30 October 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Red Cover Edition

2 good audiobooks for OctoberI don't care who you're rooting for, this year's World Series has been great. For the most part, the long games have been exciting, with big hits good action, and extra innings. What a postseason!

We spent most of Saturday hiking in a local state forest. It's finally looking like fall, with gorgeous leaves and deep blue skies. Well, except yesterday (Sunday), which was non-stop rain. The rain, though, was just the excuse I needed to spend the day making lace. All in all, a near-perfect weekend.

Work has picked up in the pre-holiday season, which is a good thing, though it can cut into my reading time. I also have a new sideline gig that I'm very excited about and will share with you next week.

What I Read Last Week

Review: Where the Past Begins by Amy TanWhere the Past Begins by Amy Tan (Ecco, Oct. 3) is a different kind of memoir. Instead of sticking to a chronological structure, Tan muses about a variety of incidents and issues, from her early experiences with family deaths to life as a child of immigrants, her relationship with her mother, her struggle with medical problems, her writing life, and her fascination with language. I've enjoyed Tan's novels, so I liked getting to know her better, If I were to sum up her life in one sentence, I'd say she is a survivor who has found a way to thrive in the face of difficult challenges. Her writing style is loose and personal and easy to connect to. Tan herself narrates the audiobook edition (Harper Audio, 14 hr. 31 min). She is engaging, and I liked her portrayal of her mother and her rendering of Chinese American accents. The only problem with the audiobook is that you miss out on the Tan family photographs. I'll have more to say over at AudioFile magazine.

Review: Dear Martin by Nic StoneDear Martin by Nic Stone (Crown Books for Young Readers, Oct. 17) is heart-wrenching in its authenticity of what it's like to be a black teen in the South (or, really, anywhere in the United States). Justyce is smart and one of only a couple of black students in an Atlanta private high school. He's also a scholarship student among wealthy white kids. One night when trying to help his drunk, light-skinned biracial girlfriend, he's picked up by the police, who immediately assume he's a black boy trying to take advantage of a white girl. The handcuffs, the total disrespect, and the racial profiling affect him deeply. Justyce tries to cope with the mixed signals from his seemingly friendly classmates with their ingrained prejudice and with his general outsider status by writing letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and trying to model his reactions by "what would Martin do?" Justyce doesn't always make the right choices, but he does make believable choices. This book will eat you up. Author Stone makes it clear that civil rights and racial equality are far realized in this country and shows this through Justyce's story. Although written for a young adult audience, readers of all ages will find plenty to think about. The autdiobook (Listening Library 4 hr, 32 in) is read by Dion Graham, who handles the dialect and emotional impact of the book beautifully. His characterizations weren't particularly strong, but his respect and understanding of Stone's book had me listening all in one go. (thanks to the publisher for both print and audio review copies)

Other Stuff

Besides baseball and lacemaking, I've started Alice Hoffman's Rules of Magic. If you liked Hoffman's Practical Magic (book or movie), you really do need to read her new novel, which takes place in (or at least starts in) the 1960s when the Owen children learn their true nature. The sisters in this book grow up to be the aunts we meet in Practical Magic. I'm thoroughly enjoying the audiobook (read by Marin Ireland) and will report back next week.

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28 October 2017

Weekend Cooking : Food for All Seasons by Oliver Rowe

Review: Food for All Seasons by Oliver RoweIn Food for All Seasons, British chef and restaurateur Oliver Rowe celebrates seasonal cooking in his home country. His memoir / cookbook is arranged by the calendar and features the six or eight star ingredients for each month of the year: rhubarb in March, gooseberries in June, and oysters in September, for example.

Rowe, of course, provides recipes for the seasonal foods he cooks and loves, but the heart of Food for All Seasons is really the stories about the interconnections among kitchen inspiration, the natural environment, and the season.

I particularly like the chatty sections in which Rowe talks about all kinds of things, from going on July picnics and fishing with his mother to how to cook crab, his developing relationship with garlic, and the different types and uses of elder.

Many of the recipes look quite inviting (boozy cherries, slow-cooked lamb, green tomato chutney, chocolate-almond cake), though a handful use ingredients I doubt I could find in my small town (quail eggs, for example). I know I'll give some of Rowe's dishes a go; in fact, I have my eye on Lemon-Dressed Kale with Pumpkin Seeds for a holiday side dish and think homemade eggnog would be a wonderful Christmas treat.

The real appeal of Food for All Seasons for me, though, are Oliver Rowe's stories about both his personal relationship with food and cooking and his love of using fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Here are a few quotes that stuck with me:

  • Food trends come and go, but eating goes beyond the mere need to sustain life: it's imbedded in culture and therefore becomes entwined in the mores, values and aspirations of the time.
  • Stocks are peculiar things and chefs will go on about them for as long as you keep your eyes open.
  • June is thoroughly spoiled.
  • There's a lot of luxury at the height of summer, what with the strawberries, raspberries, peaches and all. Everything starts to change when the autumn comes around. It's not that autumn produce isn't delicious and seductive, but it tends to ask more of us than some of the floozies you get in the summer months.
For more on Oliver Rowe, visit his website. For some recipes, visit The Guardian or BBC Food. You'll get a glimpse of his incredibly blue eyes and learn how to make a simple summer salad in the following short video:

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.

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.

