30 December 2017

Weekend Cooking: My New Favorite Cookbook & More

Welcome to the last Weekend Cooking of the year. I don't know about you, but I'm spending the weekend cooking and cleaning in preparation for our annual New Year's Eve dinner with close friends. (Read: I may be slow visiting your blogs this weekend.)

Right before I started writing this post, I took some time to skim through all my Weekend Cooking posts from 2017 and was happy to be reminded of all the good things that go on in my food life, from useful cookbooks to interesting documentaries and fun foodie novels.

My New Favorite Cookbook. One of the best things that happened to me in 2017 was being invited to be part of the Abrams Dinner Party. I've really enjoyed having the opportunity to share some truly good cookbooks and recipes with you (here and on Twitter and Litsy), and I've also liked getting to know the other dinner party participants. We've been having fun sharing our cooking and baking experiences.

As I was reviewing my year in food posts, I realized I never wrote about my new favorite cookbook, The Dinner Plan by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion. I discovered this book as part of the Abrams program, and although I've tweeted about the book on several occasions, apparently I never mentioned it on my blog.

Take a look at the photo above and you'll see how many recipes I have marked to try. One of the other Abrams Dinner Party participants says she's on a mission to make every single recipe in the book. Why do we love it so much? The recipes are close to foolproof, the flavors are spot-on, and the directions are easy to follow and use common ingredients. Plus, we love the focus of the cookbook, which is revealed in the subtitle: "Simple Weeknight Recipes and Strategies for Every Schedule."

I'm not going to write up a formal review, but if you're looking for delicious, fast, easy recipes for everyday cooking, this is your book. The Dinner Plan has barely left my kitchen table and has become my immediate go-to source when I start working on my own weekly dinner plan. (Both photos are meals I made from this book.)

The Year Ahead. When I started the Weekend Cooking link-up in October 2009, I had no idea that I'd still be hosting all these years later. It's kind of surprising that I can still come up with a post every week, even after 423 Saturdays!

One guideline I made for myself when I started Weekend Cooking was to try to keep it upbeat and fun. This means that I rarely write about books and cookbooks that were total duds for me; instead I focus on the books that have merit.

Not every cookbook is for me, but if the recipes are solid and the other information is useful and accessible, then I'll review the book. I try to remember to include a "recommendation" line with every review, indicating the best audience for the cookbook, so you can make a decision about whether it may have a place in your kitchen.

Is anything going to change here on Weekend Cooking? Nope. I like the variety of posts I write for the meme, and I love, love, love reading all the different posts you all share: photos, travel, reviews, recipes, chitchat, gadgets -- I look forward to reading every single one of your posts.

Here's to another 52 weeks of Weekend Cooking! I hope you continue to share your culinary adventures and more with us in the year to come.
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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29 December 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Year in review at Beth Fish ReadsGood-bye 2017, you can't be over too quickly. What a year for stressful news and deaths of musicians and writers, but it also brought me new opportunities and women the empowering #MeToo movement. I would like to think that next year will be calmer, but I know better.

Instead of giving you my year's stats (my review index is stuck on April 2017 as I write this post) or coming up with top 10 lists, I'm going to talk about how Beth Fish Reads flowed and changed during the year and what you can expect in the months to come.

Blogging in 2017

Here's a quick break-down of changes in my blogging life of last year.

