31 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday 448

Comfrey, 2017

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29 May 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 5 Short Book Reviews

5 short book reviewsHappy Memorial Day to everyone in the United States. Hope you've got something fun planned for today--either quiet time or cooking out with friends and family. It's raining here, but I'm confident it will clear up enough to enjoy at least some outdoor time this afternoon and evening.

I'm spending the day getting ready for my quick trip to BookExpo (aka BEA). Besides getting most of my packing done, I want to do a few house chores, organize my work so I'm not not lost when I get back from my trip, and maybe cook ahead to make it easier on Mr. BFR when I'm gone. We'll see how much time I have for the extras.

This week on the blog: I think I'm going to go very light this week on Beth Fish Reads. Besides today's post, I'll have a Wednesday photograph and a Saturday Weekend Cooking post. I don't think I'll have time to write more before I leave.

What I read last week: I had a great reading week, making up for last week's poor showing. I received several of these books and audiobooks from the publishers for review.

Review of Eight Flavors by Sarah LohmanEight Flavors by Sarah Lohman (Tantor Audio; 8 h, 33 min): This is a well-researched look at the history of how eight foods became staples in mainstream American households (black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha). Lohman talks about the intertwining of economics, exploration, politics, and immigration with our diets and introduces us to some of the people who were instrumental in bringing these flavors to the American public. The book was interesting, but if you're well read in food history you won't find much new or surprising. In addition, Lohman goes off on some tangents that seem to be more distracting than rounding out the text. Lohman herself reads the unabridged audiobook; her odd pauses and halting delivery likely took away from my overall enjoyment. (More on the audiobook at AudioFile magazine.) Regardless, this is a good place to start if you're new to the field of food history.

Review of The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk ArudpragasamThe Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam (Flatiron Books; 2016): I read this book for my email book club and was surprised by how big of an emotional punch this slim volume delivered. The story takes place in about 24 hours at a refuge camp in Sri Lanka during their civil war and concerns a young man who once wanted to be doctor but is now a laborer who helps at the medical clinic by carrying the injured to triage and burying the dead. All alone in the world, he is surprised when a older man approaches him, offering his daughter in marriage with the hope of protecting her and giving her some kind of future if the war allows one. The book explores how life changes both materially and psychologically when war chases you from your home, takes your loved ones, and gives you few choices. Is it possible to find a way to become emotionally vulnerable again and make a real connection with another person? This is a book you won't soon forget.

Review of The Dying Detective by Leif G. W. PerssonThe Dying Detective by Leif G. W. Persson (translated by Neil Smith; Random House Audio; 15 h, 27 min): I was curious about this Swedish crime novel about a retired captain in the national police force who is brought down by a stroke. While recovering, Lars cannot stop thinking about a cold case involving the rape and murder of a little girl that took place decades earlier, and so he enlists the help of his best friend (also retired from the detective force), his brother-in-law, and his in-home aid. Once I started listening to the audiobook, I found it difficult to put down: I liked the characters and the way the case gnawed at Lars. I also liked the descriptions of Lars's struggle with regaining his old life and his frustrations with his new physical limitations. Erik Davies narrated the audiobook, bringing the characters to life by using appropriate accents (Swedish and Russian) and distinguishing between spoken and inner dialogue. My only issues had to do with the translation, especially the rendering of idioms. The literal translation was sometimes strange and I had to mentally rework the text into common everyday English. Regardless, I recommend this standalone Scandinavian mystery.

Review of The Whole Thing Together by Ann BrasharesThe Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares (Listening Library; 7 h, 36 min): This short novel is billed as young adult but the themes and characters make this a great adult crossover book. The book mostly takes place on Long Island at the beach house owned jointly by a long-divorced couple who never see each other. They share three children (now in their twenties) and each have a seventeen-year-old from their second (and current) marriages. The two teens have shared a room at the beach house all their lives, each getting the room every other week for the entire season, but they have never met because their parents have kept them apart. Although they share the same half-sisters, they themselves have no genetic connection. This is the messy, broken, and dysfunctional foundation of the summer that everything changes for these two families. I liked the story, though I sometimes felt the parents needed a good talking to. There are family secrets and drama and a few emotionally rough moments. The main themes are self-identity and seeing yourself as separate from your parents. Brittany Pressley did a nice job with the narration of the unabridged audiobook. Although not a particularly outstanding performance, she was expressive, kept the characters separate, and had a good sense of pacing. I would give both the book and audiobook an above average rating; not the best book ever but worth the read or listen.

Review of Eggshells by Caitriona LallEggshells by Caitriona Lally (Melville House, 2017): I had high hopes for this story of an isolated young woman who inherits her great-aunt's house in Dublin. She takes rambling walks around the city, believes in the Irish folk tales, and still imagines that she was left by fairies for her parents to find. Although she hides from her neighbors, she is determined to make a friend, as long as that person is named Penelope. I read about 40 pages of this novel and just couldn't find a way to connect to Vivian. I think her quirkiness was just too quirky for me. I have put the novel aside and doubt I'm going to pick it up again. You may have better luck, seeing as Kirkus, the New York Times and other print sources seemed to have loved the novel, which was also a finalist for Irish Book of the Year.