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27 October 2017

8 Books at the Top of My Reading List

I sometimes always suffer from the book-lover's curse: My eyes are bigger than the time I have to read. I'm eternally optimistic about getting all the books read in a timely manner, despite a lifetime of practical experience that says otherwise. Today I feature 8 books I fully intend to read soon and tell you why I put them on my list.

8 Books to Read in October
  • France Is a Feast by Alex Prud'Homme and Katie Pratt (Thames & Hudson, Oct. 24): Who can resist seeing Julia and Paul Child's France through 200 photographs, most of which were taken by Paul? The combination of family stories and Paul's gorgeous work makes this a book I'll long treasure.
  • Gin and Panic by Maia Chance (Minotaur Books, Oct. 24): I love the premise of this fun cozy mystery set in New York during Prohibition. A high society woman and her Swedish cook work as private detectives in an atmosphere of flappers, bathtub gin, and a little murder.
  • The Glass Spare by Lauren DeStefano (Balzer + Bray, Oct. 4): I'm curious about this fantasy, which promises to be influenced by the King Midas story. Our young hero must decide if her powers are a blessing or a curse and must foil those who wish to use her so-called gift for their own purposes.
  • How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst (Atria, Oct. 10): I like thrillers, and this one is about a woman who is accused of killing her infant son, though she has no memory of the deed. After being released from an institution for the criminal insane, she begins to believe her son is still alive.
8 Books to Read in October
  • Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee (HMH, Oct. 10): This mother-daughter story is set in the Adirondacks and contains several themes that usually capture my attention: family secrets, independent women, and finding home before it's too late. 
  • The Relive Box and Other Stories by T. C. Boyle (Ecco, Oct. 3): I like Boyle and am curious about this collection, which promises to offer "a new way of looking at the world." Besides, one of the pieces is titled "The Five-Pound Burrito"!
  • The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (HMH for Young Readers, Oct 3): This middle grade novel was suggested by my friend Diane from Book Chick Di. The story is set in Harlem and focuses on a contemporary issue with old-fashioned charm.
  • You Were There before My Eyes by Maria Riva (Pegasus Books, Oct. 10): What's not to love here? A strong woman protagonist leaves her Italian village at the turn of the last century to seek the American Dream with her new husband. I'm especially interested because the story takes us to Detroit at the dawn of the auto industry.

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25 October 2017

Wordless Wednesday 469

Fall 2017

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23 October 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Sound Recommendations; Or a Pick and a Pan

Sound Recommendations: Audbook winners and losersI really need to remember that the week after taking a four-day weekend is not the time to schedule appointments. It sure cuts into one's reading time. Still, I managed to finish two audiobooks, while sitting in waiting rooms and starting the sad business of putting the deck and yard in shape for the winter.

Every year it's a guessing game of when to put away the deck furniture. We want to pack up the cushions and rug when they're dry, and we like to do the work when the weather is still mild. On the other hand. we don't want to jump the gun and miss out on last gorgeous fall days.

What I Listened to Last Week

Review: The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas (audiobook)The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas (Flatiron, Aug. 29): Wolas's debut novel contains stories within a story. We meet Ashby, a twenty-something world-famous short story author who vows never to marry or have children. She, of course, does both, burying her writer side while her two boys grow up and her husband becomes a renown eye surgeon. When her sons are finally grown, she experiences a betrayal that sends her to India, where she rediscovers her passions. The main plot line is interrupted by Joan's short stories and how those works affect her or her readers. We also read parts of her novels, which she writes in secret, hiding the manuscripts from her husband and sons. Although Joan's life story was mildly interesting, I quickly grew tired of her short stories and her reluctance to admit to her family and agent that she was still writing after the birth of her older son. In addition, I didn't really buy what happens to her in India (being vague = no spoilers). The unabridged audiobook (Macmillan Audio; 19 hr, 20 min) was read by Gabra Zackman and Michael Dickes. Zachman met the challenges of this novel quite well, distinguishing among characters, rendering recognizable accents, and signaling the main plot from Joan's work. Dickes performed the few sections told from one of Joan's son's viewpoints. Although his delivery wasn't quite as smooth as Zackman's, he did a fine job. Unfortunately, the narrators couldn't save Resurrection of Joan Ashby for me, and I would have DNF'd it if I weren't listening for a freelance assignment. (More in AudioFile magazine.)

Review: The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman (audiobook)The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman (Knopf Books for Young Readers, Oct. 19): The Belle Sauvage is the first installment of a prequel series to Pullman's famous His Dark Materials trilogy, and oh what a story it was. The book starts when Lyra is a baby and is given to an Oxford priory to be raised in safety by nuns. Malcolm, the tavern keeper's son, sometimes helps the nuns and is almost immediately enthralled with Lyra, though his parent's young employee Alice is less so. Then there are the bad guys (many of whom we meet again when Lyra is older) who want the girl for their own purposes: to kill her? to manipulate the prophecy that says she will change the world? for some undisclosed reason? All we need is the biggest flood in England's history to set up this action-packed, wonderfully written story of how Lyra survives both rising waters and her enemies. I loved seeing the characters in the years before the other books take place, and Malcolm especially stole my heart. If you are a Pullman fan, I promise you will not be disappointed. The unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 13 hr, 7 min) was read by Michael Sheen, who was absolutely brilliant. I loved the emotional layer of his performance: I really felt Malcolm's love, fear, hate, confusion, and curiosity. Sheen also nailed the characters' personalities, from Alice's toughness to Malcolm's father's firm gentleness. But it's in the action scenes that Sheen really excelled. I was on the edge of my seat, spellbound, as I was listening to how Malcolm and Alice protect Lyra from kidnapping, drowning, and starving, all the while fighting floodwaters and trying to find their own strengths. My only complaint: why oh why do I have to wait for the next book in the series? (review copy provided by the publisher)

