30 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday 461

Dahlia, 2017

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28 August 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Reading at the End of Summer

Reading at the end of summerTopmost in my mind right now is not books. My thoughts and concerns are with Texas and the other areas of the Gulf Coast that are being pounded by rain and facing rising water.

Please stay safe, help your neighbors, and remember that you and your family are more important than your things. Know that those of us in the north are thinking of you and are finding ways to help.

If you want to find a legitimate way to aid the hurricane victims, be sure to check out a reliable source. It's horrible, but scammers come out during crises. I know CNN is vetting organizations, as is USA Today, Huffington Post, and the Weather Channel. Visit their websites for information on ways to get involved.

What I Read Last Week

Review: Ice-Cream Makers by Earnest van der KwastThe Ice-Cream Makers by Earnest van der Kwast (37Ink, Aug. 1): I couldn't resist this novel about a family of ice cream makers who spends the winter in their native Italy and the summer in the Netherlands. Four generations of men give their lives over to the ice cream machine, all that is except Giovanni, who instead hears the call of poetry. When his father begins to slip into dementia and his brother asks for a huge favor, Giovanni must choose the path of his future. I generally love family sagas and novels that have a strong food element, but The Ice-Cream Makers was only okay for me. The writing was fine, but I didn't connect strongly to the story, which had more of a melancholy or bittersweet feel to it than the promised charm and quirkiness. You might like it better than I did. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster audio; 9 hr, 1 min) was read by Jacques Roy, who handled the variety of needed accents believably and ably distinguished among the characters. His fine performance kept me listening (I would have likely abandoned the print), but he didn't turn the book into a winner.

Reveiw: Just Dance by Patricia MacLachlanJust Dance by Patricia MacLachlan (Margaret K. McElderry Books, Sept. 12): Sylvia loves to write poetry and is thrilled when she's given the chance to write a kind of "out and about" column for her local newspaper over the summer before she starts fifth grade. Because she lives on a Wyoming farm outside of a very small town, Sylvia is sure she won't have much to report and won't find any surprises. But before the summer is over, she has made a new friend, learned how to appreciate the world around her, and even sees her mother--once a famous opera singer--in a new light. This is a sweet middle grade story that will delight readers of all ages. I loved the themes of the importance of family and how easy it is to bring joy to others. I also liked the reminder that there is always something new discover, even in a familiar place. If you enjoy middle grade stories or have an elementary school reader in your life, don't hesitate to give Just Dance a chance. It comes out next month.

Review: Park Bench by Christophe ChaboutéPark Bench by Christophe Chabouté (Gallery Books, Sept. 19): I was surprised by how taken in I was by this black and white graphic novel (comic) with no dialogue. I loved this look at life from the perspective of a park bench. The story takes place over several years, during which we see snapshots of a group of individuals: some hurry by, some stop at the bench to rest or read, one homeless man likes to sleep on the bench. Through the expressive, simple drawings, we see some of the people grow and change: a pregnancy, a death, a retirement. The ending even has a little surprise. This is a comic I know I'm going to "read" again. The first time through I was interested in the overall story line, but now I want to follow specific characters more closely to see how each relates to the bench. Did I really catch every panel featuring a man who seems to be thwarted in love? What about those older women who sometimes stop to chat? Look for Park Bench next month.

In Other Reading News

Reading at the end of summer
  • I'm stalled in Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolit for no particular reason than I put it down and never seemed to pick it back up. I may return to it again, but the first several chapters didn't advance me into the story, so maybe I'll just let it go.
  • I'm currently listening to The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin, the third book in her Broken Earth series. I love the characters and the universe and Robin Miles does a brilliant job with the narration.
  • I finished the audiobook of Sourdough by Robin Sloan, which was read by Therese Plummer. It's a light story that takes place in the Bay Area and involves a non-cooking robot programmer who is given a special sourdough starter, which changes her life forever. Plummer's performance is a good match to the novel and characters. I'll be reviewing this for AudioFile magazine soon.

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26 August 2017

Weekend Cooking: Preserving Those Summer Tomatoes

Savory Tomato Jam by Beth Fish ReadsAlthough the days are getting shorter, there are still at least 8 more weeks of outdoor farmers' market shopping in my area. Now's the time when I feel the urge to horde all the summer bounty. I no longer can food, but I do put my freezers to good use.

I've made several pints of peach chutney and nectarine chutney and am now waiting for the Stanley plums to show up at the market so I can make my very favorite flavor. I shared my small-batch chutney recipe last year, so won't repeat it again.

I have new obsession this year, which is a variation on tomato jam. My version is not very sweet, and I've been using it on everything: grilled chicken, french fries, eggs, hamburgers, cheese sandwiches, and more. It's so, so good and very easy to make.

I started with a sweet tomato jam recipe from Mark Bittman on the New York Times website. I spent some time reading the comments from readers on that post and then did some of my own digging around the Internet and in my cookbooks to come up with my more savory version by cutting down on the sugar and adding onion, oregano, and black pepper.