  • Reviews: The biggest change here at Beth Fish Reads has been the nature and timing of my book reviews. I haven't lost my interest in writing about the books I've read, but I have lost my energy for writing formal reviews, one book at a time. I've grown to love my new format of one-paragraph reflections on each book I've read (or listened to), posted every Monday. Sometimes I gush, sometimes I'm critical, but you get my thoughts without a long analysis or creative plot summary. This suits me and gives you a good snapshot.
  • Year in review at Beth Fish ReadsAudiobooks: As many of you know, I'm now a contributing editor for AudioFile magazine, which means that besides writing reviews I also write for the magazine's blog, posting every other Wednesday. My posts, under the column "Take 5 with Candace," have two forms: (1) a feature of 5 audiobooks that are linked in some way (such as celebrating the season or covering a similar topic) or (2) a 5-question interview with an audiobook narrator. I encourage to click over to read my posts, and while you're there, check out the other posts on the AudioFile blog.
  • Weekly Round-Up: One thing I loved doing last year was posting a round-up on Thursday or Friday of almost every week. I focus on featuring recent books that caught my attention, and the lists often have a theme. The posts not only help me keep track of my reading list but also let me share some exciting titles with you. Although I truly hope to read many of the books I highlight in my round-ups, time usually gets the better of me.
  • Social Media: Sigh. What to say. The stresses of the year made me a social media lurker most of the year.
Goals for 2018: A Milestone Year

In the coming year, I'll hit a lot of blogging milestones, including my 10th blogging anniversary and my 500th Wordless Wednesday photo. I have no intention of quitting blogging (she says today), but I'm looking forward to meeting these goals. Once I do, I'll see how I feel about making sure I never miss a day or week. Here are some thoughts on next year.
  • Year in review at Beth Fish ReadsStats: I really hope to keep my review index up to date. I've slipped behind, and I'm not happy about that. I also would like to keep better track of the sources of my books (pitched, requested, bought, borrowed) and would like to remember to send links to the publishers, NetGalley, and Edelweiss. I'm really bad.
  • General blogging rhythm: I expect to make no major changes.
  • Movies: I used to review a lot more movies, and I'd like to start doing that again, perhaps adding some TV series as well. As in the past, I'll likely concentrate on films and shows available through streaming services and premium channels.
  • General reading goals: Or rather my lack of reading goals! Because my work life is filled with deadlines, I like to keep my reading life flexible. I've always been interested in reading newly released (or about to be released) books, mixed with trying to catch up on all the series I've started in the past. I may make 2018 the Eve Dallas year and attempt to read or listen to the 20 or so books I'm behind. As last year, I want to continue to read books in translation and add more short story collections to my list.
  • Non-book posts: I have a few (not many!) ideas for some general posts, similar to my "Life as an Audiobook Junkie" post of a couple of weeks ago. For example, after struggling for almost 3 years with the idea of bullet journaling, I think I've finally found a method that works for me. Because my journal setup is unconventional, I thought you might be curious to see how adaptable the system can be.
  • Social Media: I hope to make a comeback! My thoughts are this: I'm just going to post and tweet as if it were 2016. If I bring a little joy back to social media, then maybe my friends will follow suit. I've also started reintroducing my periodic Twitter book nights, during which I share the more exciting books that landed on my doorstep. Stay tuned.

Do you have any goals for the new year?

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27 December 2017

Wordless Wednesday 478

Cemetery, 2017

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26 December 2017

Today's Read: Revelation by Carter Wilson

Revelation by Carter WilsonWhat if your very life, and maybe that of your girlfriend, depended on your ability to tell a story? When Harden awakes on the dirt floor of a cell, apparently kidnapped by his psychopath college roommate, he realizes that's exactly what he's going to have to do.

Harden opened his eyes to blackness just as something began crawling into his mouth.

He slapped at his lips, bringing a brilliant flash of pain to an injury already there. He turned his head and spit twice into the dark, into the dank space surrounding him, hoping to eject whatever creature was reaching into his mouth. Spider. Cockroach.