Notes on Television

  • We watched Tin Star (Amazon), which I found a little too weird for my tastes, although Mr. BFR really liked it. I got tired of the flashbacks, and I didn't totally understand what was going on. The last episode ended on a cliffhanger, so I guess we'll be watching the next season.
  • Ray Donovan has only one more episode to go. Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of the same old things, week after week: generally Mickey or another family member messes up, and Ray tries to make it right. I liked the show better when the main focus was on Ray's work as a Hollywood fixer.
  • Outlander: Finally Claire and Jamie are reunited. I'm not yet wowed by the two characters who play a semi-grownup Fergus and Young Ian, neither of whom look or act like the characters I fell in love with in the books. Granted they had bit parts in the latest episode, still I think it will take me a while to get used to them.

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21 October 2017

Weekend Cooking: The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman

Review: The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy LampmanI don't often read women's fiction, but I couldn't resist giving Peggy Lampman's The Welcome Home Diner a try when offered a copy by TLC Book Tours (run by two women I consider friends). The book takes place in Detroit and centers around two cousins who go into business together not only to fulfill their dream of having a restaurant but also in hopes of helping the city in its drive to survive.

The young women open the diner, with Sam working in the kitchen and Addie taking care of the front of the house. They hire a diverse staff, most of whom are struggling to overcome a troubled past. Sam and Addie and their cooks fill the menu with the food that's important to them: basic Midwest, traditional Polish, and soul food dishes. The Welcome Home Diner is also part of the farm-to-table movement,with most of the ingredients coming from local farmers and its own back-of-restaurant garden.

Outside the restaurant, the cousins and staff contend with a variety of personal issues. In particular, there is drama related to Sam's and Addie's love lives and family relationships and a person who is trying to sabotage the diner. It was easy to root for Addie, though I had mixed feelings about Sam, who seemed a little selfish. (Personal side note: I hated the fact that Addie's live-in boyfriend kept calling her "Baby Girl." Ugh. Addie was in her early thirties and was running a business; Baby Girl really rubbed me the wrong way.)

Although The Welcome Home Diner wasn't exactly the type of book I normally read, I really liked the details about Detroit and Ann Arbor, the diverse characters, and--of course--the food references. I swear I was hungry the entire time I was reading this book: heirloom tomatoes, sweet potato pie, stuffed cabbage, cookies, stews, and fresh herbs and vegetables. Oh my, I was itching to put the book down and get into the kitchen.

More good news: the book ends with several of the recipes mentioned in the story. The stuffed cabbage is a little different from my grandmother's recipe and also different from Mr. BFR's grandmother's recipe. I may have to give it a try--for comparative purposes and research, right?

Finally, I appreciated the main themes of the book: social justice, second chances, urban renewal, friendships, and good food.

If you like women's fiction and you're looking for an enjoyable book for a lazy Saturday afternoon that has great food references, then you should pick up The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman. I noticed several Weekend Cooking participants are also reading this novel, so I can't wait to see what they thought of the novel, and I'm curious if anyone will make one of Lampman's recipes.

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.

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.

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20 October 2017

7 Books to Diversify Your Reading List

There are myriad ways to diversify your reading. Some people concentrate on books written by people of color; others diversify by topic, looking for stories that offer a perspective different from their own. Still others look for books in translation, which expand their horizons beyond the English-speaking world. No matter how you define diversity, you’ll find a book or two from the seven novels featured today to add to your reading list. Note too that most of these books were published by small presses, which generally champion diverse voices.

  • 7 books to diversify your reading listAs Lie Is to Grin by Simeon Marsalis (Catapult, Oct. 10): A young black man tries to find his place at a predominately white New England university and in America in general, while hiding his true story from his girlfriend back in his native New York City. Diversity themes: author of color, the African American experience
  • A Duplicate Daughter by Randy Nelson (Harvard Square Editions, Oct. 31): A baby is rescued by a poor man after a 1936 earthquake in Mexico only to be re-rescued 12 years later by a wealthy family, leading everyone to question the girl’s true place. Diversity themes: Latin America, social justice
  • The Floating World by C. Morgan Bast (Algonquin, Oct. 17): This much-praised novel follows a mixed-race New Orleans family from preparations for and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Diversity themes: race, mental health.
  • The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha (Oneworld Publications, Oct. 10): In the 1940s, a young Rio de Janeiro woman marries under family pressure, putting her dreams aside until her estranged sister reenters her life and changes everything. Diversity themes: translated from Portuguese, set in Brazil
  • This Is How It Begins by Joan Dempsey (She Writes Press, Oct. 3): Contemporary discrimination against gay teachers, rekindles an elderly art professor’s strong feelings of social justice, exposing her secret past as a member of the Nazi resistance. Diversity themes: LGBTQ, Jewish
  • Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo (Other Press, Oct. 10): The daily lives of three families residing in the same Tel Aviv apartment building provide a cross-sectional look at contemporary middle-class Israel, while exploring the more universal theme of how little we know the people around us. Diversity themes: translated from Hebrew, set in Israel
  • The Vineyard by María Dueñas (Atria, Oct. 3):This saga, set in the mid-1800s, takes readers from Mexico to Cuba, to Spain, as the Larrea family tries to rebuild their fortune and escape scandal. Diversity themes: Spanish-speaking world, slavery

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18 October 2017

Wordless Wednesday 468

Japanese Lantern, 2017

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17 October 2017

Today's Read & Giveaway: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan LindsayImagine you're on a school outing, exploring some famous rock formations with three friends a teacher. When you return to the picnic grounds, however, you are all alone with no recollection of what happened to your companions. Murder, accident, or abduction? Will anyone ever discover the truth?