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (Touchstone; 2017): I've just stared a combo read and listen (audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell) of this time travel novel. I like it so far but hope it doesn't end up being an Outlander wannabe.

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27 May 2017

Weekend Cooking: 6 Foodie Links to Bookmark

6 fun foodie linksHappy whatever holiday you're celebrating this weekend -- my calendar lists holidays for the United States, the UK, Australia, and France. Plus it's the beginning of Ramadan and Shavuot is right around the corner.

Will anyone be reading blogs today? I have a tiny bit of work to do this morning (finishing up a ten-month-long editing project) and then I'm off all weekend! I plan to do some holiday cooking (deviled eggs, broccoli slaw, and potato salad are my assignments for Memorial Day with friends) and a lot of reading.

I also need to make sure I have everything ready for my quick trip to New York. Can't wait to indulge in all the book things and spend time with my book-loving buddies.

Here are some fun links I found around the Internet. (photo: where I plan to spend most of the weekend)

  • 10 Cooks Share Their Favorite Things to Make in the Instant Pot (from Kitchn). As you know, I'm big fan of my pressure cookers. I'm often asked for ideas and recipes, and this link has some good ones, including my favorite--beans and lentils.
  • These Are the Best Cuts of Steak to Grill (from Huffpost). Here's a cool infographic that could save the day when you're looking for a good cut of beef to cook on the grill. I'm going to add another tip: be wary of steaks from grass-fed cattle; they never seem to have enough fat to make them nice and tender for quick grilling. At least that's my experience from farmers' market beef.
  • The Guide to Petite Sirah Wine (from Wine Folly). My current favorite wine is Petite Sirah, so I saved this page from a reliable wine site. If Petite Sirah isn't to your liking, search around for another grape. You'll find info on tasting notes, history, and serving tips.
  • 10 things to Know About Starting a Food Truck Business (from the Balance). Okay, so I would much rather eat at a food truck than work in a food truck, but just in case you've been dreaming of a new venture, here's some solid (albeit not earth-shaking) advice.
  • Don't Poison Your Dog With Breakfast (from Extra Crispy). If you own a dog, then you know that as soon as you drop food on the floor, Fido is there to clean it up. But did you know that some common foods in your kitchen could actually harm your best friend?
  • 10 Refreshingly Easy Summer Squash Recipes (from Country Living). It's still a little early here in central PA for garden-fresh summer squash, but it's never too early to start thinking about how to use all that bountiful harvest. I've got my eye on a few of these recipes. (Warning: this is a slide show -- ugh!)
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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25 May 2017

9 Books to Put on Your Reading List

So many great books, so hard to keep up with what's new and interesting. Today I hope to tempt you with books that might have slipped off your radar. Whether you like memoir or mystery, contemporary stories or history, I hope you find something to add to your reading list.

9 Books to Put on Your Reading List
  • All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg (Berkley; May 2017): Psychic realms, psychological disturbances, the past, and the present all collide as a young mother tries to hold on to reality and keep her family together. Set in 1970s Vermont, this novel explores mental health, family legacies, and rural America.
  • The Cure of La Fontaine by M. L. Longworth (Penguin; April 2017): A new restaurant, a possible curse, and a haunting past lead to murder and mayhem in Aix-en-Provence, France. The latest entry in the Verlaque and Bonnet mystery series is as much about the food as it is about the crime.
  • I Found You by Lisa Jewell (Atria; April 2017): This multi-layered contemporary novel, set in England, involves three men--a missing husband, a man with no memory, and a predatory tourist--and the women whose lives they're affected. A well-paced dark mystery with "intriguing characters" (Shelf Awareness).
9 Books to Put on Your Reading List
  • I'm Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork (Penguin; March 2017): Attention Scandinavian crime fans! This police procedural set in rural Norway involves a disturbing murder of a young girl and the possibility of more deaths. A twisty plot and a flawed female protagonist will keep your attention until the end.
  • Man of the Year by Lou Cove (Flatiron; May 2017): In 1978, Howie Gordon decides he wants to be Playgirl's Man of the Year and enlists his friend's son, thirteen-year-old Lou Cove, to manage his bid for centerfold fame. A true-life coming-of-age story that captures both an era and a family in transition.
  • Pretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid (Tin House; July 2017): Over the course of a 1980s Blacksburg, Virginia, summer, a family grapples with past grief and shattered relationships, both among themselves and with food. Told from four different perspectives, this novel explores emotional attachment, the bond between sisters, and the hope for hope.
9 Books to Put on Your Reading List
  • Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexandra Fuller (Penguin; June 2017): Fuller's debut novel is set in the Lakota Oglala Sioux Nation in South Dakota and follows two cousins over the course of decades as they struggle to balance their traditional heritage with American culture. The story explores themes of family, being an outsider, and self-acceptance.
  • Roads by Marina Antropow Cramer (Academy Chicago; May 2017): This World War II story, set in Yalta and beyond, looks at the effect of war on an ordinary Russian family that is simply trying to stay alive and together. With the Nazis on one side and the Communists on the other, where can they find safety and how, if they are separated, will they discover each other's fates at the end of the war?
  • The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (Touchstone; May 2017): This time-travel novel transports a contemporary woman surgeon to fourteenth-century Italy, where she finds herself in the middle of political conspiracies, the plague, and the art world. Mystery, well-researched historical details, and romance make for top-notch reading.