More pain, not just from his mouth. His face. Chest. Ribs.
Revelation by Carter Wilson (Oceanview, 2017, opening lines)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: 1990s
  • Circumstances: Harden wakes up in a dark cell, after having been kidnapped by his megalomaniac college roommate. He finds a typewriter and a stack of paper with the instructions "Tell me a story" written on the first sheet. Harden interweaves his desperate writing with remembering how he met Coyote and how the deranged young man created a new religion and developed a cult following. But how can Harden know if his story will lead to his release and save the life of his girlfriend?
  • Genre: thriller bordering on horror
  • Themes: kidnapping, college, survival, cult religions
  • Why I want to read this: Honestly, I'm not quite sure why I decided to put this novel on my list. I don't often do well with scary, and the thought of being kidnapped by someone I know is pretty terrifying. I think I was drawn to the book by the praise it's been getting for the writing style, character development, and unique plot.
  • What reviews have said: Publisher's Weekly gave the novel a starred review, concluding that the author "infuses his terrifying plot with intricate twists and turns, all totally credible." The Big Thrill praises Wilson for taking readers into the characters' dark world.
  • A bit about the author: Wilson has won many mystery / suspense / thriller awards for his previous books and has another new book coming out from Sourcebooks in February 2018.

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25 December 2017

Merry Christmas to All Who Celebrate

Stay tuned for book reviews and more later this week.

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23 December 2017

Weekend Cooking: An End of Year List of Lists

Weekend Cooking: A List of Food Lists for 2017Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. Today's post is going to be short and sweet because I'm assuming most of you are involved with last-minute holiday prep. My big plans for the day are to bake and finish wrapping the gifts.

I know many families have traditions for their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. From a feast of the seven fishes to all-American turkeys to British roast goose or beef. Our only tradition is that I let Mr. BFR dictate the main course for Christmas Eve. This year he asked for steak.

Ha! I say. That means he's doing the main cooking (grilling), and there is little clean up. I had no objections! My biggest job will be baking a boozy cake (likely a rum Bundt cake or maybe a sherry cake). 

Next week, I'm going to sum up 2017 on Weekend Cooking and look ahead to my goals for 2018. This week, thanks to the December holidays, I haven't had time to review a cookbook, watch a good foodie movie, or read a good food-related book. Thus I'm going to leave you with a short list of lists for your reading pleasure this long holiday weekend:

Happy holiday weekend to everyone!
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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22 December 2017

5 Books to Finish Out the Year

As I sat down to write this last round-up post of the year, I was, frankly, at a loss for a theme. I think my creative energies have been channeled to the holidays and my brain power has been engaged with work. In the end, I decided to help myself: What I needed to do was get a clear vision of the December books I still had on my reading list. How many of these I'll actually get to next week with all the holiday craziness is anyone's guess, but I'm going to give it my best shot. Which one would you start with?

Dark Winds Rising by Mark NoceI was quickly drawn in by the idea behind of Dark Winds Rising by Mark Noce (St. Martin's Press, Dec. 5). Set at the turn of the seventh century, the novel is based on a mix of contemporary records and Welsh mythology and tells the story of Queen Branwen who must save her kingdom from a double-headed threat: a Pict invasion from the sea and civil war within. Because this is the second book in the saga, I'll have to also commit to the first installment, Between Two Fires, in which the fictional queen Branwen protects Wales from the Saxons. Reviewers have commented on the good period details, though I'm a little concerned about the level of romance. At the same time, it's hard to resist a series touted as a combination of Mists of Avalon and Game of Thrones.

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif ShafakThree Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak (Bloomsbury, Dec. 5) is set Istanbul on an evening when a wealthy woman, Peri, attends a dinner party during which terrorist outbreaks occur throughout the city. On that same night, she is serendipitously reminded of her university years at Oxford. From what I was told at BookExpo last summer, the novel contrasts the protagonist's younger, freer self in the West with the realities of life in Turkey and addresses feminism, Islam, spirituality, and politics. As well, Peri begins to come to terms with an unresolved issue that's haunted her since she was student. I'm curious how Peri's perceptions of her marriage and lifestyle in Turkey are colored by her experiences in the UK and wonder about her secret.