Everyone agreed that the day was just right for the picnic to Hanging Rock--a shimmering summer morning warm and still, with cicadas shrilling all through breakfast from the loquat trees outside the dining-room windows and bees murmuring above the pansies bordering the drive. Heavy-headed dahlias flamed and drooped in the immaculate flowerbeds, the well-trimmed lawns steamed under the mounting sun. Already the gardener was watering the hydrangeas still shaded by the kitchen wing at the rear of the College. The boarders at Mrs Appleyard's College for Young Ladies had been up and scanning the bright unclouded sky since six o'clock and were now fluttering about in the holiday muslins like a flock of excited butterflies. Not only was it a Saturday and the long awaited occasion of the annual picnic, but Saint Valentine's Day, traditionally celebrated on the fourteenth of February by the interchange of elaborate cards and favours. All were madly romantic and strictly anonymous--supposedly the silent tributes of lovesick admirers; although Mr Whitehead the elderly English gardener and Tom the Irish groom were almost the only two males to be so much as smiled at during the term.
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (Penguin Classics, 2017, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: 1900, Mount Macedon area, Victoria, Australia
  • Circumstances: On a school outing, three girls and a teacher disappear without a trace while hiking at Hanging Rock. Several people enter a dreamlike state after ascending the rocks, and other members of the school community are forever changed by the events of that February day. The search for the missing women and the mystery of what happened consumes the bulk of the novel.
  • Genre: mystery, classic
  • Things to know: The book is written in a way that makes readers wonder if the events described are based on fact or fiction (the author adds the note: "Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction, my readers must decide for themselves"). A movie based on the book was released in 1975, and a television mini-series is supposed to air this year, on the 50th anniversary of the book's publication.
  • Hanging Rock culture: Fans of the book are said to visit the Hanging Rock area, where they search for landmarks mentioned in the novel. Even the visitor center is supposed to perpetuate the story of the missing girls and, in particular, of Miranda, one of the students who vanished into the rocks. Other groups have protested that the significance of Hanging Rock to Aborigine history has been overshadowed by the book and are working hard to restore the truth.
  • The missing chapter: According to several websites, Lindsay's editor decided to cut the original final chapter, which is supposed to present a different perspective on what happened at Hanging Rock. That chapter was later published as a standalone, after the author's death.
The Giveaway

Thanks to the nice people at Penguin Books, I can offer one of my readers a copy of the Penguin Classic, 50th Anniversary edition of Joan Lindsay's Picnic at Hanging Rock. 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 via a random number generator on October 24. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll delete all personal information from my computer. Good luck.

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16 October 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: It Was a Slow, Slow Week

Slow Reading WeekI had a very slow reading week because I was working hard to be able to take time off to spend a long weekend with my mom. I manged to finish only one audiobook and didn't finish any print books or ebooks.

Oh well. Family is more important than books. We had a great time doing some fun things as well as getting my mother's house and yard ready for winter. We cooked and baked, watched some football, and generally gabbed and visited.

I don't think I missed the books at all.

Review: Paradise Lodge by Nina StibbeParadise Lodge by Nina Stibbe (Little, Brown; July 2016): I really liked Stibbe's Man at the Helm so I don't know why I waited to read this follow-up. Set in 1977, Lizzie Vogel, now at the ripe old age of fifteen, is fully aware she can't always count on adults to know how to handle everyday life, let alone upheaval. Although she's hardly qualified, Lizzie snags a job in a rundown convalescence home for the elderly, happy to finally have her own money to buy fancy cosmetics and other teen necessities. The trouble is, however, she's supposed to be in school studying for her O levels, not working extra shifts at Paradise Lodge. Between making sketchy deals with the school authorities and contending with her eccentric mother and uncertainty at home, Lizzie finds herself becoming invested in the rest home's community: There are secrets to keep, love affairs to discover, kidnappings to thwart, and surprising twists to people's lives and deaths. What a fun, quirky coming-of-age story. You don't have to have read the first book to love Paradise Lodge, but why miss out on all things Lizzie? I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 9 hr, 14 min), which was read by Helen Baxendale, who did a great job highlighting Lizzie's personality and distinguishing among the characters. I particularly loved the way she handled the humor, never foreshadowing or leading me, but letting me appreciate the fun all on my own. Highly recommended in either medium.

I'll leave you with a photo of the riverside, where my family had drinks one night. It's crazy that it was warm enough to sit outside in northern Ohio on an October evening.

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14 October 2017

Weekend Cooking: James Beard: America's First Foodie (documentary)

Reveiw: James Beard: America's First Foodie (documentary)James Beard is a household name in America and likely around the world. Many people know his name because the most prestigious culinary awards are named after him. In fact, to be a James Beard winner is one of the highest honors a chef, food writer, or restaurateur could ever hope for.