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24 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday 447

Pansy, 2017

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22 May 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: One Slow Reading Week

2 recommended booksThis past weekend was a good news, bad news kind of affair. The good is that I'm finally finding some sanity with my workload, which meant I was looking forward to a weekend of reading, reading, reading.

The bad is that, well, after months of hard work all the chores, all the errands, and all the yard work were there staring at me in the face. Sigh.

The more good is that the flower beds are weeded, the deck plants are bought and potted, the room A/C units are installed, and I'm all ready for summer. Oh, and I even got a long walk in.

One of my slowest reading weeks ever, but I still think I came out ahead!

What I read last week

The Death of Dulgarth by Michael J. SullivanThe Death of Dulgarth by Michael J. Sullivan (Mascot Books, 2016). Oh the mixed feelings of being caught up in a beloved series. One thing I really liked about this last installment in the second trilogy of the Riyria books, is that it revealed a more emotionally vulnerable side of our main characters, ex-assassin Royce and ex-soldier Hadrian. At the same time, it had the expected good humor, snappy dialogue, fast action, and meddling by the Nyphron Church we fans have come to expect. This book could almost be read as a standalone because it contains a full story line, but it is best enjoyed after you're already familiar with the characters and their universe. The audiobook (Audio Studios; 13 h, 57 min) was brilliantly read by Tim Gerard Reynolds. As I've said many times before, the pairing of Sullivan's writing and Reynolds's performance is a match made in heaven. The audiobook concludes with a preview of The Age of Myth, Sullivan's new series, which takes place centuries before the Riyria books, but in the same world.

Review: Mars: The Pristine Beauty of the Red Planet by Alfred S. McEwen, Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, and Ari EspinozaMars: The Pristine Beauty of the Red Planet by Alfred S. McEwen, Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, and Ari Espinoza (University of Arizona Press, 2017). Attention all space lovers, photography buffs, and art enthusiasts and everyone who's ever looked into the night sky and wondered what it would be like to see another planet up close and through the seasons. In 2005 the HiRISE camera was launched into space aboard a Mars orbiter with the sole purpose of taking high-resolution photographs of the surface of Mars. This recently published oversize book contains hundreds of stunning images of the planet. We can see the expected craters and ridges and valleys, but we also see the movement -- flowing material, avalanches -- texture, colors, and patterns of our nearest neighbor. I can't tell you how beautiful this book is and how inspiring it is. If you are involved in any of the visual arts and crafts (including needlework, quilting, potting, and more), you'll be especially stuck by these images, gathering ideas for new projects. I just can't stop looking through this book, and hope that if we do indeed ever colonize Mars, we will be able to preserve its "pristine beauty."

What's on my reading stack? Here's a photo I shared on Litsy a couple of days ago when I thought I was going to be able to spend two whole uninterrupted days reading. No, I wasn't going to read a gazillion books in 48 hours, but these are some of the books I want to read soon and/or include in one of my upcoming weekly round-ups.

Let's hope we all have a great reading week. I plan to make headway through my stacks. After all, BookExpo is right around the corner, and I'll be distracted excited by everything new and shiny!

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20 May 2017

Weekend Cooking: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay Andrews

Review: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay AndrewsA new Mary Kay Andrews novel is a summer tradition for many readers, who appreciate Andrews's stories with their mix of drama, romance, humor, and sharp dialogue. With her new menu-style cookbook, The Beach House Cookbook, Andrews will find a place in your kitchen all year round.

The recipes in The Beach House Cookbook are inspired by Andrews's lifelong residency in the South and her deep love of ocean-side living. You'll fall in love with Andrews's style: Flea market finds mixed with estate sale antiques, seashells, and easygoing attitude make for enviable gatherings, whether for two or twenty-two.

The Beach House Cookbook contains gorgeous full-color photos of almost every dish plus glimpses of Andrews's beautiful home and family. The red, white, and blue colors and nautical theme are inviting and make you yearn for a beach vacation.

Review: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay AndrewsFortunately, the menus, which span a year of celebrations, will help you bring a little southern sunshine into your kitchen, no matter where you live. The menus include everything from drinks to dessert and promise a stress-free gathering for the cook–host as well as for the guests.

The meals, which are designed to serve 4 to 12, depending on the event, are well thought out and should have wide appeal. The majority of the menus are for evening entertaining, but some focus on brunch and one is for a picnic. Most are associated with a holiday or a special day (Book Bash Cocktail Party, Valentine's Day Dinner), and some are just because (Full Moon Party, After a Day at the Beach).

The recipe directions are straightforward and easy to follow and use no unusual ingredients. Almost everything can be found at a normal grocery store, even in land-locked areas. What's more, Andrews isn't shy of using shortcuts or prepared foods when it makes sense (for example, pre-shaved Parmesan cheese, canned black beans). After all, the idea behind The Beach House Cookbook is to help us "be creative in the kitchen, yet still spend time relaxing with family and guests."