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif ShafakI can't resist a good domestic thriller, so I said yes to a review copy of Close to Me by Amanda Reynolds (Quercus, Dec. 5). Here's the setup: Jo falls down the stairs and sustains a head injury. When she regains consciousness at the hospital, she realizes she's lost her memory of the entire past year. That would be distressing enough, but her family is deflecting her questions and not helping her remember. Is her husband protecting her from herself or is he the one who has something to hide? I love the kind of story in which it's not always clear who is the good guy and who is the bad one. I'm well aware that the reviews have been mixed--some saying the ending falls apart, others saying the suspense is tight--but I plan to make up my own mind.

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif ShafakI'm totally on the Scandinavian crime bandwagon. Roslund and Hellstrom's Penn 33 (Quercus, Dec. 5) is an award-winning first-in-series set in Sweden. The story itself, focusing on Detective Superintendent Ewert Gren's attempt to recapture an escaped child molester and serial killer, looks rough yet gripping. Besides the cat and mouse chase, I'm also intersted in the authors themselves. Anders Roslund is a former television crime reporter and editor-in-chief of two Swedish new programs. Borge Hellstrom is an ex-convict, who became involved in rehabilitation efforts and crime prevention for "young offenders and drug addicts." With their backgrounds in the darker sides of Sweden, I'm not surprised the DCI Grens novels have won critical acclaim. Most American reviewers have sung the book's praises.

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif ShafakSticking to the thriller theme, I still have The Truth Beneath the Lies by Amanda Searcy (Delacorte Press, Dec. 12) on my reading list. This young adult novel is told through the alternating voices of two teens. Betsy lives in Texas and is simply trying to stay alive. She knows she's being watched, and she knows she has a target on her back. One false move, and she's history. Meanwhile, Kayla lives in Washington, trying desperately to escape her dead-end job and her drug-addicted mother. Despite a feeling of unease, she begins to trust the cute guy who seems to offer her a way out. Pretty much every reviewer has commented on the tight plotting, intense buildup of tension, and grittiness of the story. I want to know how the girls' lives intersect and who is left standing at the end.

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20 December 2017

Wordless Wednesday 477

Winter Garden, 2017

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18 December 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: From Fantasy to Biography; Or My Reading Life

Reading during the Holiday SeasonBaby it's cold outside! Winter is here, even if the calendar says not quite yet. We have snow and the promise of a white Christmas, though there's hardly enough white stuff on the ground to shovel.

We also made enormous progress on our holiday shopping, and I think we're done. Phew. We haven't wrapped anything, but, hey, that's what Christmas Eve is for, right?

All that running around plus two holiday parties meant very little time for reading, though I did manage to finish one book, reread another, ditch one, and start two more.

This Week's Highlight: On Wednesday over on the AudioFile Blog, I will be recommending five good audiobooks for winter solstice listening. Because the kids are likely on school holidays, two of the titles are appropriate for family listening. I hope you take a look.

What I Read Last Week

Review: The City of Brass by S. A. ChakrabortyThe City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager, Nov.): Like many of you, I often shy away from the big-buzz books because they so often fall short of the hype. Not so with The City of Brass. The setting is the Mideast and the time period is likely the turn of the 19th century. The action starts in the streets of Cairo and ends at the magical city of Daevabad, the city of brass where only those with djinn blood may enter. Our protagonist is Nahri, a 20-year-old orphan who has no knowledge of her family or background and who supports herself by attempting to heal the sick and by reading fortunes, with a little swindling and thieving on the side. During a ceremony in which she is pretending to perform a kind of exorcism, she inadvertently conjures up a dangerous djinn warrior, and her life is completely flipped.

Based on Mideast folklore and traditions, Nahri's story is full of adventure, magic, politics, danger, friendship, and intrigue. I loved the setting and the beings Nahri meets on her journey. Secretive Dara, is a djinn of many talents whose legendary reputation is either hero or uber-villain, depending on one's family's history. Ali, the second son of Daevabad's ruler, is both a trained warrior and a devout Islam. Muntadhir, brother to Ali, is the heir to the throne and lives for all the pleasures his money and status can buy. Nahri is streetwise in the human world, but how will she fare in the city of brass, where the king takes a special interest in her and claims she is the half-blood daughter of the djinn's most famous healer?

