, an air of calm research and planning, and the palpable fear and grief over having to tell her children they were fatherless. We clearly see the complexities of Jackie's personality. She wasn't too naive to know her husband for who he really was, yet she was smart enough to craft the image she wanted history to remember.

Natalie Portman's acting alone is enough for you to put Jackie on your watch list, but I'm also recommending the movie for brilliantly capturing a pivotal historic moment in American history. It's also interesting to contrast the Kennedys with the current administration, especially in terms of understanding the importance of the arts.

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22 March 2017

Wordless Wednesday 438

Crocus, 2017

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21 March 2017

Today's Read: A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas

Imagine a series of murders with at least two tenuous connections, how would you go about deciding which avenue to pursue? Paris Commissioner of Police Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, relies on his instincts, much to the chagrin of his detective team.

Only another twenty metres, twenty little metres to reach the postbox, it was harder than she had expected. That's ridiculous, she told herself, there aren't little metres and big metres. There are just metres, that's all. How curious that at death's door, even from that privileged position, you should go on having such futile thoughts, when anyone might think you would come up with some important pronouncement, one that would be branded with red-hot iron in the annals of human wisdom. A pronouncement that people would repeat now and then in days to come: 'Do you know what Alice Gauthier's last words were?'
A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas (Penguin Books, 2017, p. 1 [originally published in French, 2015])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times; Paris and surrounds and remote Iceland
  • Circumstances and why I want to read this novel: Although this is the 8th Commissioner Adamsberg book, it will be my first experience with the series, which is translated from the French. What caught my eye is that protagonist, commissioner of police in Paris, travels to rural Iceland, which provides a link between two murders that took place in France. A complicating element is another thread that ties several murders to a historical reenactment group that focuses on The Reign of Terror. I'm curious about the investigation in Iceland, which leads the police team down a dark path of local folklore and demon beasts.
  • Genre: police procedural, murder mystery
  • Other elements: Icelandic folklore, French history, quirky characters, good plotting
  • Thoughts gathered from reviews: Adamsberg's team includes a diverse cast with a range of unique personalities (though I'm not sure if they are diverse in gender or ethnicity). Most reviewers liked the Icelandic folk belief aspects and mentioned that the plot keeps you invested. In addition, a couple of reviews specifically noted that readers need not read the previous books to enjoy this one. At least one reviewer thought Climate of Fear is not Vargas's strongest installment in the series. 
  • About the author: Fred Vargas, a Paris native, has won several International Crime Writers' awards and is also a professional historian and archaeologist.

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20 March 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Reviews and Book News

3 short book reviewsHappy first day of spring (or fall)! Last week there were signs of daffodils and tulips in my yard, but the sprouts are currently buried under snow. I'm pretty sure these kinds of bulbs can handle the cold, but I'll have to wait a little longer before I see flowers in my gardens.

I finished three books this week and started three more. I love it when I'm in a good reading groove. I also managed to watch a couple of movies: Foodies, which I reviewed on Saturday and Jackie, which I'll talk about later in the week.

I hit a new stride with my (in)famous unified database. I have all my print books cataloged and I'm through the letter O for my eBooks. I may finish this project before the end of year.

Books I Read

Review: I Liked My Life by Abby FabiaschiI Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi (St. Martin's Press): Don't be put off by the publisher's summary, which mentions suicide. The novel, which is told from three points of view -- the dead mother, the teenage daughter, and the widowed husband -- is less about suicide than it is about sudden death, life after death, grief, finding a new path, unanswered questions, family, and women's choices. While I wouldn't call the book life affirming, it is not a downer, and I liked the ending. I'm recommending the unabridged audiobook (Macmillian Audio; 9 hr, 47 min). Therese Plummer, Susan Bennett, and Dan Bittner, each of whom performed a different narrating character, had age-appropriate voices, projected a range of emotions, and blended well with each other. My full audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine.