Savory Tomato Jam by Beth Fish ReadsI used 2 pounds of meaty slicing tomatoes for my first batch and 6 pounds of Romas for the second  batch. I did not peel my tomatoes, just chunked them up and cooked them down. I froze the jam in half-pint or smaller containers, so it would thaw quickly.

I used a large Hungarian wax pepper in the first batch and 3 jalapeno peppers in the second batch. Use whatever you have and whatever heat level you like. I had very large sweet onions in the house and used about a third for the small batch, which I'm guessing is about equal to 1 small onion. Again, use your judgment.

Savory Tomato Jam
Adapted from several recipes by Beth Fish Reads
Makes about 1½ pints

  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 hot chili pepper, chopped very fine
  • 1 small sweet onion, chopped very fine
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • juice of 2 limes (about 2 tablespoons) plus grated zest of 1 lime
  • scant tablespoon of grated fresh ginger (plus the juices)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Put all the ingredients in a 4- to 6-quart saucepan, stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook, stirring every so often, until the mixture reduces and thickens, 70 to 90 minutes. Spoon into jars or other container and let cool. Refrigerate or freeze.

Recipe Notes: The jam should keep a week or two in the refrigerator and about a year in the freezer. The consistency should be thick, kind of like ketchup. Some recipes suggested using a little low-sugar pectin (I use Pomona brand) to help the jam thicken up; I didn't need it.

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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 August 2017

10 Audiobooks for Late August

Summer isn't officially over for a few more weeks, even if county fairs and the return to school are saying otherwise. Get outside and enjoy the last days of warm weather, and be sure to take an audiobook along on your adventures. Here are 10 suggested listens, all of which will be published next week.

  • 10 Audiobooks for Late AugustLouise Penny's Glass Houses (Macmillan Audio; 13 hr, 32 min) is the thirteenth book in her much-loved Three Pines series and the third one read by Robert Bathurst, who replaced the late Ralph Cosham. This installment starts at Halloween and ends in the summer and involves a murder, folk lore, and a trial. The novel has won several starred reviews, and Bathurst's performances have won over Penny's fans. (mystery)
  • Claire Messud's The Burning Girl (Recorded Books; 6 hr, 38 min) is performed by Morgan Hallett, who is known for good pacing and consistent characterizations. The story focuses on two childhood girlfriends who drift apart when they reach adolescence. Hallett is a good pick for this thoughtful look at the choices we make when we're young and full of dreams and light on experience. (coming-of-age)
  • Gabriel Tallent's My Absolute Darling (Penguin Audio; 15 hr, 47 min), performed by Alex McKenna, masterfully examines the tough, disturbing issue of child abuse. McKenna, who has experience portraying teens, is said to have hit the emotional heart of this audiobook (see AudioFile magazine). The novel is an Indie Next pick for August. (general fiction)
  • Kathryn Miles's Quakeland: On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake (Penguin Audio; 12 hr, 10 min) is read by veteran narrator Bernadette Dunne. Dunne's voice should be well suited to this piece of investigative journalism that takes listeners on a tour of the U.S. infrastructure and examines the projected aftermath of a large earthquake on levees, mines, nuclear plants, and major economic hubs. (nonfiction)
  • 10 Audiobooks for Late AugustAshley Shelby's South Pole Station (Dreamscape Media; 12 hr, 42 min), performed by Rebecca Gibel, should be on everyone's listening list. Do you have what it takes to live and work in the isolated small community of scientists who conduct research in Antarctica? Gibel, who is widely liked by listeners, takes on this sometimes funny story of a woman's experiences after receiving an artists and writers grant to spend a year at the South Pole. Perfect for those who like quirky characters. (general fiction)
  • Jennifer Ryan's Montana Heat: Escape to You (Harper Audio; 9 hr, 30 min), performed by Coleen Marlo, is the first full novel in a new series featuring male DEA agents and the women they get to know and love. Based on Marlo's narration of a Montana Men novella, romance fans are in for a treat. This story involves an actress who escapes a kidnapping and receives protection from a handsome agent. (romance)
  • Erin Carlson's I'll Have What She's Having: How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Save the Romantic Comedy (Hachette Audio; 10 hr, 41 min) is performed by Amy Tallmadge. Tallmadge is an expressive narrator who is easy on the ears and should be a good match for this behind-the-scenes look at three hit movies. Written by a journalist, this audiobook contains interesting trivia but also explores the more serious issue of Hollywood's poor treatment of women. (nonfiction)
  • Cutis Craddock's An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (Macmillan Audio; 18 hr, 21 min), narrated by Erin Bennett, is the first in a fresh new fantasy series set in a world of airborne continents. Bennett's vocal skills will likely shine in this debut story of magic, court politics, adventure, and musketeer protectors. The novel has been earning starred reviews and critical praise. (fantasy)
  • 10 Audiobooks for Late AugustCherise Wola's The Resurrection of Joan Ashby (Macmillan Audio; 19 hr, 20 min) has two narrators: Gabra Zackman and Michael Dickes. The story centers on the question of what happens when a brilliant young writer has an unplanned pregnancy and is talked into becoming a mother. This appears to be Dickes's first outing as an audiobook performer, so I can't comment on his skills, but Zackman's deep experience and strength as a narrator promise to make this an enjoyable listening experience. (general fiction)
  • Kelly Simmons's The Fifth of July (Blackstone Audio; 7 hr, 16 min), read by a full cast, focuses on the fate of a well-off family in the aftermath of a tragedy. Told from six viewpoints, each with a different narrator, this story reminds us that money can't always bury our secrets. Listeners will quickly be caught up in this Nantucket drama. (women's fiction)