Complex, different, non-Western, adult and the promise of more books to come. Don't hesitate to give The City of Brass a try.

Audiobook notes: I read most of this novel in print, but I listened to the middle third when cooking last week. I enjoyed Soneela Nankani's performance of the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 19 hr, 35 min). I noted good pacing and and distinct voices for the characters. I especially liked hearing the correct pronunciation of the names, beings, and places. Overall, however, Nankani didn't capture my attention enough to prevent my returning to print.

Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanThe Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (Roc, 2016): I love this alternate history, time-bending series in which the librarians of an extra-world library engage in espionage and theft, um, preservation of books that are emblematic or important to each of the different versions of the world. When I received The Lost Plot, the newest installment, which is coming out next month, I thought I'd reread the entire series--this time in audio instead of print (Audible Studios; 10 hr, 31 min). It was fun to start over with the first book in the series and see librarian Irene and her assistant, Kai, at the beginning of their working relationship. I had forgotten some of the details of their adventure in an alternative steampunk London, and the overall story held up well to a second reading. I like both the world building and the characters, and the story is light enough for holiday season reading. Book lovers and librarians should give the series a try.

Audiobook notes: Susan Duerden's performance is enthusiastic but almost too dramatic for my tastes. She creates distinct voices and has good pacing, but I felt as if she were reading to children. The protagonists of the series are absolutely adults and there is some mention of sex, so the juxtaposition of the theatrical reading with some of the text was jarring. I noticed that she narrates all the books in the series, and I'm not quite sure if I'm going to finish my reread in print or audio. Stay tuned.

Thoughts: The Shores of Tripoli: Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates by James L. HaleyThe Shores of Tripoli: Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates by James L. Haley (Putnam, 2016). I loved the Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series (you may have seen the movie Master and Commander based on the books), so thought I'd like Haley's new series, which explores the early days of the U.S. Navy. Set in 1801 in the Mediterranean, the book is full of fascinating details of life aboard a naval vessel and introduces us to pirates, privateers, and European and North African politics. Although I have a paperback, I decided to try the audiobook. Sadly, Paul Boehmer's performance (Penguin Audio; 15 hr, 43 min) didn't work at all for me. I could hear breath noises, and there was something about Boehmer's cadence and earnest delivery that bothered me. I listened for almost 2 hours before returning it to Audible. The story definitely has promise, so I'll continue the book in print, but probably not until after the holidays. There is quite a lot of information dumping at the beginning--basically to set up the complex foundation of the series--which may have been some of the problem with the audio. I'll let you know if I carry on.

What I'm Reading Now

2 books for December reading

I started listening to Felicity Hayes-McCoy's The Library at the Edge of the World, read by Emma Lowe (Dreamscape; 9 hr, 42 min). The story is set in modern times in a remote area of Ireland and is about a woman of a certain age who is taking a chance on new beginnings. I'm enjoying the story and the narration. I also started reading Laura Thompson's The Six (Picador, 2017, paperback). I'm one of those people who's totally fascinated with the Mitford sisters and can't seem to read enough about them (and by them). This new biography is terrific so far.

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16 December 2017

Weekend Cooking: 2 Salads for Your Winter Table

2 Salads for Your Winter TableIt's full-on holiday time here in central Pennsylvania. We've already been to a couple of parties and participated in a Christmas cookie exchange. It truly is a yummy time of year.

You may not equate snow days with salads, but in my house we eat salads for lunch all year round. Of course, the nature of those salads changes with the seasons: tender young lettuce, snow peas, and radishes in the spring; tomato-rich salads in the summer, and heartier salads in the cooler months.

Here are two delicious salads we had this week. One would definitely work for a main dish dinner and the other could also work for a summer picnic. The pictures come from the linked websites (I always forget to take photos!). I've included my thoughts and changes here.