Review: One of the Boys by Daniel MagarielOne of the Boys by Daniel Magariel (Scribner): I was expecting a rough story but not a book that was so emotionally gripping that I ended up reading all in one go. The story involves a man who pits his sons against their mother and then, after removing them from her life and transporting them across state lines, sets the brothers against each other. The boys, especially the twelve-year-old, find their father hard to resist, until they are trapped in his downward-spiraling life and become the target of his abuse. The older boy sees the truth of their father first, and tries to blaze a trail to safety for himself and his brother. Tough subjects, but a not-to-be-missed debut.

Review: City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. AndersonCity of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers): Confession: I started this audiobook a couple of months ago and decided it wasn't for me. Then I started it again this week and couldn't stop listening. The book takes place in Africa and explores white businessmen, the criminal underworld, the guerilla armies, and especially the hardships faced by African women, not only in war-torn Congo but in the cities as well. Tina, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a murdered maid, has lived on the streets for five years, joining a gang and becoming a thief to keep her younger sister safe in a convent school. As Tina plans her revenge on the man who killed her mother, we are shown just how hard life can be for women in dangerous places. The audiobook (Listening Library; 11 hr, 12 min) was narrated by Pascale Armand. I was impressed with her range of accents (Swahili-English, American, French), her emotional depth, and her pacing. Armand's performance transported me to Africa, and I am recommending this audiobook. According to the author's note, although the characters are fictional, the story itself is based on the true conditions and recollections of Congolese refugees.

Books I'm Reading Now

3 books to read in March

My next audiobook (starting soon after writing this post) is Sam Shepard's The One Inside (Random House Audio; 4 hr, 31 min) read mostly by Bill Pullman, though Patti Smith reads her foreword. My print book is My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry (Pamela Dorman Books), which is a psychological thriller. My ebook is Himself by Jess Kidd (Atria), which is set in Ireland, making is perfect for March.

Book News
  • Attention writers: SFK Press is hosting the 2017 Southern Fried Karma Novel Contest for authors who write about the American South. Details (including the application form and prizes) can be found on the publisher's contest page.
  • The National Book Critics Circle announced the winners of their 2016 awards. Louise Erdrich's LaRose won the fiction award, and the full list of award winners can be found on the NBCC website.
  • Finally, the Read It Forward editors (Penguin Random House) share six recommended debut novels in the following short video. Take a look.

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18 March 2017

Weekend Cooking : Foodies: The Culinary Jet-Setters (Documentary)

Review: Foodies: The Culinary Jet-SettersDid you know there are food bloggers and then there are food bloggers? I'm not either. You might be the first type, but I wonder if you could also be the second type.

Foodies: The Culinary Jet-Setters. a 2014 documentary from Thomas Jackson, Charlotte Landelius, and Henrik Stockare follow five food bloggers of the second type as they travel the world for the singular purpose of eating at Michelin-starred or exotic restaurants. This is not "extreme eating" or eating local. This is $8000-a person eating; this is peons like us could never even get a reservation eating.

Before I get into my reactions to the bloggers and the lifestyle and the food, I'd like to say bravo to the filmmakers, who captured the culture and the personalities of the two women and three men featured in Foodies. The documentary itself was well filmed and the story was nicely put together.

Review: Foodies: The Culinary Jet-SettersMy only complaint is that these people were billed as bloggers, and we didn't really learn anything about their blogs or their following or how they wrote up their experiences. We did see them eating in fabulous restaurants, talking to the chefs,  and taking a lot photos of their food.

Bloggers Andy Hayler, Katie Keiko, Aiste Miseviciute, Perm Paitayawat, and Steven Plotnicki represent the twenty-first-century restaurant critics. Some are wealthy, some are funded, and others live with their parents so they can save enough money to eat their way through Paris, Moscow, Tokyo, and New York. It appears as if they had unlimited resources and connections.

The food was beautiful, one of kind, and sometimes totally way out there (bird brains, anyone?). The presentations, however, are worth your viewing time--tropical forests, smokey globes, mini ice cream cones. But would I spend $5 for a single cherry? I just can't see it. Would I love to spend a zillion dollars for a tasting menu at a three-star restaurant. Maybe, kind of -- I don't know.

Review: Foodies: The Culinary Jet-SettersA couple things I noticed: This level of food blogging is a lonely business. For most part, travel and meals are solitary experiences. As one of the bloggers said, not too many of her friends are willing to plan an entire overseas vacation around a set schedule of restaurant reservations. In addition, there is no serendipity here -- the dining is planned, reserved, and well thought out.