So why is there a James Beard Foundation? Who was he as a man and as "America's Food Foodie"? Tune in to your PBS television station and watch the American Masters episode that focuses on how Beard stopped seeing himself as a struggling actor and began the journey to finding his star in the culinary world.

The "Chefs Flight" series currently consists of four documentaries. each focusing on a different pioneering chef. Although the series was launched in the spring, I started watching only this week.

James Beard: America's First Foodie follows the "Dean of American Cooking" from his childhood in Portland, Oregon, where his food senses were first awakened by his mother, a well-known and respected local cook. Even in the first decades of the 20th century, the city had a large farmers' market, and it was there Beard developed an appreciation for quality ingredients.

Despite his love of food, Beard originally wanted to be either an opera singer or an actor. Even though he appeared in some plays and a movie, he struggled to make ends meet. Beard loved the social life in New York, and cocktail parties ruled the nightlife in the post-Prohibition era. He attended many a party because he was a safe escort for married women, when their husbands were unavailable. He became, as he is quoted saying in America's First Foodie, a kind of "gastronomic gigolo."

Reveiw: James Beard: America's First Foodie (documentary)Beard loved the parties, but hated the food served at those prewar gatherings, and thus he was inspired to start his own catering business. Once he became known as a cook, he never looked back.

He was revolutionary in many ways and is credited with pioneering the farm to table movement, many decades before it caught on with restaurateurs and the American public. He was the first television chef. Beard was also one of the first famous American male cooks and changed postwar American cuisine from recipes that started with "take a can of cream of mushroom soup" to cooking with real food and from scratch.

James Beard: America's First Foodie contains vintage photos and film and interviews with people who knew Beard, took classes from him, or were influenced by him. The film isn't all serious though, and we learn some fun gossip too. It also spotlights Beard's generosity, his support of his friends, his kindness to his fans, and his part in making sure programs like Meals on Wheels were successful.

I'm looking forward to seeing the other documentaries in the Chefs Flight series, which introduce us to Julia Child, Alice Waters, and Jacques Pépin. For more on the American  Master programs and to find a place to watch James Beard:America's First Foodie, visit your local PBS station's website or check out the American Masters website directly.

Here's the trailer for the James Beard episode. (Note: photos were supplied with the series press kit.)

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.

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.

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13 October 2017

9 Nonfiction Books to Read Right Now

No matter where you live, October is a time for changing seasons. For me, the days are noticeably shorter, and I'm looking forward to cool evenings curled up with a book. This week I'm expanding my horizons by gaining new perspectives on humanity and learning more about life in other places and other times. The 9 books I feature today are exemplary of the outstanding nonfiction available in your bookstore right now.

What It Means to Be Human

9 nonfiction books to read in October
  • Admissions by Henry Marsh (Thomas Dunne, Oct. 3): A well-respected retired neurosurgeon examines his career with grace and style. Marsh provides a broad perspective by sharing not only his tenure in Britain's top hospitals but also his experiences as a volunteer in much poorer countries with few medical resources.
  • The Origins of Creativity by Edward O. Wilson (Liveright, Oct. 8): A Pulitzer Prize-winning evolutionary biologist looks at the intersection of the humanities and biology to explore the importance of creativity in the evolution of Homo sapiens. Wilson looks to our distant past and also offers his thoughts on how we can protect our planet's future.
  • On Living by Kerry Egan (Riverhead, Oct. 25): A compassionate hospice chaplain shares the life lessons she learned while tending to the dying. Egan writes that surprisingly few patients wanted to talk about God, instead finding meaning and purpose in their relationships with family and friends.
Insights into Other Lives

9 nonfiction books to read in October
  • Code Girls by Liza Mundy (Hachette, Oct. 10): A well-known journalist give thousands of women their rightful place among the American heroes of World War II. Mundy introduces us to the young female recruits who spent the war years breaking enemy codes, testing U.S. codes, and providing vital intelligence to the military.
  • Blood Brothers by Deanne Stillman (Simon & Schuster, Oct. 24): An award-winning author delves into the deep friendship between Sitting Bull, a Lakota Indian, and William Cody, the owner of the famous Wild West Show. Stillman focuses on the lives of the two men in the years after the Little Big Horn, placing their actions in the broad context of Native American rights both then and now.
  • The Six by Laura Thompson (Picador, Oct. 3): A freelance journalist gives us the inside scoop on the famous Mitford sisters. Thompson not only tells us the gossipy stories of the young women but notes how their very diverse lives reflected the changing British and European landscape surrounding the war years. (Note: not new, but new in paperback.)
Investigating Issues

9 nonfiction books to read in October
  • A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo (Hachette, Oct. 3): An on-site reporter provides a firsthand and personal account of devastating conflicts in four African countries. Okeowo reports on a small group of inspiring individuals who suffered and survived extremist violence and who are now trying to end further tragedy in their respective homelands. 
  • Wild Horse Country by David Philipps (Norton, Oct. 10): A Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist explores the history of the wild horse from its introduction by Spanish explorers to its hallowed place in the American imagination. Most important though, Philipps exposes the precariousness of the mustang's future in the ever-diminishing public lands of the west.
  • Death in the Air by Kate Winkler Dawson (Hachette, Oct. 17): A documentary film producer / journalist looks at the two active killers of 1952 London's harrowing winter of death. Dawson tracks the effects of the tens of thousands of deaths caused by a five-day noxious smog and the half dozen victims of a presumed serial killer, who was on the loose in the crippled city.