2 Salads for Your Winter TableRoasted Cranberry Squash & Cauliflower Salad (from Eating Well). This salad is a definite keeper, and I know I'll make it a couple more times this winter. Because I served the salad as a side to grilled fish, I didn't include the eggs (shown in the photo), but other than that I followed the recipe exactly.

You start by roasting butternut squash and cauliflower and then add whole (fresh or frozen) cranberries to the vegetables, roasting until they burst. I was worried that the unsweetened cranberries would be too tart, but the flavors were nicely balanced.

The base is escarole, and you add toasted pecans, crumbled blue cheese, and a mustard vinaigrette. We ate the leftovers for lunch for two days. Although not quite as good as it was fresh, the salad held up. Oh, and I'm not quite sure what the eggs would add to the finished dish, but include them by all means if you're so inclined.

2 Salads for Your Winter TableMediterranean Chickpea Salad (from Dashing Dish). Bean salads generally hold up well for lunches, and this was no exception. I'm sure many of you have a similar recipe somewhere in your (virtual) files, and I bet I do too. I tried this mostly because it looked good (and it is!) and I had a printout in my stack of recipes to try.

I made a few changes to the original recipe. First, I didn't use a Roma tomato because, well, it's not tomato season. Grape tomatoes are usually pretty good year round, so that's what went into my dish. I substituted Greek olives for the common black olives shown in the photo and went for full-fat feta instead of low-fat. Finally, I'm not sure why the cucumber is listed with the dressing ingredients, but I cut it up and tossed it into the salad with the other vegetables.

The biggest change I made was to the dressing. I didn't use the yogurt because I forgot to buy it, and I didn't use the stevia because I really didn't want the sweetness. I started with the lemon juice, vinegar, and garlic called for and then whisked in olive oil to taste. I also seasoned the salad with oregano.

To find the recipes, click the links, which will take you to the Eating Well and Dashing Dish websites, or click over to my Pinterest Tried and Liked board.

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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15 December 2017

Life as an Audiobook Junkie

How to become an audiobook junkie Hello, I'm Candace, and I'm an audiobook junkie. There, I've admitted it in public. I'm so addicted I spend about 95 hours each month listening to audiobooks.

Over the years since I discovered the joys of reading with my ears, I can't count the number of times I've been asked about how I find the time to listen to so many books. Today I'll let you in on my secrets.

First I tell you what I don't do. Next I reveal how my home and work situation gives me ample listening time. Then I walk you through a typical week of an audiobook fiend. And finally I provide a couple of tips.

How to become an audiobook junkieHow I listen. Once in a while a fellow audiobook fan will sidle up to me and whisper, "I bet you listen at 1.25 or 1.50 speed, right?" Well, no, I don't, and here's why. Although I can understand the narrator perfectly well when an audiobook is played at 1.25×, I don't like the rushed feel of the performance. I need some time to savor the author's words and think about the story. If the text goes by too quickly, I don't have the same connection to the book and characters as I do when listening at normal speed. What's more, by altering the playback, I lose the nuances of the narrator's performance, which can in turn affect my reaction to the book.

Details of my life. The time I have for audiobooks reflects my unique situation. Here are the key points: no children, supportive and self-amused husband, work from home, and self-employed. If your work or home life is very different from this, you will likely have many fewer listening hours, and this isn't a bad thing. For example, when I'm visiting family, my attention is on them, not on my audiobook.

How to become an audiobook junkieFinding 20+ hours a week for audiobooks. Despite appointments and constant work deadlines, I can usually find a decent amount of time to read with my ears and still have a good relationship with my family and friends. My trick is simple: I listen every moment I can. So what does that mean in real life?

On a typical workday, I manage to find to about an hour of audiobook time over the course of the morning, by listening while I make my coffee, when I'm getting dressed, and during my midday break. After a long afternoon of work, I'm jonesing for my story, so as soon as I turn off the computer, I grab my earbuds and listen while I walk, garden, straighten up the house, or do whatever needs to be done. I go right on listening while I make dinner, which generally gives me a couple hours of uninterrupted audiobook time after work. The total for a normal workweek = 15 hours (5 days × 3 hours)

Unless I have under a half hour left in an audiobook, I won't listen again until the next day. Once we sit down to dinner, I put my audiobook aside; I rarely even think about listening to a book in the evening (really).