Perhaps I'm just one of the boring commoners, but when I travel, I like to poke around and discover a fun cafe, a great slice of pie, and a family-owned local favorite. I'm not keen on too tight of a schedule. And more than anything, I like to share my meals with Mr. BFR, friends, and family.

Watch Foodies to get an idea of how the other type of food blogger lives. Aspire for the lifestyle if you can afford it and want it, but I'm pretty sure I'm happy as I am.

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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16 March 2017

8 Books by Women to Read This Month

March 2017 is shaping up to be a stellar month for new book releases. Although I'm still very much a print kind of reader, I like adding books to my eReader so I can carry a piece of my library with me wherever I go. Here are 8 new books by women you'll find on my tablet.

8 Books by Women Publishing in March 2017
  • The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks Fire): This start of a new fantasy series involves resurrection, witches, siblings, and self-discovery.
  • The Cutaway by Christina Kovac (Atria / 37 Ink): In this psychological thriller set in DC, a TV producer gets caught up in the disappearance of a lawyer.
  • The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo (Simon & Schuster): Billed as a coming-of-age story, this novel explores what happens when a teenager survives a crime that results in the abduction of another girl.
  • Himself by Jess Kidd (Atria): A man returns to the Irish village of his youth to investigate why the mother he never knew abandoned him to an orphanage. A mix of humor, folklore, and mystery.
8 Books by Women Publishing in March 2017
  • It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany (Atria): Can best friends reunite and change the nature of their relationship? A contemporary look at love and gender roles.
  • The Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz (Mira): In this time travel novel set on coastal South Carolina a grieving widow finds an unexpected second chance at happiness.
  • Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein (Algonquin): A single mother facing her own mortality must find a way to do the right thing for her young son.
  • The Wanderers by Meg Howrey (Putnam): When three people agree to live in an isolated simulated environment for the chance to be the first people to travel to Mars, they face unforeseen challenges.

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15 March 2017

Wordless Wednesday 437

Morning Snow, 2017

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13 March 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Books I Read, Books I Quit

Book Reviews for MarchToday is all about hunkering down and preparing for the supposed big snowstorm that will leave up to 14 inches snow in central Pennsylvania by midday on Wednesday. So that's what happened to winter . . . it came late.

My only concern is that we don't lose electricity. As long as I can work, I'll be a happy camper. Only about three weeks left to my crazy busy editing season. I can't wait to settle back into a more regular routine. I'm looking forward to taking a whole weekend off just to relax. Ahhhh.

What I Finished Last Week

  • Recommended Books for MarchI give the audiobook edition of American Street by Ibi Zoboi (Harper Audio; 8 hr, 35 min) my unreserved recommendation. The story is about a Hatian teen who is separated from her mother at immigration as the two finally fulfill their dream of joining family in Detroit. This is a tough immigration tale of adjusting to a new life while honoring the past, of families separated, of making choices that seem to promise a better future. Narrator Robin Miles brings the heartbreak and action of this contemporary novel to life. (My full audiobook review will be available through AudioFile magazine).
  •  Although the graphic novel edition of Lisa and the Lacemaker by Kathy Hoopmann and Mike Medaglia (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) won't be published until April, I couldn't resist reading it right away because it features bobbin lace, which is one of my passions. This well-drawn story gives good insight into life with a disability. Hoopmann shows that Lisa and her friends are much more than their diagnosis: they have interests, talents, intelligence, and curiosity, even if they don't feel comfortable around some people. When Lisa meets her eccentric great-aunt, she learns a new skill (how to make bobbin lace) and makes a discovery that could help the older woman find peace. It was easy to root for Lisa and her parents, and I was happy to see that bobbin lace was described accurately (a rarity in fiction). I read an eGalley but have already preordered a print copy of this super middle grade book.
Books I Gave Up On

Books to Pass on in MarchI gave the comic Archlight by Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland (Image Comics) a try because I loved the sample artwork and its color scheme and because the book was billed as a fantasy with LGBTQ themes. Perhaps it was my mood, but I found myself enjoying the drawings but not at all connecting to the plot or characters. What's more, I had trouble following the story, so decided to let this comic go. I like Jami Attenberg, so I had high expectations for her new much-buzzed All Grown Up (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). I read about 4 chapters of the novel, but I wasn't invested in the protagonist's life. The book is about a young woman's journey to find her path in New York as others around her seem to have it all worked out. Perhaps I'm just not the target audience or it was a poor choice after reading The Futures (which covers a similar theme).