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11 October 2017

Wordless Wednesday 467

Fall Tracks, 2017

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09 October 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Novels to Get Lost In

3 Novels to Get Lost InHappy Monday and welcome back to summer. It's been hot and sunny around here, which is one of those love it / hate it kind of things. I'm not sorry to have a few more days reading on the deck, but it's October -- where's my beloved fall weather?

Other than work, I've been gearing myself up for a major book culling. Twice a year or so, I go through my stacks and make sane decisions about which books  I still want to read or feature and which ones would be better off finding a new home.

No matter how selective I try to be when it comes to books, my eyes are always bigger than my available time. Drat that pesky job!

What I Read Last Week

Review: Warcross by Marie LuWarcross by Marie Lu (Putnam, Sept. 12): You might recall that I wasn't sure about this science fiction, techie novel (Kirkus called it "cyber punk") after the first chapter or so, but I'm glad I stuck with it. In the not-so-distant future, the world is so caught up in the virtual reality game Warcross that tournaments become major global events, complete with underground gambling and hacking. When security (both online and in real life) becomes an issue, the developer of the game hires a struggling bounty hunter to help him find the bad guy. Our hero is Emika Chen, who jumps at the chance to prove her coding skills and climb out of poverty. You don't have to be a big gamer to root for Emika, to get caught up in the action, and to try to figure out all the plot twists. The book ends with the promise for more Emi stories to come. The unabridged audiobook (Listening Library, 11 hr, 46 min) was read by Nancy Wu, who did a great job projecting Emi's emotions and pulling me into the fast-paced world of the game. Her accents and pronunciations seemed believable to me, and I really loved the way she captured Emi's personality. I'm already looking forward to the next audiobook in this series. (Thanks to the publisher for review copy.)

Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. SanchezI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (Knopf, Oct. 17): Let me start off by telling you to put this book on your reading list right now. Julia (pronounced the Mexican way), has always felt misunderstood by her family, but when her older sister, Olga--the good daughter--dies in an accident, the teenager feels her different-ness ever more strongly. This powerful novel, told through Julia's voice, explores many important themes, especially teenage depression. Many of Julia's issues stem from her strong desire to leave home, go to college, and become a writer, all of which seem impossible because her parents are extremely poor and are undocumented immigrants. What's more, she knows she could never live up to Olga's standards, even if she wanted to. In an effort to connect more closely with her late-sister, Julia looks through her belongings and discovers she didn't know Olga at all. Sanchez explores sisters, mother-daughter relationships, depression, poverty, the pull of cultural traditions, the conflict of telling the truth vs. protecting those we love, and more. The book ends with a list of resources for troubled youth. The unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 9 hr, 41 min) is brilliantly read by Kyla Garcia, who nails Julia's complex emotions. Garcia also wonderfully delivers the needed teenage inflections and easy use of slang and swearing. The accents, including the Spanish, flow smoothly, and help create Julia's world. I loved this book and will be thinking about it for a long time to come. (Thanks to the publisher for review copy)

Review: Etched on Me by Jenn CrowellEtched on Me by Jenn Crowell (Washington Square Press, Feb. 2014): The beauty of book clubs is that they encourage you to read books you never would have picked up. This novel, loosely based on a true story, is a case in point. Sixteen-year-old Lesley escapes her sexually abusive father and delivers herself to the British version of child services for protection and help. We follow Lesley's dark journey as she tries to deal with and move past the nightmares of her family life, all the while coping with the British legal system and various government institutions. The book begins and ends with her fight, at the age of twenty-two, to keep her infant daughter, who was taken away moments after her birth because the system decided Lesley's past mental health issues would make her an unfit mother. I have no firsthand experience with any of Lesley's issues, but I felt Crowell presented the difficulties Lesley faced and her efforts to find help in a realistic manner. Her relationships with her friends and mentors were also believable. Although eventually redemptive, it's a heartbreaking story that drums home the need for advocacy for survivors of abuse and the need to remove the stigma for mental health issues. You can find a reading group guide at the Simon & Schuster website.

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07 October 2017

Review: The Artful Baker by Cenk Sonmezsoy

Review: The Artful Baker by Cenk SonmezsoyIt's the dream of many a food blogger to someday catch the attention of a publishing company and write a cookbook. That's the quick story of Cenk Sonmezsoy, who went from food blogger at Cafe Fernando to author of The Artful Baker (Abrams Books), which will be in stores on October 17.

Of course Sonmezsoy's story is more complicated and interesting than that. First, he was not a kid who grew up dreaming of becoming a baker, and second, he's worked long and hard to gain the recognition he clearly deserves.

Thanks to the good people at Abrams and my participation in the Abrams Dinner Party, I've had a chance to look through (and bake from) this amazingly gorgeous cookbook. The Artful Baker is perfectly titled: The book is printed on heavy, semi-gloss paper and is full of stunning photographs that show off the beauty of Sonmezsoy's baked goods and phenomenal photography skills (see the lacy brownies and picture-perfect tart--photos are from the book).