Review: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay AndrewsWith that in mind, the recipes themselves are along the lines of everyday, down-home dishes, the kinds of food real people serve to real families. You'll find nothing over-the-top fussy or exotic. I've marked several recipes to try, including the chicken enchilada dip, dry spice rub, roasted vegetable soup, marinated beef tenderloin, and cinnamon roll bread pudding. I'm also attracted to Andrews's cocktails— Tybee Tea with bourbon, Red Rooster with vodka—which look so cooling and delicious, especially for summer entertaining.

Younger cooks looking for tried-and-true recipes, menu ideas, and tips for easy entertaining will love The Beach House Cookbook. Of course, fans of Mary Kay Andrews's novels won't want to miss her personal stories and the inspiration behind some of her dishes. On the other hand, experienced cooks who have large recipe collections, may want to borrow this book from the library. Vegetarians and those on special diets should also borrow before buying.

(Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the review copy of this cookbook. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)

I love making quick pickles in the summer, they're a great way to use farmers' market produce and take almost no time at all. Here's Mary Kay Andrews's recipe. She doesn't say how long to let the cucumbers pickle, but I suggest at least a couple of hours.

Marinated Cucumbers and Onions
Review: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay AndrewsServes 6 to 8

  • 2 cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 1 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Place the cucumbers and onion in a large jar.

Bring the vinegar, sugar, and 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the celery seed and pepper, and pour over the cucumbers and onion. Seal the jar and refrigerate until time to serve.

Note: The recipe and scans come from the Mary Kay Andrews's The Beach House Cookbook and are used here in the context of a review. All rights remain with the original copyright holder.
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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18 May 2017

10 Books for Your Beach Bag

How do you know it's summer? When the book covers show the ocean, and the titles get all beachy. Even when you're land-locked, summer fiction makes you hear the waves and taste the salty air. All you need is a comfy outdoor reading spot, some good sunscreen, and an ice-cold drink. Ahhh, bring on the warm weather!

Here are 10 novels to put on your wish list: some are out right now and others will be waiting for you when you hit the beach for your summer break.

  • Books for your beach bagAnd There There Was Me by Sadequa Johnson (Thomas Dunne; April): Set in New Jersey, this is the story of a woman trying to make the best of a bad marriage while holding on to her dwindling self-confidence. Fortunately, she can count on her life-long best friend to bolster her up . . . or can she? Themes of marriage, parenting, friendship, and secrets.
  • The Beach At Painter's Cove by Shelley Noble (William Morrow; May 23): Four generations of fiercely independent women, all involved in the arts and all battling issues, are reunited at their family home on the Connecticut coast. Each has a different vision for the future of their ramshackle mansion, and as they sort out the contents of the house and their lives, they find their common ground. Themes of family, traditions, and motherhood.
  • The Beach House: Coming Home by Georgia Bockoven (William Morrow; May 16): When a teenage girl, suffering from a serious illness, asks to meet her biological mother, her father agrees to set something up at their California beach house. Melinda, nervously looks forward to getting to know the daughter she has never forgotten, but what will be the consequences? Themes of adoption, illness, teen pregnancy, and family.
  • Beach House for Rent by Mary Alice Monroe (Gallery; June 20): A budding artist looking for a summer refuge to complete a commission rents the home of an older couple looking for a way to earn some extra cash. The South Carolina coast, the birds, and a possible romance make Heather feel at home, but Cara wants nothing more to return to her house to heal after a traumatic event. Themes of an unlikely friendship, new beginnings, and overcoming setbacks.
  • The Captain's Daughter by Meg Mitchell Moore (Doubleday; July 18): Growing up as the daughter of lobsterman, Eliza counted the days until she could escape the small town life. But when she returns to Maine to help her widowed father, she begins to feel the pull of a quieter life. Caught between her husband and kids in suburbia and her family and old friends on the coast, Eliza begins to wonder, What if? Themes of family, marriage, rekindled romance, and making difficult choices.
  • Books for your beach bagCocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams (William Morrow; June 27): When Virginia arrives in Florida to settle the estate of her estranged husband, she is welcomed by her in-laws who introduce her to the pleasures of the Jazz Age. But the more she dances and drinks and lives it up, the more she suspects there is a sinister undercurrent to her new fun-filled social life. Can she and her daughter escape? Or do they know too much. Themes of Prohibition, family secrets, motherhood, and romance.
  • The Light in Summer by Mary McNear (William Morrow; May 31): On her own for the summer, single mother Billy returns to the family cabin on a Minnesota lake to relax, read, and dream. Her solitary days are interrupted by the arrival of new man and the reappearance of a guy from her past. Is this Billy's chance to finally have a happy relationship? Themes of love, grief, coming to terms with the past, and seeing a way into the future.
  • Lost and Found Sisters by Jill Shalvis (William Morrow; May 31): Although Quinn seems to have it all, her career and relationship are colored by her grief over her sister's death. After deciding to start over in a small California town, she tries to adjust from LA high life to beachside chilling. Just as she's beginning to feel at home, a lawyer contacts her with news that will turn her world upside down. Themes of new starts, sisters, and wants versus needs.
  • The Summer House by Hannah McKinnon (Atria; June 6): A family gathers at their Rhode Island vacation home to celebrate the patriarch's eightieth birthday. Can the siblings, in-laws, children, and grandchildren find a way to get along for the summer? They are pushed to the limits, especially when they learn that the house will soon be put up for sale. Themes of dysfunctional families, dealing with the past, finding hope for the future, and rediscovering family support and love.
  • Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green (Berkley; June 6): Three sisters are called home by their distant and self-centered mother as she begins to face end-of-life decisions. Although little love has been lost, the young women reunite, knowing they must put aside their bickering and jealousies to find a way to work together despite their very different personalities. Themes of aging, family duty, siblings, and ambition.