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23 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday 460

Busy Bee, 2017

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21 August 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Quick Book Reviews

3 short book reviewsHappy eclipse day! I worked over the weekend so I could take this afternoon off to view the event. According to my weather app, it's supposed be partly cloudy all day with a 45% chance of rain at the peak of the eclipse. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I get to see at least something.

Just a little public service announcement: If you bought eclipse-viewing glasses, please, please do a little research and make sure you have a pair that is truly protective. A number of poorly made glasses were on the market, and you do not want to risk your eyesight.

Besides work, I spent much of the weekend in the kitchen. I made 2.5 pints of nectarine-peach chutney, a large batch of granola, some peach-banana ice pops, and about a pint of tomato jam. I love stocking my freezer with summer's bounty. I didn't get much print reading in, but I sure had a ton of audiobook time!

Review: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle BrownWatch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown (Spiegel & Grau, July 11): Billie, a much-loved wife and mother, goes on a solo hiking trip and is never seen again. A year later, while preparing for the court hearing that will issue the death certificate, Jonathan finally begins to sort through his wife's belongings. At the same time, Olive begins to have visions that her mother is still alive. As the two dig deeper into Billie's private life, they realize just how little they knew her. Besides the mystery of what really happened to Billie, the novel explores the grief and uncertainty of not being able to process the loss of a loved one when you have no body, no witnesses, and very few clues. Although some of the secrets were easy to figure out, the character development of Jonathan and Olive was nicely done. The author threw in a couple of side themes that made the book more current, but I'm not sure they advanced the plot. We also meet a few characters who seem to be central to the story but who are later dropped. The unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 13 hr, 15 min) was read by Tavia Gilbert and Kaleo Griffith. Gilbert performed the bulk of the audiobook and did a fine job with all my key points: pacing, characterization, and expression. Griffith read the few sections that were meant to be excerpts from Jonathan's memoir about his wife. He too did a good job. I'll delve more into the performances for AudioFile magazine, but the bottom line is that the book is worth your time, even if it won't be the best audiobook you'll listen to this year.

Reveiw: The Half-Drowned King by Linnea HartsuykerThe Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker (Harper, August 1): I have a thing for Vikings, and so couldn't resist this historical novel of revenge and family. Our heroes are Ragnvald and his sister, Svanhild, each of whom pick a different path to power in their desire to live up to their grandfather's great reputation as a feudal king of Norway and to regain the lands they lost after their father's murder There are battles and blood, alliances and betrayals, unexpected love and deep heartbreak. At the core of the saga is King Harald, who is building an army and trying to fulfill his prophesied destiny of uniting Norway under one ruler--him. Although a good land warrior, the teenage king is still inexperienced at sea and still young enough to be influenced by his uncle. The novel has all the things I love, but for some reason I was not swept away to the 9th century. The writing is good, and the historical details were believable, but the story dragged a bit, despite the battles, duels, raids, and kidnappings. I can't really pinpoint why this book wasn't a total winner for me. The novel is the first in a trilogy. I plan to continue with the saga, but I'm not counting the days until the next book is released. The unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 15 hr, 33 min) was read by Matthew Lloyd Davies, who did a decent job. He has a nice sense of pacing and seemed to have no trouble with the Norse words and names, but I wasn't lost in the story. Davies has a clear voice, is easy to understand, and reads with a nice level of expression. I would be happy to listen to any book he read; I think my issue here was the novel not the narrator.

Review: To the Back of Beyond by Peter StammTo the Back of Beyond by Peter Stamm (Other Press, October 3): I picked up this novel at BEA after talking with the nice people at the Other Press booth. I've read at least one of Stamm's novels (Agnes) and some of his short stories and love the way he creates a mood and delves into his characters' psyches. Here, we meet Astrid and Thomas, a seemingly ordinary couple with school-age children, sitting in their back garden on their first night back from their summer holiday. When Astrid goes inside to check on their son, Thomas gets up, opens the gate, and begins to walk. The short novel alternates the stories of the couple. Unlike Watch Me Disappear, this is not a mystery but an examination of how life can change, sometimes for no real reason. How does Astrid make sense of what happened, what does she tell the children, and when does she go to the police? What is Thomas thinking? Does he intend to leave his family and life with nothing more than what he's wearing and what's in his pockets? If something happens to him while he's walking, who will know and how will he be rescued? Does he even what to be saved? I know I'm reviewing this book way too early (since it won't be available for another six weeks or so), but I don't want you to miss it. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes the choices we make hardly seem like choices at all. Without truly noticing, we're on an entirely different path from before, wondering how we got there.