Review: The Artful Baker by Cenk SonmezsoyI freely admit that my first reaction was, I'm way too lazy to bake from this book. Good thing I decided to give The Artful Baker a chance because the recipes are absolutely doable in your home kitchen. If you're lacking confidence, then take a moment to read the introduction, in which Sonmezsoy will convince you that homemade croissants can indeed find their way to your breakfast table. Then turn to the final chapter to learn about ingredients and equipment.

Although I'm sure my chocolate cake wouldn't be as pretty as the one shown on the cover of The Artful Baker, I'm positive I could successfully bake that cake and that it would be delicious. I have a ton of recipes marked to try: hazelnut and caramel cookies, pistachio decked brownies, sour cherry and almond upside down cake, roasted strawberry ice cream, and triple raspberry and lemon cake.

Review: The Artful Baker by Cenk SonmezsoyI think I'm going to have to amp up my exercise routine because I truly could bake my way through this entire book.

The recipes themselves are easy to follow and include both standard measures and weights. So far, I haven't found any inaccessible ingredients, even in my small town. I love that each recipe in The Artful Baker includes storage advice, so you know whether you need to refrigerate leftovers and whether you can bake ahead. I also enjoyed reading the recipe introductions, learning about the origin of a dessert or discovering more about Sonmezsoy himself.

So far, I made the rosemary and sea salt focaccia and the orange and poppy seed olive oil cake (really a loaf). Both were excellent and I plan to make them again. (Photos are mine--clearly I need to add variety to my food photo setups!)

Review: The Artful Baker by Cenk SonmezsoyWhatever your skill level, I think you'll find something yummy to bake from Cenk Sonmezsoy's The Artful Baker. You might make the savory whole wheat Pullman bread or the tomato tart or you might turn right to the brownie and cookie chapter. In either case, don't forget to check out the back of the book, where you'll find family-friendly drinks, jams, and master recipes.

The Artful Baker would make a wonderful holiday gift for your favorite baker, but don't forget to buy a second book for yourself too. My own copy is going in my permanent collection . . . just as soon as I bake all those recipes I've flagged.

Review: The Artful Baker by Cenk SonmezsoyIf you're a fan of Sonmezsoy's Cafe Fernando blog, you may be wondering if the Artful Baker contains anything you haven't seen before. I can assure you almost all the recipes are new, with the exception of a few updated all-time favorites. If you're unfamiliar with Sonmezsoy's writing style and masterful photography, be sure to visit his blog, where you can also find some great recipes.

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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05 October 2017

8 New Novels for Teens and Tweens

If you like young adult and middle grade fiction, then you're going to love October. I have a number of good books on my radar, some of which have already been generating critical praise and high anticipation (for example, Maggie Stiefvater's All the Crooked Saints and Nic Stone's Dear Martin). The 8 books I feature here may have escaped your notice, but I recommend adding them to your fall reading list.

  • 8 New Novels for Teens and TweensThe Breathless by Tara Goedjen (Delacorte, Oct. 10): This Southern Gothic debut is set in two time periods and involves a missing girl and family secrets. Reviewers note the elements of dark magic and the story's skin-crawling creep factor. Perfect for Halloween reading. (young adult)
  • Calling My Name by Liara Tamani (Greenwillow, Oct. 24): Part coming-of-age story, part social commentary, this novel follows Taja, the middle child of a conservative African American family, as she navigates high school while balancing her family's wishes against new opportunities and friendships. Reviewers have loved this debut set in Houston, Texas. (young adult)
  • Nevermoor: The Trials Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Little, Brown, Oct. 31): From birth, Morrigan was cursed to die on her 11th birthday, but before she meets her doom, she is spirited off to a magical world, where she's invited to attend a special academy and can stay to live a long life . . . if she manages to pass a series of initiation tests. This exciting first in a new fantasy series has earned several starred reviews. (middle grade)
  • The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea (Delacorte, Oct. 3): The students in Mrs. Wood's sixth grade class are in a tizzy, not only do they have to work hard to please their parents, coaches, and tutors but the mandated standardized tests are coming up. Can students and teachers pull together to get through this stressful year? Another winner from the author of the Mr. Terupt books. (middle grade)
  • 8 New Novels for Teens and TweensSnow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin (Random House, Oct. 10): Based on the classic Grimm's fairy tale about Snow White and Red Rose, this reworked story focuses on the sisters' relationship and the creatures and magic that inhabit the woods surrounding their hidden cottage, where they live with their mother. The book is beautifully illustrated with the author's paintings. (middle grade)
  • Strange Lies by Maggie Thrash (Simon Pulse, Oct. 17): Set in a boarding school, this mystery / thriller focuses on three teens who are intent on investigating a science fair accident (or was it?) that disfigured a fellow student. Broader social issues (including the racial divide) and dark humor round out the novel. (young adult)
  • The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial, Oct. 3): Ada, recovering from an operation that corrected her congenital clubfoot, is sent to live with her aunt in the English countryside to escape the Blitz. There, Ada deals with her losses, finds new beginnings, and discovers her inner strength. Issues of disabilities, mental abuse, prejudice, and death underlie this beautifully written coming-of-age story that will have wide appeal. Although the second Ada novel, this much-praised book can be read as a standalone.
  • We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards (Sourcebooks Fire, Oct. 3): This spooky paranormal thriller is about two troubled teens, each with mental health issues, who together must overcome the demons of a haunted bridge and their own fears to find peace and perhaps romance. Read this one with the lights on. (young adult)

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04 October 2017

Wordless Wednesday 466

Fall Field, 2017

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02 October 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Good Books, Not So Good Books

3 Books for OctoberFall? Summer? Fall? Summer? ARGHHHH. Please just make up your mind and I'll be able to cope. One day I'm making soup and baking bread, and the next day I'm sitting in the sun in a T-shirt reading a book. I want fall, and I want normal falling temperatures.