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17 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday 446

Spring walk, 2017

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15 May 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Short Reviews of Short Books

4 quick book reviewsNot a whole lot of reading going on here because I took some time off to visit my mom for Mother's Day Weekend. Of course, I packed a bunch of print books, had my tablet for ebooks, and my phone for audioboks. I didn't, however, spend much time reading or listening -- it was more fun to visit with family.

The weather turned around again, and it was sunny and warm(ish), so we were able to do a lot of outdoor chores for my mother, and now she's all set to enjoy the summer. It wasn't all work, though; we laughed, gabbed, cooked, and ate too. A good weekend for sure.

Today I'm back to real life until it's time to get ready for BookExpo. I know it's two weeks away, but I bet the days will just fly by.

What I read last week

Michael J. Sullivan's Short StoriesThe Jester (Audio Sudios; 54 minutes) and Professional Integrity (Audible Sudios; 1 hr, 18 min) by Michael J. Sullivan are two standalone free audiobook short stories starring Royce and Hadrian, the heroes of the Riyria books that I've been gushing about lately. The stories are not quite as good as the full-length books, but I liked the new adventures and getting to know more about my favorite duo. In The Jester, the pair find themselves trapped in a maze with bad guys on their trail. The only way out is to solve a riddle -- can they do it in time? In Professional Integrity, Royce and Hadrian are asked to rescue a young lady, but from whom does she need rescuing? Although the stories did not advance the overall plot of the epic fantasy series, they were worth the listen, and the length made them perfect for an evening's walk. Tim Gerard Reynolds is the narrator for both, and he was fantastic as always. If you haven't yet read Sullivan's epic fantasy, I wouldn't start with these stories, but if you're fan of Riyria, then you'll want to be sure to add them to your list.

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya MenonWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (Simon Pulse; May 30) is a cute contemporary young adult novel told in a he said / she said style. Since colonial days, children born of immigrant parents have had to balance cultural traditions of their family's homeland with modern life in America. Dimple is a twenty-first- century girl, looking forward to college and furthering her dreams of becoming a computer engineer. She respects her parents, but considers herself more American than Indian. Rishi harbors secret dreams of becoming an artist, especially in the world of comics, but he is dutifully planning on attending MIT to fulfill his parents' hopes. First, however, Rishi has to get to know the girl his parents have picked out as his future bride. When Rishi and Dimple meet at a summer computer programing seminar, they both begin to reassess their duties to family, their Indian culture, and their dreams. This fun rom-com explores real-life issues and has good cross-over appeal for adults.

Review: The Stone Heart by Faith Erin HicksThe Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second; April) is the second installment in the Nameless City graphic novel trilogy. The son of a diplomat who's training to become a warrior and an orphan girl who grew up in a monastery make unlikely friends, but they've grown to count on each other's unique skills and perspectives. When Kaidu's father's life is endangered by a rival faction who wants to rule the land with military strength and the secrets of an ancient power, the children come up with a possible path to future peace. The ending isn't exactly a cliff-hanger, but I need to know if Kaidu and Rat's plan will have the intended results. The Nameless City books take place in medieval Asia and have themes of social class, good vs. evil, religious differences, and family. The artwork helps bring Kaidu and Rat's world alive, adding to the characters' personalities and animating the action. The books are more historical fiction than fantasy and can be enjoyed on a several levels by readers of all ages. Note: you need to start this action-adventure series with book one to appreciate the overall story arc.

Review:  New Boy by Tracy ChevalierNew Boy by Tracy Chevalier (Hogarth Shakespeare; May 16). I had high hopes for the latest entry in the Hogarth Shakespeare series -- a modern retelling of Othello -- because the previous books in the series have been good, and I usually enjoy Chevalier's writing. The novel is told in five parts and takes place over the course of a single day at a Washington, DC private elementary school. Ghana-born Osei is the son of a diplomat, and on his first day at his new school he is noticed by everyone, most particularly because he is the only black student on the playground. Dee, a popular girl, is asked to befriend Osei, helping him feel at home at the school. The tragedy occurs in the classroom and on the playground, with sixth-grade relationships and 1970s prejudices propelling the action. Sadly, I found the book only okay and found it hard to buy into the concept of 11-year-olds as the main characters. The condensed timeline didn't work well either, and the plot would have been better served if the action had taken place over weeks or months instead of hours. I'm not as familiar with Othello as I am with other Shakespeare plays, so I wonder how much that affected my enjoyment. The unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 5 hr, 23 min) was read by Prentice Onayemi. My full audiobook review will be available at AudioFile, but here's a hint: the performance did little to help me like this novel.