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19 August 2017

Weekend Cooking: Review of The Founder (Movie)

Review: The Founder (movie)Is there anyone on earth who hasn't eaten at a McDonald's? Maybe on some remote Pacific island or in the wilds of the Yukon Territory, but it's hard to believe there's a person living who has never even heard of the fast-food chain.

I'm not sure why the film Founder (directed by John Lee Hancock) didn't get more buzz. I understand that it was a critics' choice, but the public ignored it. Put me in the fan column.

From the first sounds of sizzling burgers to the last notes of the credit music, I was glued to my screen. Before watching this movie, I knew only the bare-bones story. The hamburger franchise was started by two brothers in California, but Ray Kroc was the guy who made McDonald's the worldwide phenomenon that it is today.

The film, starring Michael Keaton as Kroc and Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the McDonald brothers, lets us all in on very start of the original and iconic fast-food family restaurant. I was unaware of Dick and Mac McDonald's history and was fascinated with their concepts, which are the foundation of all fast-food establishments, even today, more than 60 years after they opened their first successful hamburger joint.

The process through which Kroc ends up owning and, in fact, founding the McDonald's Corporation, is eye-opening. He certainly had the drive and (pardon the pun) hunger to be successful, but whether he was ultimately evil or a genius, I leave up to you to decide.

Michael Keaton is the uncontested star of the movie. He is in almost every scene and truly carries the film. His acting was believable, from his early frustrations to his power grab near the end of the movie.

The set details are very impressive. I loved the clothing and hairstyles as well as the cars, buildings, phones, and even the billboards. It all shouts 1950s. Even the early McDonald's restaurants, which many of you may be too young to remember, were spot on. (Note: I'm too young to have seen or eaten at an original McDonald's, but I do remember the look of first restaurants, when there was no indoor seating.)

The movie is now available for streaming, and I highly recommend you take the two hours to watch. You can make popcorn, but it might be more appropriate to have a burger and fries instead.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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 August 2017

Travel the World in 5 Books

Now that we're in the second half of August, everyone is busy, busy, busy. If you aren't gearing up for the solar eclipse, then you're likely getting ready for school to start. Or maybe you're taking that one last summer vacation before fall. No matter what your plans for the last days of summer, there's always time to travel the world through the pages of a good book. Here are five novels that are each set in a different country. Settle into your favorite reading spot and prepare to be transported across the border.

Travel the World in 5 Books
  • Stay with Me by Aybami Adebayo (Knopf, August 22): Set in Nigeria. This is the story of a marriage that must walk the line that separates the modern world from tradition and cultural expectations. Genre: literary fiction. First line: "I must leave this city today and come to you."
  • Living the Dream by Lauren Berry (Henry Holt, August 15): Set in England. This is the story of two friends who are in the post-university limbo years of still trying to find that elusive path to who they want to be when they grow up. Genre: contemporary women's fiction. First line: "The third floor of the Soho office block smelled of instant coffee and disappointment."
  • Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary (Catapult, August 22): Set in Ireland. This is the story of a lonely teenage boy feeling confined by his circumstances and the older, well-off woman he falls in love with. Genre: coming of age. First line: " 'The world's a frightening place.' "
  • The Bettencourt Affair by Tom Sancton (Dutton, August 8): Set in France. This is the true story of one of the biggest scandals of recent years, involving the 93-year-old heir to the l'Oreal fortune and her family's not-so-buried secrets. Genre: biography. First line: "She's the world's richest woman, worth $36 billion at last count, but no one could envy her."
  • Leona: The Die Is Cast by Jenny Rogneby (Other Press, August 1): Set in Sweden. This is the story of a troubled violent crimes detective and her most recent case: a bank robbery that is said to have been committed by a naked, bloody seven-year-old girl. Genre: crime fiction. First line: "No one had noticed her yet."

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16 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday 459

White flower, 2017

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15 August 2017

Review & Giveaway: To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

Review: To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton SummieI used to think I wasn't a short story kind of person, but either I've changed or I've finally discovered the types of stories that appeal to me on a deep level. Caitlin Hamilton Summie's To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts (Fomite, August 8, 2017) is just such a collection.

Although the pieces in To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts stand alone, each satisfying as a complete story, they are in fact linked through theme. Many are set in the upper Midwest, and some share characters. The stories center on everyday issues: parenthood, family, deaths, births, aging, and changing economies, for example.

We meet characters at cross-roads: a young man who has rushed his pregnant wife to the hospital weeks before her due date, a mother who has left her daughter in front of her dorm on the first day of college, a graduate student adjusting to life in a wheelchair. There's a nostalgia for the past mixed with an eye to future, a desire to understand the family history but then take it into the new century.

The stories in this collection are firmly anchored to the environment--both natural and built. You don't have to have grown up in rural America to connect to the idea that Summie's characters have been shaped by the landscape of their youth. For example, she shows us both sides of life on a Minnesota farm: the poetic ("the first dark morning of winter when stars freckle the sky as we head out to do chores; the chorus of cows lowing as they come back into the barn from pasture") and the blunt reality ("the blizzard which tore through town when I was ten was full of wind and whirling snow and made of a cold raw enough to kill a man").