Rant over. Sorry. Nothing too much new this week. I've been cooking and baking out of new cookbooks and am looking forward to sharing my opinions in future Weekend Cooking posts.

Meanwhile, I work, I walk, I read. Life is good (despite the weird weather).

What I Read Last Week

Review: We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi CoatesWe Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World, Oct. 3): I thought I knew things. I thought I was well read. I thought my friends had bared their souls. I thought I had an inkling, being both a woman and a born into a discriminated-against religion. In truth, I knew little about the what it means to be black in America. The eight essays included in Coates's new book have been published before but are made new again through his foreword and epilogue, through his introductions to each piece, and via our collective hindsight since Barack Obama left the White House. I've come to the quite reasonable conclusion that pretty much everything in the United States is about race, particularly about issues surrounding black Americans, although other people of color, women, and non-Christians can relate to much of what Coates writes about. Still, the full range of problems, from women's issues to the Civil War, the penal system, the lack of universal healthcare, the housing and loan industry, and the current attitude of turning your back on your less-fortunate neighbors all have some roots in racism, regardless of what history books and trusty-worthy news outlets tell you. Read these essays for the first time or again. Think about what Coates has to say. Read these essays another time. Talk, talk, talk to people. Buy a copy of We Were Eight Years in Power for everyone you know. I'm an evangelist. I'm not saying Coates's opinions are the only ones or that he is some sort of god who knows it all; what I am saying is that he offers insight you may not be getting anywhere else. Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 13 hr, 38 min) is read by Beresford Bennett. My full audiobook review will be available through AudioFile magazine, but let me simply say here that this is a book to read. I was disappointed in Bennett's performance and can't recommend this title in audio.

Review: The Burning Girl by Claire MessudThe Burning Girl by Claire Messud (Norton, Aug. 29): Two girls, Cassie and Julia, are inseparable from nursery school to the start of seventh grade. Is it the new middle school, raging hormones, diverging interests, or something deeper that drives the girls apart? This is the story of a childhood friendship and what happens when that relationship is undermined by maturity and outside circumstances. I enjoyed the book, which is told in retrospective by a teenage Julia, but I didn't love it. I found it difficult to invest the girls' lives and thought the more mysterious parts of the novel weren't all that mysterious, thanks to too much foreshadowing. I don't think every plot line in a book must be tied up neatly by the final page, but a major issue that may or may not have influenced Cassie's life decisions remained unresolved, leaving readers dangling. Note that The Burning Girl received at least one starred review and was an Indie Next pick, so you may have a better experience than I had. Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Recorded Books; 6 hr, 38 min) was read by Morgan Hallett, who did a fine job. Her performance was unobtrusive, although not spectacular (for more see AudioFile magazine). If you want to give the novel a try in audio, don't hesitate.

Review: The Long Count by JM GulvinThe Long Count by JM Gulvin (Faber & Faber; Sept. 26): I like books set in the west and have an interest in the Texas Rangers, so this first in a new series featuring John Q, a 20th-century ranger caught my attention. The novel--part mystery, part thriller--is set in the late 1960s, during the height of the Vietnam War protests. I like the time period because John, a Korean War veteran and godson to the ranger who brought down Bonnie and Clyde, can't rely on modern-day technology. His car radio can be full of static, he has to look for pay phones, there's no GPS, and research is done via phone calls. Fortunately, our hero has been well trained, not only as a ranger but also as a tracker. He's also observant and can read crime scene clues like few others. John's territory is in northeastern Texas, along the Red River, and you get a good sense of the environment: open spaces, tiny towns, and law-enforcement departments with few resources. Gulvin provides good period details, and the dialogue is believable, making it easy to envision the characters. The Long Count isn't a perfect novel, though, and I have some questions about whether the ending holds up 100 percent. Still, I liked John Q and the people in his support circle and am looking forward to more entries in the series. If you like intense, twisty mystery/thrillers and/or novels set in the west, you'll enjoy The Long Count. (Review copy provided by the publicist)

To Give Up or Not to Give Up?

I'm currently listening to Warcross by Marie Lu and read by Nancy Wu (Listening Library). The story is not fully clicking for me, so I'm not sure I'm going to stick with it. Wu's performance is just fine, and I have no complaints on that account. I think the problem is I'm not a big gamer and, well, a big game is at the heart of this novel. On the other hand, I just got to the first turning point in the story, so I feel I have to listen to at least one more scene.

I started reading Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart (Delacourte), which I featured last week. I like the premise and set up, but I'm not getting swept up into the main character's life and deceits. I've read the first two chapters and am not feeling a strong urge to go on. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to say good-bye.


If you like stand-up comedy, then you shouldn't miss Jerry Seinfeld's "Jerry before Seinfeld," which is available through Netflix. In this Netflix original, Seinfeld revisits his roots and talks about his childhood, reveals his first two successful jokes, and performs both familiar and new bits. Get ready to laugh out loud.

And, in case you missed the ads: the new season of Poldark started last night!!!! YAY.

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