What I'm Reading Now

Books I'm Excited about in MarchMy current audiobook is I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiashi (Macmillian Audio; 9 hr, 47 min) read by Susan Bennett, Dan Bittner, and Therese Plummer. I'm only an hour in, but I'm hooked and want to know more about the main characters. I've just started the eGalley of One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel (Scribner). I think this is going to be a tough read, with difficult themes. In print, I'm reading the very fun Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods by Tania Del Rio and Will Staehle (Quirk Books). This middle grade book is filled with awesome drawings, great characters, a little mystery, good action, and just the right amount of spooky. I'm also working my way through the eGalley of Simply Clean by Becky Rapinchuk (Touchstone). I'm not convinced that I can keep my house clean in only 10 minutes a day, but I'm reading with an open mind.

Two Book Subscriptions to Investigate
  • If you have children you might be interested in The Little Fun book club subscription box. For a reasonable fee your child will receive three books each month, picked specifically for him or her within parameters you provide. The boxes are hand curated, so every child gets books geared to his or her reading level and interests. The ages go from board books through middle grade readers.
  • If you love audiobooks you might be interested in the Your Audiobook Club subscription box. For less money than many download sites, this club will send you two audiobooks every month. I accepted a free trial last fall and got Anita Shreve's The Pilot's Wife read by Melanie Griffith and A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming and read by Jot Davies. These are unabridged physical audiobooks, perfect for car rides and for sharing with family and friends.
Books to Movies in March

I've already given you a couple of book to screen alerts, but there are even more adaptations coming out in this month. Here are the trailers for two more. Enjoy!

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11 March 2017

Weekend Cooking: Broccoli Mac 'n' Cheese

Not too much exciting happening in the BFR kitchen this week. Because I'm busy with work, I've been relying on tried and true recipes instead of attempting new techniques, new recipes, or new flavor combinations.

Comfort foods are always welcome when life is stressful, and that's what's been on our table lately. A couple of days ago I shared a photo of a broccoli mac 'n cheese dish I made, and several people asked for the recipe, so that's what I'm going to share today. I hate posting a recipe when I can't credit the source. I could have sworn it came from a Diabetic Living magazine, but a Web search didn't give me answers.

If I ever figure out where I found this version of mac 'n cheese I'll be sure to add the credit to this post.

I've made this particular recipe twice, and both times I used full-fat Cheddar cheese. Once I used 2% milk and the other time I used unsweetened plain almond milk. I didn't coat the top with cooking spray; instead I dotted the top with butter the first time and forgot to do anything the second time. Both times, the dish came out perfectly. Don't you love a forgiving recipe?

broccoli mac n cheeseBroccoli Mac 'n Cheese

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 8 ounces mulitgrain elbow macaroni
  • 4 cups broccoli florets
  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika (I use smoked)
  • 1 3/4 cups low-fat milk
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese (2%)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Dash ground nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 450F. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.

Cook the macaroni according to package instructions, adding the broccoli to the pot for the last minute of cooking. Drain. Return to the pot.

Meanwhile, combine the panko and paprika in a small bowl.

Make the cheese sauce: in a large, heavy saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups of the milk over medium-high heat until simmering. In a bowl, whisk together the remain 1/4 cup milk and the flour until smooth. Whisk the flour mixture into the simmering milk. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until thick and bubbly, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat. Stir in both cheeses until the Cheddar is melted. Stir in the seasonings. Combine the sauce with the macaroni and broccoli.

Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the panko mixture. Lightly coat with cooking spray. Bake 20 minutes or until bubbly and golden. Cool 10 minutes before serving.
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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10 March 2017

Imprint Friday: 13 Books to Look for from William Morrow

13 Books to Look for from William MorrowYesterday, HarperCollins hosted a video preview of many of the summer books they're particularly excited about. We got a sneak peek at some of the upcoming titles from almost a dozen imprints, covering all kinds of genres, from memoir and history to fantasy, beach reads, and literary fiction.

In today's Imprint Friday, I share all the presented titles from William Morrow Hardcovers and William Morrow Paperbacks and highlight my top pick from each imprint. Ready? Here we go.

William Morrow Hardcovers

Sons and Soldiers by Bruce HendersonSons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson (July): Just when you think you've read all there is to read about World War II, there comes along a book that tells us something new. This nonfiction account tells us all about a group of Jewish men who escaped Germany before the war and later became U.S. soldiers who worked in army intelligence, interviewing prisoners of war. Here's the publisher's summary:

In 1942, the U.S. Army unleashed one of its greatest secret weapons in the battle to defeat Adolf Hitler: training nearly 2,000 German-born Jews in special interrogation techniques and making use of their mastery of the German language, history, and customs. Known as the Ritchie Boys, they were sent in small, elite teams to join every major combat unit in Europe, where they interrogated German POWs and gathered crucial intelligence that saved American lives and helped win the war.

Though they knew what the Nazis would do to them if they were captured, they eagerly joined the fight to defeat Hitler. As they did, many of them did not know the fates of their own families left behind in occupied Europe. Taking part in every major campaign in Europe, they collected key tactical intelligence on enemy strength, troop and armored movements, and defensive positions. A postwar Army report found that more than sixty percent of the credible intelligence gathered in Europe came from the Ritchie Boys.

Bruce Henderson draws on personal interviews with many surviving veterans and extensive archival research to bring this never-before-told chapter of the Second World War to light. Sons and Soldiers traces their stories from childhood and their escapes from Nazi Germany, through their feats and sacrifices during the war, to their desperate attempts to find their missing loved ones in war-torn Europe. Sons and Soldiers is an epic story of heroism, courage, and patriotism that will not soon be forgotten.
  • The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan (May): Historical fiction set in a small town in coastal Normandy, this novel tells the story of one woman's fight to save her town and undermine the German occupation.
  • The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal (July): This is a psychological thriller set in western Canada with themes of parenthood, foster care, and facing the past.
  • Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams (June): From New York City to the battlefields of World War I to Jazz Age Florida, Willilams's newest novel promises to be a good mix of intrigue, romance, and historical detail as we follow the adventures and heartache of a young woman trying to find her place in the world.
  • Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson (June): If it's a Jackson novel, you know it will have family drama, great characters, and Southern charm. A 38-year-old woman becomes pregnant after a one-night stand and must find a way to break the news to her loved ones.
  • Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank (May): I love Frank's mature women characters; her smart, sharp sense of humor; and her good storytelling--perfect for the beach bag. Here we meet two couples with a complicated past who look forward to their annual getaway, as they weather the ups and downs of life.
William Morrow Paperbacks

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel GaynorThe Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor (July): This dual time-period novel set in England reexamines the historical phenomenon of the Cottingley fairies, which were photographed by two cousins in the early 1900s. I'm very curious how Gaynor will weave this story. Here's the publisher's summary
1917 . . . It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later . . . When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?
  • Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson (May): This is the story of a young American woman journalist who is covering World War II in London. When the Blitz begins, she discovers how strong and caring people can be under duress. Inspired by the experiences of the author's grandmother.
  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (May): This dual time-period novel brings together a woman spy from World War I and an American socialite searching for a relative in the aftermath of the second war. The book tells the story of real-life Alice Network, made up of women spies. 
  • My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood (June): This contemporary thriller touches on issues of PTSD, the war in Syria, and family. A woman journalist returns home to bury her mother and discovers she can't get the war out of her head and may be losing her grip on reality.
  • The Sworn Virgin by Kristopher Dukes (August): This sounds like a fascinating bit of historical fiction based on a little-known Albanian tradition of a hundred years ago, which allowed women great freedoms, if they held to a vow of lifelong celibacy. All goes fine for our hero, until she meets an injured stranger.
  • The Daughters of Ireland by Santa Montefiore (August): This is the second installment of a loosely tied trilogy that spans the twentieth century and follows three Irish women's loves and losses. An Irish castle, a reconnection with a first love, a difficult choice. This for romance lovers.
  • The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson (May): This nonfiction title introduces us to two 24-year-old single women who opened a matchmaking service in London on the eve of World War II. This well-research account of how the friends managed their Bond Street business sounds like a great read.