The universal issues and dilemmas at the heart of Summie's stories and her focus on families give To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts wide appeal. You'll want to talk about these characters as if you knew them, and you'll want to revisit these stories more than once.

About the Author: Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, Mud Season Review, and Long Story, Short. She has stories forthcoming in Hypertext Magazine and The Belmont Story Review. Her first book, a short story collection called TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, is forthcoming in August from Fomite. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003. Find her online at caitlinhamiltonsummie.com.

Note: Although I know Caitlin personally, the thoughts expressed in this post are entirely my honest opinion. Thanks to Caitlin and Rick Summie for a review copy of the book and for the following giveaway.

The Giveaway

Thanks to Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, I can offer one copy of To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts to one of my readers. All you have to do to enter for a chance to win is to have a USA mailing address and fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on August 24. Once the winner has been confirmed and his or her address is passed along to the publicist, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good Luck.

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14 August 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Eclectic Edition

This month is an exciting one for sky watchers. Although it was too cloudy to seem much of the pleiades meteor shower on Friday night (which was supposed to be the peak viewing time), we did go out on Saturday night and were able to see several shooting stars before the clouds moved in again. Next week is, of course, the eclipse.

In other news, I spent most of the week researching a new laptop (PC), and I think I'm now ready to place my order. It's always such a difficult decision because whatever I buy, I'll be using 10 to 12 hours a day for 3 to 5 years. My research took up most of my reading time, but I still managed to complete three very different books.

What I Read

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street Books, 2014): I've been meaning to read this psychological thriller for a while now, so was very happy that it was the summer selection for my postal book club. For a college project, Joe interviews a dying convicted murderer, who has always insisted on his innocence. During the course of their conversations, Joe begins to believe the old man. But the more he digs into the past, the more he puts himself in danger. There is much to love about this novel, from the great characters to the action. Everyone, it seems, has parts of their lives they'd like to hide from the public, and Joe himself is no exception. Besides the murder case, themes include friendships, family, PTSD, and autism. Highly recommended and deserving of all its many awards.

Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (Del Rey, July 2017): The newest installment in the epic fantasy series Legends of the First Empire is everything Sullivan fans have come to expect. There are several plot lines in this book, but all are leading to the seemingly unavoidable war between the humans and elves, and even dwarfs are entering the conflict. First, we have the elves who are more concerned with rebellion among their own than they are with weak and powerless humans. Next, we have the humans, who are trying to band together, to catch up technologically, and to learn to fight. The final group consists of a handful of human women and dwarf men who undertake a dangerous journey. I love this universe and can't wait until the next book comes out. The audiobook (Recorded Books; 20 hr, 2 min) was read by Tim Gerard Reynolds, who is the absolute best voice for Sullivan's work. He's great at picking up the personalities of the characters and delivers both the action and the humor with perfect timing.

Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright (Henry Holt, February 2017): I picked this audiobook based on several recommendations of trusted friends and because it is so absolutely up my alley. This is a nonfiction account of the major plagues that have affected humankind from Roman times to the present. Some of the diseases covered are the black plague, smallpox, leprosy, and the Spanish flu. Wright's focus is on the ways government, society, and contemporary medical practitioners dealt with the horrors of incurable sickness that affected the masses. You might think this could be dry stuff, but you'd be very, very wrong. I was utterly fascinated with things like the exploding frog cure for bubonic plague and nose reconstruction for syphilis. I didn't realize the classic movie The Red Shoes had a foundation in a real disease, and I didn't know the behind-the-scenes history of the polio vaccine. I loved Wright's sense of humor and the many references to pop culture, television, movies, and books. The unabridged audiobook (Blackstone; 7 hr, 43 min) was read by Gabra Zackman. I think this is my first experience with Zackman, who nailed this book. I loved her conversational tone, which perfectly fit Wright's writing style; the way she signaled quotes from the running narrative; and her delivery of both the humor and the gruesome. One of my favorite books of the year.


I have a great giveaway going on now for Big Little Lies: one person will get a Blu-Ray/digital download of the fabulous HBO series plus a copy of the book. Click the link for more information. Tomorrow I'll have another giveaway--this one for a collection of short stories you won't want to miss. Note that both giveaways are for people with USA mailing addresses only.

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12 August 2017

Weekend Cooking: What She Ate by Laura Shapiro

Review: What She Ate by Laura ShapiroWhat She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Story by Laura Shapiro (Viking, July 25) sounded like a book made for me. I love biography, food, and history, so I immediately said yes when offered a review copy, both as an eARC and audiobook.

I have no doubt about Shapiro's writing and research abilities. I loved her Perfection Salad (1986) and have her Julia Child biography still on my to-read list.