How to become an audiobook junkieOn weekends, I generally have a little more than 3 hours a day for my audiobook, broken up into snatched moments, as I get dressed, do chores, engage in hobbies, run errands, go grocery shopping, do yard work, and make dinner. I'm not so far gone that I'll listen to a book instead of spending time with my husband, so my Saturday and Sunday listening usually consists of short segments spread out during the day. Total time for a normal weekend = 7 hours (2 days × 3.5 hours)

So there you have it. Because I have control over the bulk of my own time, I have no trouble devoting 20+ hours a week to audiobooks. Of course, sometimes life gets in the way, and I always put my family first. But other times I'm given a bonus, such as an entire day to myself, when I can get lost in a good story while enjoying one of my hobbies.

Tips. Even if your particular situation differs wildly from mine, you may be surprised by how easy it is to find a few minutes here and there to listen to an audiobook. For example, if you commute, you can listen in the car or train. If you drive your kids to school, you can listen after you drop them off. Other great audiobook times: when you're folding laundry, pulling weeds, waiting at the doctor's office, and working out. Try a family-friendly book on a driving trip or when helping the kids work on a jigsaw puzzle. Take advantage of your free time, and you'll soon be an audiobook addict too.

(Audiobooks shown here are all recommended.)

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13 December 2017

Wordless Wednesday 476

Happy Hanukkah!

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11 December 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Novels to Read Right Now

3 Books to Read in DecemberEvery year I tell myself I'm going to jump right on holiday shopping and decorating so I won't have any last-minute craziness. Ask me how I'm doing this year. Ummm . . . actually, don't ask.

We are totally behind as usual. And as usual we've bought ourselves several things we saw at the stores but have bought almost nothing for family and friends. Ooops.

I didn't seem to have much time to sit down and read last week. I managed to get through two audiobooks and one eBook and made progress on another by combining audio and print.

Last week, I also posted a short round-up of audiobooks linked by their fiery titles over on the AudioFile blog.

What I Read Last Week

Reveiw: A Hundred Small Lessons by Ashley HayI finally got around to listening to A Hundred Small Lessons by Ashley Hay (Simon & Schuster Audio; 8 hr, 49 min). The novel takes place in Brisbane and focuses on two women and one house. Elsie's children move her out of her house of 60 years to assisted living. While trying to adjust to her new surroundings, Elsie remembers the significant moments of her life in the house she shared with her late husband. Lucy and her husband have just moved into Elsie's old house, where Lucy is adjusting to motherhood, life without a job, and living in a new city. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two women's perspectives: They are on opposite ends of family life and each has a unique relationship to the house itself. Although narrator Fiona Hardingham's performance was expressive and engaging, both the story and the audiobook were only okay for me. I didn't relate very well to Lucy, though I've never been in her situation. Elsie made me think about my mother and grandmothers, so that was a positive point. (full audiobook review to be published by AudioFile)

Review: The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter by Michael J. SullivanI couldn't wait to listen to the new Michael J. Sullivan novel, The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter (Audible Studios; 13 hr, 41 min). I have gushed over and over about this adult fantasy series featuring professional thieves Royce and Hadrian. In this outing, they are hired by a wealthy merchant who becomes worried when his daughter, who has married a duke, is reported as missing after her coach is attacked and her companion is left for dead. This new story has all the components I've come to expect from Sullivan: humor, action, battles, intrigue, complex plot, and two of my favorite characters of all time. I truly can't say enough good things about Sullivan's stories and universe. If you like epic adult fantasy you will love these books. Although I think you could possibly start with this new novel, I suggest reading the books either in order of publication or in chronological order of Royce and Hadrian's partnership. Narrator Tim Gerard Reynolds was born to read these books. He perfectly nails the personalities of the characters and the pacing of the story. (full audiobook review to be published by AudioFile)