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08 March 2017

Wordless Wednesday 436

Door 196

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07 March 2017

Today's Read & Giveaway: The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret GeorgeWhat do you think of when you hear the name Nero? I immediately recall the common saying that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Most of us know very little about the man and his life, but Margaret George is about to change that. The book opens with a short passage from Locusta:

This is not the first time I've been imprisoned. So I am hopeful that this is a sham and that the new emperor, Galba, will soon need my unique services and quietly send for me and once again I shall be treading the palace halls. I feel at home there, and why shouldn't I? I have provided my timely services for those in power for many years.

By trade I am a poisoner. There, why not say it? And not any old poisoner but the acknowledged expert and leader in my profession.
The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George (Berkley, 2017, opening [ARC])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: ancient Rome
  • Circumstances: The story of Nero's life from the age of three: his education, his likes and dislikes, the political maneuvering that made him emperor, and his death. The book seeks Nero's true character in the context of the sociopolitical climate of ancient Rome. We also gain insight into life in ancient Rome as well as get to know Nero's family, friends, and foes.
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Themes: family, politics, ambition
  • Why I want to read it: I've read two or three of George's novels, and I enjoy her style and appreciate her careful research. She is known for finding new perspectives, and this novel promises to shed light on Nero's personality and to tease the facts from the myths. Although I've read several novels set in ancient Rome, I'm curious what I'll think of this nicer, more sensitive Nero.
  • Reviews: Most of the reviews I've read praised George's research and noted that the novel is engaging and easy to read. One reviewer thought the book had a slow start but was hooked once Nero was set on the path to political power. Everyone had an opinion on whether he or she liked this new Nero, and all mentioned the historical details and way George brought the people and time period to life.
The Giveaway

Thanks to the nice people at Berkley Books, I am able to offer one of my readers with a USA mailing address a copy of Margret George's Confession of Young Nero. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on March 15 (an appropriate date!). Once the winner has been confirmed and the address sent to the publicist, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good Luck.

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06 March 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: A March Miscellany

Book news and reviews for early MarchNot much happening in my world this week. The weather turned cold and snowy again, I'm still editing seven days a week, and I'm still so grateful for audiobooks, which remain a mainstay of my reading life.

BEA. Book Expo (the convention formally known as BookExpo America) will be here before I know it. I'm looking forward to a few days in New York to be immersed in all things bookish. I have a feeling this year may be a little odd because the organizers are trying to cut down on attendance (not sure why, but there you have it).

If you think you're going to the convention, please let me know; I'd love to know who else is going and to see if there will be any get-togethers.

Mini Book Reviews

I finished two audiobooks and two comics (graphic novels / nonfiction) this week. I made little progress in straight reading, but that's the fault of my job.