Shapiro's approach to What She Ate was to look at the lives of six women and explore their relationship to food, cooking, and eating. The woman we meet are Dorothy Wordsworth, Rosa Lewis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun, Barbara Pym, and Helen Gurley Brown. We learn about their cooking skills (or lack thereof) and the people they cooked for or ate with. Shapiro includes contemporary sociocultural tidbits and information about their lives in general.

I'm not sure why this book didn't click with me, but I had trouble staying focused. I was most interested in the chapter covering Barbara Pym, an author I've loved for years. I even have her cookbook (see below). Pym's fascination with food and cooking, and all they symbolize, is made clear by their central role in her novels. Thus she was an obvious pick for Shapiro's book. This was by far my favorite chapter in What She Ate.

As for the other women, I had mixed feelings. For example, I had never heard of Lewis, a famous caterer in Edwardian England, so there were parts of her story that captured my attention. I was already familiar with at least some of the material presented in the Wordsworth and Roosevelt chapters, especially the spartan meals the latter served in the White House.

I can understand people's fascination with Braun, but her eating high off the hog while the German people starved and others were systematically slaughtered was somewhat disturbing (even if totally true). By the time I got to Brown and her endless dieting, I had pretty much lost interest.

The book is well researched, complete with endnotes and a decent bibliography. Thus I was, frankly, surprised I was not more invested in reading about the ties between these women and the cultural and political environments in which they lived.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 3 min) read by Kimberly Farr. I credit Farr's excellent performance for keeping me listening. She was expressive and engaging and did a fine job with any needed accents. I also appreciated the way she subtly distinguished quotes from the running narrative. The introduction and afterword were read by the author.

Recommendation: Despite the quality of the audiobook, I suggest you read Laura Shapiro's What She Ate in print so you can skim the book if you want to. Even if you read nothing else, don't miss the chapter about Barbara Pym.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.

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 August 2017

Review & Giveaway: Big Little Lies (HBO Limited Series)

Review of HBO's Big Little LiesI'm sure you've heard the buzz surrounding the star-studded HBO production of Liane Moriarty's best-selling novel Big Little Lies. If you haven't yet seen the show, I bet you've been chomping at the bit for the Blu-Ray/Digital HD edition. Well fret no more because the series is now available in both media.

I watched the show earlier this year when it first ran and again—thanks to HBO—via digital download. This is a series that's easy to watch more than once because not only is the plot great but the acting is amazing, with no weak links. I, of course, enjoyed watching the well-know adult actors (Reese Witherspoon, Alexander Skargard), but I have to say the children were simply fabulous and almost stole show!

I also was impressed with how closely the television version of Big Little Lies (written by David E. Kelley) followed the book. The only major difference is that the story was relocated from Australia to the United States. If you're a fan of the novel, you're sure to love the show.

For those unfamiliar with Big Little Lies, here is how the studio and publicist describe the series:

Starring Academy Award®–winning actresses Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies is a subversive, darkly comedic drama that weaves a tale of murder and mischief as it explores society's myth of perfection and the contradictions that exist beneath our idealized facade of marriage, sex, parenting, and friendship. The cast also includes Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skargard, Adam Scott, Zoe Kravitz, and Laura Dern.

Big Little Lies is based in the tranquil seaside town of Monterey, California, where nothing is quite as it seems. Doting moms, successful husbands, adorable children, beautiful homes: What lies will be told to keep their perfect worlds from unraveling? Told through the eyes of three mothers—Madeline (Witherspoon), Celeste (Kidman) and Jane (Woodley)—Big Little Lies paints a picture of a town fueled by rumors and divided into the haves and have-nots, exposing the conflicts, secrets, and betrayals that compromise relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends and neighbors.
Review of HBO's Big Little LiesFilmed on location in California and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, the series brilliantly brings Moriarty's book to life, capturing the many layers of the story, which is a little bit mystery (opening with what seems to be a crime scene and then police interrogation) and a whole lot of what goes on behind the scenes of any relationship.

Besides the critically acclaimed acting, directing, and writing, Big Little Lies was beautiful to look at, especially the dramatic Monterey coastline, the fabulous clothing, and the gorgeous beach-side houses. The filming, including the angles, the lighting, and the good use of close-ups, added to the visual treat. No wonder the series was nominated for numerous awards.

Finally, no review or write-up of Big Little Lies can end without mentioning the incredible soundtrack. The songs perfectly match the action and plot and include a huge range of popular music: Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Fleetwood Mac, the B-52s, Martha Wainwright, Michael Kiwanuka, and so many more. The surprise queen of the jams in Big Little Lies is Madeline's young daughter Chloe (played by Darby Camp and seen at the left in the screen shot above). I want her iPod!

The bonus materials on the Blu-Ray/Digital edition include all of HBO's "Inside the Episode" segments for the series. These short videos parse the plot, provide information about the filming, and reveal the director's and writer's intentions. In addition, there's an exclusive short film about the making of the series, including actor interviews and some behind-the-scenes shots.

Take a look at the trailer:

If that doesn't grab your attention, here's a scene from the first episode:

Oh yeah, we already have ideas of what these women might be all about.