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13 May 2017

Weekend Cooking: What's New in My Kitchen

Wine and gadget recommendationsHappy Saturday and welcome to Weekend Cooking. As we head more fully into spring, I'm in the process of transitioning between hearty, warming winter meals to lighter dinners using farm-fresh ingredients.

Our farmers' market opened a couple of weeks ago, which always gets me in the mood for summer. So far, there isn't a lot to buy in terms of vegetables: some early greens, rhubarb, and asparagus. On the other hand, I was happy to see that the flower sellers, cheese and egg booths, meat producers, and local wine and beer makers have all returned for another year at the market.

I haven't talked about new kitchen discoveries in a while, so that's the theme of today's post.


2 recommended winesIn the interests of easy entertaining and saving money, we've been experimenting with boxed wines. Although we normally like variety and enjoy learning about food and wine pairings, sometimes a basic, reliable table wine is all you really need and want, especially if you're hosting an informal gathering of friends. Enter the box: you sure can't beat the price (about $20 for the equivalent of four bottles), and the air-tight bladder means the wine lasts a long time.

After much research and lots of tasting, we have become fans of Bota Box wines. We've tried most of the reds (and none of the whites . . . yet) and found them all drinkable, but we like some more than others. Our hands-down favorite is their red blend called Nighthawk Black, with Red Revolution and Shiraz coming in as close seconds. The Merlot, Malbec, and Pinot Noir are fine, but we weren't crazy about the Cab or Old Vine Zin (two wines we normally like).

As the weather warms, we'll be turning to lighter wines, and one wine that's going on the summer list is Chateau Saint Pierre Tradition Rose. I was lucky enough to get a taste of this last week and found it crisp, light, and refreshing and not at all sweet. I think it will be super for sipping during a warm evening on the deck.


3 recommended kitchen gadgetsThree new items found a home in my kitchen over the last few months. As you may remember, I was in the market for my first electric tea kettle. I did some research, asked some friends, and finally decided on the Cuisinart kettle with different temperature settings. I had no idea how much I would love having this gadget and have not regretted giving it counter space. I use it for all sorts of things besides making tea. For example, instead of boiling a big pot of water to blanch or wilt greens, I just put the veggies in a colander and pour the boiling water from the tea kettle over top. Faster and easier than using the stovetop.

We have tried many different types of salad dressing jars and bottles over the years and have found they all suffer from one or both of these problems: difficult to get clean (we don't have a dishwasher) and/or drips dressing onto the table when in use. Although I usually try to stay away from plastic, I decided to give this salad dressing bottle made by OXO a try (mine is black, not green). What a life-saver! The bottle unscrews at the colored band, which means it's easy to clean the jar. Even better, the hinged stopper top seals well and the spout doesn't drip. Best $10 I've spent in a long time.

Finally, after decades of getting mad when my crackers or cookies fell through the bars of my cooling racks, I finally broke down and bought myself two gridded cooling racks. Um, duh. So now I wonder why I waited so long to make the switch. It's the little things that take away the stress.

What new things -- edible, drinkable, or usable -- have you welcomed into your kitchen?

I bought all these items with my own money; my opinions came free.
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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11 May 2017

10 Books to Read in May

One thing I love about the lengthening evenings of May is the chance to spend some time on my deck or porch after dinner. What am I doing out there, besides listening to the birds? Reading, of course. Here are 10 books to put on your list this month. Whether you like crime or history, facts or fantasy, you're sure to find at least one book that calls to you.