  • Book news and reviews for early MarchThe Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan (Recorded Books): In this installment of the Riyria Revelations, our heroes were perusing different goals, so there were three separate plot lines, although two converged at the end. The story contained some sad deaths, new people to cheer for and new villains to boo, and deeper world building. Sullivan matured as a writer from the first book in this epic fantasy series, and I am looking forward to seeing his skills continue to grow in the final entry. Rise of Empire ended on a twist, a cliffhanger, and the promise of new directions. Tim Gerard Reynolds's performance on the audiobook is fabulous.
  • The Futures by Anna Pitoniak (Hachette Audio): The novel is told from the alternating perspectives of Julia and Evan from about the time they meet as freshman at Yale to the months after graduation, when they try to make a go of it in New York City, just as the economy collapses in 2008. There isn't a lot new in this novel, the pace is on the slow side, and much of the story was predictable. The good news is that Sarah Mollo-Christensen and Michael Crouch both did a fine job reading the audiobook, so that helped me through. My full audiobook review will be available at AudioFile magazine.
  • Lucy & Andy Neanderthal by Jeffrey Brown (Crown Books for Young Readers): In this first in a series graphic novel, Brown uses his trademark humor to transport us 40,000 years into the past, where we get a look at what it may have been like to have been a Neanderthal. This is a well-researched story, that accurately describes the tools, social structure, and technology of the Neanderthals. Don't worry, it's not all an anthropology lesson: We follow young Andy as he and his sister get into trouble, help their parents, and have some fun too. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. The book is geared to middle grade readers, but it's perfect for the whole family.
  • California Dreamin': Cass Elliot before The Mamas & the Papas by Penelope Bagieu (First Second): Dare I admit that I remember the Mamas and the Papas as well as the words to all their major hits? I really liked this look at how Ellen Cohen, daughter of a struggling Baltimore deli man, became pop music icon Cass Elliot. The graphic biography takes a frank look at her over-the-top personality and large size and shows how these signature characateristics both helped and hindered Elliot's career.
Books to Screen

Did you know Masterpiece Theater (PBS / BBC) will be airing a film about the Brontes? To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters (written and directed by Sally Wainwright) airs on March 26 at 9pm (Eastern Time). Here's more information from the press release:
Based largely on Charlotte’s voluminous letters, the film follows the Brontë sisters in the eventful three-year period that saw them rise from ordinary, unmarried women, taking care of the household and their widowed father, to the secret authors of the world’s most sensational literature.
Take a look at the trailer; I think this is going to be great.

Coffee Anyone?

Finally, if you're as much of a coffee fan as I am, you'll want to download this free eBook: The Book Lover’s Guide to Coffee, created by Signature (Penguin Random House) in partnership with Sprudge and Birch Coffee. The short book contains essays covering all kinds of ways coffee and books intersect. I particularly like the cool infographics. Take a look (click to enlarge):

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04 March 2017

Weekend Cooking: Books and Beer

Weekend Cooking: 3 Books for Beer Lovers I'm definitely a wine kind of person, yet sometimes a beer is just the better the choice, and I've had fun exploring different kinds of beer over recent years. Of course enjoying a cold beer on a hot summer day is not the same as having any real knowledge about the different kinds of brews and which ones to serve with which foods. In an effort to school myself, I, naturally, turned to books, both serious and fun.

Here are three such beer books I've been meaning to share with you. One is a good starting point for learning more and the others are for entertaining or just having some fun. Besides showing you the cover of each book, I've also included a scan from between the covers so you can get an idea of what's inside. (Click the images to see them more clearly.)

The Pocket Beer Guide by Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb

The Pocket Beer Guide by Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb (Sterling Epicure, 2014). My copy of this beer guide is an ARC dating from 2014, but I still find the book to be plenty useful. The handy paperback covers thousands of beers from around the world. The listings are by country then by region and finally by brewery, and each one includes descriptions of the beer plus a star rating. You'll also find a little bit of information about the brewery itself as well as a few recommendations for local brew pubs. Note that the guide sticks to some of the better-know brewers rather than the small artisan (craft) breweries that are springing up everywhere these days. One complaint is that there's no index. Still, it's a useful reference to take to the store or bar or to slip into your bag when traveling.

Cheese & Beer by Janet Fletcher

Cheese & Beer by Janet Fletcher (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2013). When I look at this book, I think of hot summer evenings on the deck with friends just as readily as cold winter nights entertaining guests in front of the fireplace. The heart of the book, of course, are recommendations for finding delicious pairings of beer and cheese. The book is organized by type of beer (ales, porters, lagers, pilsners, and more) and for each one, Fletcher provides tasting notes, and other information, recommended beers, and matching cheeses. The lists of beers cover both regional hits and national favorites, and the range of cheeses follow suit. There's enough information so you can easily create your own pairings from local resources. Useful beer and cheese indexes make it a snap to plan your next get-together.