The Giveaway Thanks to the nice people at HBO I'm able to offer one of my readers a copy of the Blu-Ray/Digital HD edition of HBO's Big Little Lies and a copy of Liane Moriarty's book (series tie-in edition). All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on August 21. Once the winner has been confirmed and his or her address is passed along to the publicist, who will mail out the disk and book, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck.

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09 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday 458

Creek, 2017

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07 August 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Sound Recommendations

2 Audiobook ReviewsLast week started out lazily but ended up being full of errands and appointments. We did manage to get in a longish hike on Saturday and a good walk on Sunday, taking advantage of the cooler weather.

The farmers' markets are bursting with all kinds of wonderful fruits and vegetables as we get into the peak of the growing season. The peaches are outstanding this year and I've made peach cake and peach cobbler already (sharing most with neighbors and family) and plan to make some jam or chutney this coming week. I also hope to put up some brandy peaches to enjoy at Christmas.

Review: Lockdown by Laurie R. KingI finished Lockdown by Laurie R. King (Bantam, June13). The novel interweaves the characters' background stories with a minute-by-minute account of how a routine career day at a California middle school went horribly wrong. We know from the start that the day isn't going to turn out pretty, but we don't know the details or the perpetrator of violence: Everyone, it seems, has a secret past or is harboring a grudge. While this wasn't my favorite King novel, I liked the structure and pacing of the story, and it wasn't all that easy to figure out how it was going to end. The unabridged audiobook (Recorded Books; 10 hr, 43 min) was read by Pilar Witherspoon. Although she kept my attention, I was not a fan of her style of delivery (odd pauses, for example) and her characterizations could have been stronger. On the other hand, her Spanish accent seemed authentic. If you're curious about the book, I suggest reading it in print. (My full audiobook review will be available at AudioFile magazine.)

Review: The Address by Fiona DavisI also listened to The Address by Fiona Davis (Dutton, August 1). One of the principal characters in this novel is the famous Dakota apartment building in New York City. The book is told in two time periods: first in the late 1800s, when the building was built, and second in the 1980s, a few years after John Lennon's assassination. Each story line features a troubled but smart woman trying to make her own way in the world. I really liked the way Davis connected the two woman, presented the details about the Dakota and its history, and brought each time period alive. The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 11 hr, 42 min) was read by Saskia Maarleveld and Brittany Pressley. Each narrator took a different time period, and I was impressed with how smoothly their performances blended together. They were equally skilled at characterizations, accents, and pacing. Recommended audiobook. (My full audiobook review will be available at AudioFile magazine.)

I also finished Caitlin Hamilton Summie's story collection To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts and the audiobook of What She Ate by Laura Shapiro. I'll be writing about these books later in the week.

What I Watched

If you get HBO and aren't watching their documentaries, you are missing out on some of the best viewing available on television. This week, we watched the HBO documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, in which her sons and others close to her (no Charles or the queen), reminisce about her personality, her life as a mother, and her work with charities and other causes. I thought it was very well done, with little overblown emotionalism and lots of focus on Diana's connection with everyday people in the UK and around the world and especially her work with AIDS patients and the victims of land mines. This is well worth your time. (65 minutes; produced and directed by Ashley Gething, with HBO)

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05 August 2017

Weekend Cooking: The Green City Market Cookbook

Review: Green City Market Cookbook edited by the Green City Market One of my favorite things about the warmer months of the year is shopping at the local farmers' markets. I live in an area that is blessed with an abundance of outdoor markets; there are about six weekly venues, all within a few miles of my house.

The market I shop at most often is a producer-only market, meaning everything is locally grown and processed. Thus from May to November, the bulk of our diet--from fruits to veggies, from cheese to meat--is provided by people we've gotten to know over the years. I look forward to our weekly market trip.

The Green City Market in Chicago, a much bigger venue than our market, was established at the turn of the twenty-first century and is open all year. The market is host to about 50 local producers and attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. The market's founder, the late-Abby Mandel, came up with the idea of publishing a cookbook to share recipes provided by the Green City Market farmers, vendors, and shoppers. In 2014, that dream came true, when The Green City Market Cookbook was published.

Thanks to Agate Midway, I was able to read, and cook, my way through this beautifully designed cookbook, complete with full-color photos printed on recycled paper. Because the focus is on the bounty of the local market, the majority of recipes use only vegetables and fruits, although there are plenty of dishes for the omnivores among us. (Vegans will need to look before buying.)

Review: Green City Market Cookbook edited by the Green City Market The Green City Market Cookbook is arranged seasonally, making it a great companion for farmers' market fans and home gardeners. The spring recipes are all about asparagus, peas, and strawberries, and the summer dishes contain all.the.vegetables, from eggplants to tomatoes to zucchini (plus lots of summer fruit). By fall, the recipes begin to rely on apples, squash, and root vegetables, and winter brings us meaty stews, potato-based dishes, and cabbage.

Each recipe begins with a story from the contributor, giving the book a very personal feel. In addition, because the recipes are shared by real people, they are all fairly easy to put together and, for the most part, use common ingredients. I appreciate the fact that every recipe included in the cookbook was "tested for accuracy, ease of preparation, . . . and taste." The directions look to be straightforward and well edited.