Whodunits and Thrillers

  • 10 books to read in MayAunt Dimity and the Widow's Curse by Nancy Atherton (Viking, May 30): This is the 22nd installment in a much-loved cozy mystery series featuring a young mother and her dear departed aunt. This outing involves one of Lori's elderly neighbors and a possible black widow-style curse. Good fun, set in England with a friendly ghost, and you can jump into the series right away; no need to start at the beginning, though why miss out?
  • The Graves by Pamela Wechsler (Minotaur, May 2): The second book in the Abby Endicott series, set in Boston, promises to keep you guessing. Our protagonist, a chief district attorney in the homicide unit, is dead set on bring justice to a serial killer who is preying on young women. Class issues, politics, and the judicial system all come into play as Abby tries to help find the killer without becoming the next victim.
  • What My Body Remembers by Angnete Friis (Soho Crime, May 2): Get ready for a new Scandinavian crime novel set in Denmark, which takes us on an emotional journal as a young woman struggles to recall the murder she may have witnessed when just a little girl. Will uncovering family secrets heal her or put her and her son in danger? Themes of parenting and PTSD round out the tightly woven plot.
  • Target Omega by Peter Kirsanow (Dutton, May 16): This timely thriller pulls us into the world of weapons of mass destruction and the people who really shouldn't have access to them. As the only survivor of a special ops mission, our man Michael Garin is either very lucky or the perpetrator of the mishap. Intelligence agencies from Iran and Russia and even from his own U.S. government are to get Garin, who must stay alive along enough to thwart a horrific terrorist plot.
Astronauts: Real and Imaginary
  • 10 books to read in MayChasing Space by Leland Melvin (Amistad, May 23): In this fabulous memoir, Melvin recounts his transition from NFL wide receiver to NASA astronaut. His story is one of overcoming setbacks, holding fast to one's dreams, and grabbing on to second chances. Melvin takes us behind the scenes, both on the ground and in space, as we follow his inspiring career. Plus, who doesn't love that book cover?
  • Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan (Gallery Books, May 23): In an astronaut's worst nightmare, Carys and Max are left floating in space with only a finite amount of oxygen and no one else in sight. If only one of them can be saved, who will it be and will they be able to make the decision? This novel is the perfect blend of action, romance, and literary fiction.
Modern-Day Stories
  • 10 books to read in MayThe Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo (Putnam, May 9): Fated or star-crossed? Lucy and Gabe meet in college at Columbia and connect over their visions of the future as well as their mutual attraction. Careers, however, take them on different but crossing paths, and as the years go by, they wonder what could have been (or could still be?). A contemporary love story that explores the dilemmas, emotions, and practical decisions that help and hinder twenty-first-century relationships.
  • Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank (William Morrow, May 16). Frank is the queen of the beach read for women of a certain age, and her latest novel takes us back to her beloved Lowcountry and a story that spans two decades. Two couples witness and share years of jealousies, victories, tragedies, and everyday living as they meet each year for their summer at the beach. A thoughtful, intelligent, and witty story.
Women in History
  • 10 books to read in MayMarie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig (Pushkin Press; May 2): The definite biography of the famous French queen is being re-issued in an English translation this month. Based on Marie Antoinette's personal letters and other firsthand accounts, Zwieg exposes the private, human side of a woman who had few choices over her own fate. From her teenage political marriage that took her to a foreign country to her imprisonment during the French revolution, she tried to play her expected role, suppressing her own desires.
  • The Widow Nash by Jamie Harrison (Counterpoint, May 22): In the early 20th century a young woman's life changes after her father, recently returned from a trip to Africa, seems to have lost both his fortune and his mind. While on a train carrying her father's body across the country for burial, she slips away at a Rocky Mountain station, leaving her controlling fiance and her old life behind. Soon she's settled in Montana, where she's known as a wealthy widow, but has she truly escaped her past? Historical fiction that's garnered lots of buzz.

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10 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday 445

Wildflower, 2017

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

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08 May 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: A Trio of Recommended Books

3 books to read in MayJust when I thought I was free to read and read and read for pleasure I get a work offer I can't pass up. This is a good thing for me and my wallet, but not so good when it comes to making my way trough my reading stacks.

At least the weather turned cold again, so it's not like I'm missing time in the garden or on the deck. All the rain has meant very little time outside.

In any case, I managed to get through two audiobooks and a graphic novel. Nothing else going on at the moment. I'm working hard over the next few days so I can spend time with my mother this coming weekend.

What I Read Last Week

Review of This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class by Elizabeth WarrenThis Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class by Elizabeth Warren (Metropolitan Books; 2017): In this well-presented and very easy to understand treatise, Warren outlines the rise and fall of America's middle class over the last 80 years or so. She uses stories from her own life and stories from the lives of struggling working families to illustrate just what's wrong with our current economic system -- minimum wage, healthcare, taxes, Wall Street, trickle-down economics, education, and more. At the end of the book, Warren lists a series of actions we can take right now to turn things around. It's an inspiring book that will make you want to get involved (or more involved). The unabridged audiobook (Macmillan Audio; 10 hr, 44 min) is read by Warren herself, who is expressive and passionate. Her conversational tone makes it feel as if she were talking just to you. Highly recommended -- for readers on both sides of the aisle. (Full audio review found at AudioFile magazine.)

Review of The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. SullivanThe Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit; 2013): This is the second book in the second series (the Riyria Chronicles) about thief Royce and swordsman Hadrian. I love getting to know more about the pair's background and their early days of working together. As I said on Litsy, if you like good action, complex plotting, epic fantasy, good humor, and realistic characters you'll love Sullivan's books. It's been a really long time since I binged listened to a series, and I just can't enough of these books. Thank goodness Sullivan has a third series, which (Game of Thrones and Outlander people take note) is already written and is being released one book a summer. Thank you, Sullivan for not making us wait years between installments. The unabridged audiobook (Recorded Books, 11 hr, 59 min) is read by Tim Gerard Reynolds, who has narrated all of Sullivan's books. Reynolds brings the characters to life, tapping into each one's personality just perfectly. His spot-on pacing and consistent characterizations make these a must listen. Highly recommended -- in print or audio (I bought the books in both media!)

Review of The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin RennerThe Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner (Fist Second, 2017): Exactly what the doctor ordered! I laughed my way through this fun graphic novel about Fox who just can't seem to manage to scare anyone, not even little song birds and certainly not the hens in the hen house. He seeks advice from Wolf, but that plan backfires in a delightful way. The tough hens, the adorable chicks, the bumbling guard dog and his gang, the  mean wolf, and the  completely unintimidating fox will change your ideas of barnyard life. The graphic novel is illustrated in watercolors rendered by the author; the art is expressive and conveys the action and highlights the humor. I'm not at all sure of the target audience of this graphic novel, but it can be enjoyed by readers of almost all ages. Read this when you need a little break from life; read this to your youngsters, who will likely ask you to read to them again. Younger readers may not get all the jokes, but they'll find a lot to laugh at as Fox tries his best to be the scariest guy on the farm. Highly Recommended -- for the whole family. (Thanks to First Second for the review copy.)