Cookies & Beer by Jonathan Bender

Cookies & Beer by Jonathan Bender (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015). This book just says fun, fun, fun to me. Move over cheese and main dishes and make room for cookies! I have to be honest here, I like this book for the beer recommendations and for the fabulous cookie recipes. I'm not overly taken by the idea of inviting friends over for a cookie and beer party. On the other hand, why not? Maybe you could host the perfect Saturday afternoon open house or even a unique adult birthday party. Regardless, you can't go wrong with the solid beer choices and delicious-sounding cookie recipes, with flavors ranging from chocolate to spices, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. Yum!
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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02 March 2017

8 Nonfiction Books to Put on Your Reading List

One of the great pleasures of reading is stepping away from the stresses and strains of our everyday lives to be transported to a different place, a different time, or even a different galaxy. Other books are, of course, great reservoirs of knowledge and truth. I seek both experiences in my reading life. Here are eight nonfiction titles to put on your reading list.

Looking to the Past

8 Nonfiction Books to Put on Your Reading ListA Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz by Goran Rosenberg (Other Press, Feb. 2017): In this prize-winning memoir, Rosenberg, who grew up with all the optimism of baby boomers everywhere, contrasts his life with that of his father, who settled in Sweden after surviving a Nazi concentration camp. Can this father and son truly ever understand each other's perspectives? The Pen and the Brush by Anka Muhlstein (Other Press, Jan. 2017): The subtitle of Muhlstein's newest book gives us a clue to what's inside: "How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels." Zola, Maupaussant, Balzac, and others were strongly influenced not only by contemporary paintings but also by the artists themselves, including Manet and Renoir. A fascinating look at the mutual influences in subject matter and style.

Meeting Famous Women

8 Nonfiction Books to Put on Your Reading ListVictoria: The Queen by Julia Baird (Random House, Nov. 2016): Thanks to the power of television, we are all getting to know the longest-reigning monarchs of English history, both of whom were/are queens. Baird's well-researched biography has won critical acclaim and many starred reviews. Here is the true story of the transformation of a sheltered girl into a powerful, global ruler. California Dreamin' by Penelope Bagieu (First Second, Mar. 2017): One of the queens of the American folk scene was Cass Elliot, aka Mama Cass from the Mamas and the Papas. Most people remember her music and that she died way too young. In black and white drawings, Bagieu introduces us to Cass before the fame--and her name change--and details her struggle to make a name for herself in world of music.

Contending with Genetics

8 Nonfiction Books to Put on Your Reading ListThe Family Gene by Joselin Linder (Ecco, Mar. 2017): When Linder started to have medical issues in her twenties, she and her doctors took a look at her family history and discovered a unique genetic mutation that explained the early death and range of physical aliments suffered by many of her relatives. What does it mean to live with a rare genetic condition? Where does one find hope and answers . . . and peace of mind? Linder's story will give you a lot to think about. Food Fight by McKay Jenkins (Avery, Jan. 2017): Once upon a time, people grew, bought, and ate food. Just food. Nowadays we are eating pesticides, preservatives, and additives and even our fresh food is not what is seems. Is that potato an old-fashioned spud or a Frankenstein's monster of a vegetable, otherwise known as a genetically modified organism (GMO). Are GMOs something to run from or are they answer to feeding the world as the environment deteriorates and population increases? Jenkins promises to show us both sides of the argument so we can make up our own minds.

Learning about Our World

8 Nonfiction Books to Put on Your Reading ListThe Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan (Norton, Mar. 2017): Did you know the Great Lakes make up one of the largest sources of fresh water on the planet? For that alone, they should be protected and treated with respect. Unfortunately, as journalist Egan  reminds us, the lakes are on the brink of environmental collapse. After careful research and investigation, Egan not only tells us the very bad news but offers ways to save this critical resource. The Greatest Story Ever Told--So Far by Lawrence M. Krauss (Atria, Mar. 2017): In his newest book, theoretical physicist Krauss tackles some of humankind's most enduring questions: What is the nature of reality and what is our place in the world? The journey to understanding involves moving from the familiar world around us into the farthest reaches of the universe and then down to the smallest of particles. The difficult topics covered in this book are tempered by Krauss's accessible style, humor, and pop culture references.

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01 March 2017

Wordless Wednesday 435

Wagon wheel

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