Review: Green City Market Cookbook edited by the Green City Market Some recipes have a traditional feel, like the Pumpkin-Parmesan Gnocchi with Turkey, and others are quick-and-easy variations on classic dishes, like the ratatouille I share at the end of this post. In just a few instances, a dish will shine the light on a specific producer at the Green City Market, like the recipe for goat burgers. Fortunately, almost all of these kinds of recipes welcome simple substitutions; I'm sure that burger with shallot aioli would be every bit as good made with any other ground meat.

I recommend The Green City Market Cookbook for cooks who are looking for new ideas for serving seasonal fruits and vegetables. The recipes shared by the Green City Market community will have the greatest appeal to those of you who are expanding your horizons and learning to incorporate more varied vegetables in your diet. Meat lovers, will gobble up the fish tacos, hearty chili, and spare ribs. The whole family will love the fruity desserts, and the rosemary shortbread looks like the perfect companion for an afternoon tea.

If you've been hanging out at farmers' markets for years, you might want to borrow The Green City Market Cookbook before you buy it. On the other hand, I bet the cookbook sparks your culinary creativity.

Iron Creek Ratatouille
Ratatouille is a favorite dish in our family. Using fresh-picked ingredients from our farm, we enjoy this delicious and easy recipe all summer long, after the tomatoes have had a good head start in our greenhouse. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator up to 4 days. —Tamera Mark, farmer, Iron Creek Farm

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Makes 4 to 6 servings

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 small eggplant, unpeeled, cut into ½-inch cubes (2 cups)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch cubes (2 cups)
  • 1 large zucchini, cut into ½-inch cubes (2 cups)
  • 2 cups ripe tomatoes, peeled if desired, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. In a large, deep skillet or sauté pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and eggplant and sauté for 5 minutes.

2. Add the red bell pepper and squash to the skillet and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat.

3. Stir in the basil and season with the salt and black pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm or at room temperature.

Reprinted with permission from The Green City Market Cookbook edited by Green City Market, Agate Midway, 2014, 2017. Photos were used in the context of this review; all rights and copyrights remain with Chris Cassidy Photography.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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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04 August 2017

8 Books for Teens and Tweens

It may be August, but there's still plenty of summer left for youngsters to sleep late and read away their afternoons. The books recommended today range from fantasy to contemporary stories, and though they are geared to a school-age audience, all have great crossover appeal for adults.

Speculative Fiction

8 Books for Teens and Tweens
  • Venturess by Betsy Cornwell (Clarion, young adult, Aug. 1) A fresh take on fairy tales: After a young woman escapes the clutches of her evil stepmother, she makes her own way rather than marrying the prince. Plot points: adventure, magic, war, and friendship.
  • Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller (Sourcebooks Fire, young adult, Aug. 29) First of a two-book dark fantasy series: A street urchin has personal reasons for entering the bloody and dangerous competition to become the next queen's assassin. Plot points: gender (LGBTQ), revenge, and politics.
  • All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis (Harlequin Teen, young adult, Aug. 29) The first in a new science fiction series: A teen living in a land in which citizens must pay for every word they utter chooses total silence, inadvertently sparking a grass-roots rebellion. Plot points: individuality, family, and the effects of (over)branding.
  • The List by Patricia Forde (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, middle grade, Aug. 1) A dystopian story of the power of words: In a world in which vocabulary is under strict government control, Letta, the newly appointed keeper of all words, discovers a plot to deprive her people of the ability to talk. Plot points: censorship, authoritarian government, and the importance of creativity.
General Fiction

8 Books for Teens and Tweens
  • Sunshine Is Forever by Kyle T. Cowan (Inkshares, young adult, Aug. 29) A frank look at teen depression: When Hunter's personal coping mechanisms fail, he is sent to a rehab camp for treatment of his depression; there he faces the difficult choice of accepting help or running away. Plot points: mental health, teen suicide, recovery, and friendship; lightened with dark humor.
  • The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez (Viking Books for Young Readers, middle grade, Aug. 22) A music-loving girl copes with a brand-new life: Adjusting to a new school is bad enough, but Malu is also in a new town for mom's new job, which temporarily divides the family. Plot points: ethnic diversity, friendship, and being oneself; illustrated with fun graphics.
  • Confessions from the Principal's Kid by Robin Mellom (HMH Books for Young Readers, middle grade, Aug. 1) A story of finding the balance between being cool and being yourself: The truth is Allie doesn't mind that her mom's the principal, but she still wishes the popular girls would let her in. Plot points: friendship, social pressures, and standing up for others.
  • Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn by Elizabeth Kiem (Soho Teen, young adult, Aug. 22) A cold-war thriller involving a ballerina and the KBG: A Russian teenage dancer is given the chance for a better life if she's willing to use her special talents to spy for the Soviet government. Plot points: communism, romance, and politics.

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02 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday 457

Yellow Flowers, 2017

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