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06 May 2017

Weekend Cooking: Beach Cocktails by Coastal Living

Bring on the summer with casual entertaining on the deck, by the pool. or even on the beach! I love enjoying the long, warm evenings visiting with friends, nibbling a little food, sipping a little drink.

Coastal Living's Beach Cocktails (Oxmoor House, 2017), has been published just in time to enliven summer fun. Its beautiful photos, matte finish, and tasty variety of recipes also make this a great Mother's Day gift.

I love cookbooks that have stories to tell, and Beach Cocktails gives us the low-down on tiki bars, tells us the origins of famous drinks, helps us make our own mixers, and advises us on equipment and glassware. It's a pleasure just to flip through the book, looking at the photos of beaches and of beautifully garnished drinks.

The cocktails themselves run the full range. Beach Cocktails includes classic Manhattans and martinis, old favorites like margaritas and pina coladas, and newer drinks like Indian Summer (bourbon based) and Christopher Robin (vodka based). Never mixed a drink? No worries. The recipes in Beach Cocktails don't require a degree in mixology; they're all easy to put together.

You aren't a drinker? Again, relax. There's a whole chapter on mocktails with fruit-based drinks in beautiful summer colors with grownup flavors and garnishes. Try a Florida spritzer (grapefruit juice based) or a mango smoothie. All the non-alcoholic drinks look like the perfect refresher for a hot afternoon.

Of course, if you're drinking, you'll probably want to do a little snacking. Fortunately, Beach Cocktails includes a handful of tiki bar munchies. The variety of salsas are easy to make as are the Maine crab cakes.

One of the great features of the book are the recipes for mixers: flavored syrups, grenadine, bitters, sour mixes, and more. Homemade is almost always better than a bottled mix, and most of us welcome having the chance to leave out the preservatives and other unwanted ingredients.

Coastal Living's Beach Cocktails is the single-resource book to slip into your bag before your beach or resort vacation. Kicking back and relaxing in the summer sun and surf--whether you're partial to rum drinks, champagne, or fruit, you'll find cocktails or mocktails to suit your taste. You might even be inspired to make glazed chicken wings to get you through the cocktail hour.

Because today is Kentucky Derby Day, here's the drink I'm making tonight. You'll find it on page 222 of Beach Cocktails.

Mint Julep Iced Tea
Serves 6

  • 8 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) bourbon
  • 3 cups (24 ounces) cold sweetened tea
  • Garnishes: fresh mint springs, lemon and lime slices
Combine the first three ingredients in a 2-quart pitcher. Crush with a spoon until mint is bruised. Stir in the bourbon and tea. Serve over ice. Garnish as desired.

Thanks to Time-Life Books for the review copy; all thoughts given here are entirely my own.
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 May 2017

Mother's Day Giveaway: One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain

One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClainMother's Day is right around the corner, and I know how difficult it can be to find just the right gift for the special women in your life. I've got at least one present covered for you: Bren McClain's much-praised One Good Mama Bone.

The novel won a starred review from Booklist, it is an Okra Pick from the Southern Independent Booksellers Association, it's a Pulpwood Queen book club pick for May 2017, and it's won glowing reviews from print and web venues.

Before I tell you more about One Good Mama Bone, I want to share the book's opening paragraphs. I think they pull you right in:

One night, deep into it, when sounds are prone to carry, a baby boy lies crying on Sarah Creamer's kitchen table. He is minutes old, still wet with his mother's blood, and hungry for his mother's milk.

But she does not hear his cries. She is no longer there.

Only Sarah. Only Sarah remains. Her body bent over his, her hands rummaging the wooden planks for a towel still white enough to wrap him in. Blood is everywhere, puddled up as if there had been a hard rain. The smell of it saturates the eighty-one-degree air, pushes aside the dry tang of bleach, and fills the heat with the moistness of a long-shuttered earth, now free.

The baby's cries penetrate Sarah's bosom and bounce around its emptiness.

Her hands are shaking.
Set mostly in the 1950s, One Good Mama Bone, is the story of a South Carolina woman who must find her seemingly absent maternal instincts so she can take care of and nurture a young boy who is need of a home. When Sarah decides her son, Emerson, could raise a steer for auction as part of the 4-H program, their lives slowly turn, as Sarah learns how to be a better parent from observing the steer's mother, and Emerson makes a friend of another 4-H-er. Life in the rural South, however, is never that easy or that simple.

McClain explores themes of parenthood, class differences, marriage, rural life, and poverty. The novel has been described as having Southern Gothic elements (Washington Independent Review of Books) and many reviewers have commented on the complexity of the story, and beauty of McClain's writing. Bonus: The foreword is written by Mary Alice Monroe.

The Giveaway

Thanks to the author, publisher, and publicist, I am able to offer one of my readers a copy of Bren McClain's One Good Mama Bone. Although I can't promise you'll get the book in time for Mother's Day, I can promise it will make a great gift for your mother or another woman you'd like to honor this year. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to have a USA mailing address and fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner on May 10 using a random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed and I've passed the address along to the publicist, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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