Review: The War Bride's Scrapbook by Caroline Preston I read The War Bride's Scrapbook by Caroline Preston (Ecco). I just love books that are put together with fun, clever graphics, and Preston is an expert in this format. This is the story of a young woman who meets a soldier in 1943 and marries him just days later, right before he ships out for Europe. The entire story is told through diary entries, letters, postcards, photos, vintage magazine ads, and more. Although many of the challenges faced by Lila and Perry--during the war and after the homecoming--are predictable, the novel sets the mood of the 1940s and tells a universal story lived out by so many thousands of couples across the country and around the globe during World War II. If you've never read a scrapbook novel before, you're in for a treat. There is so much to look at on every page of this book, and it's fun to read a story told through a variety of printed media. The photos and period magazine clippings are wonderful--look at the clothes, the hair, the cars! Plus we see examples of V-mail and newspaper articles, telegrams and movie tickets. Don't miss this one! (review copy provided by the publisher)

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09 December 2017

Weekend Cooking: Healthy Meal Prep by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon

Review: Healthy Meal Prep by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam BannonI love the holiday season. I like the decorations, the parties and celebrations, and—of course—the food. But you know what happens when January rolls around? I’ve pretty much had it and am so, so ready to get back to real life.

The first thing I do once we’ve finished the leftovers from our annual New Year’s Eve dinner party is take hold of our diet. I don’t make resolutions; instead I simply return to sane, healthy eating.

One new cookbook that has me already looking forward to January is Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon’s Healthy Meal Prep (DK, Dec. 12). You may know the pair as the hosts of YouTube’s Fit Couple Cooks.

The couple's goal is to show everyone how easy it is to eat healthfully if you take the time to plan and prep your meals. Totnatore and Bannon should know, they themselves lost weight and improved their fitness by eating the types of meals they share with their many fans.

For Tornatore and Bannon, the trick is all planning ahead, which saves time and money and guarantees they eat well. Healthy Meal Prep compiles all their best tips and tricks plus provides twelve weeks of meal plans. Each plan takes two to three hours to prep and provides a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for a single person. Have more mouths to feed? The authors suggest that you “scale up the recipes as needed or meal prep . . . every few days instead of once a week.”

Review: Healthy Meal Prep by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam BannonEach meal plan includes an equipment list, shopping list, recipes, step-by-step directions for once-a-week cooking, tips, serving instructions, snack suggestions, vegetarian and/or vegan options, and more. There’s a full-color photo of each week’s completed meals, and each four-serving recipe is easy to follow and includes nutrition information.

The meals themselves are nutritionally balanced, are devoid of processed foods, and require no last-minute additions. Many of the dishes are also low carb, vegetarian, and low sugar. What's more, the couple's nutritious tricks are very easy to incorporate into your daily life; for example, their quick-to-make homemade ketchup is sweetened by a couple of dates instead of white sugar.

So what about the meals? Each meal plan provides six breakfasts (all the same) plus four servings each of three main meals (that’s twelve meals), which can be used for lunches or dinners. Breakfasts include make-ahead oatmeal, frittatas, yogurt cups, and pancakes. The main-meal recipes call for common, everyday ingredients to make dishes such as Mediterranean chicken with vegetables and rice, pesto salmon with roasted peppers and quinoa, black bean and lentil nachos with chips and lime, and turkey meatballs with broccoli and polenta (click the image just above to see more).

Each meal comes with assembly instructions and serving tips. So you cook one day and have twelve meals packaged and ready to eat all week. The portion sizes are satisfying for the average person, though you can, of course, adjust as needed for your own tastes.

Who will love this book? Healthy Meal Prep is geared specifically to people who are willing to cook but feel they just don’t have time during the week to put together a nutritious lunch to take to work or to get dinner going once they get home. It would also be perfect for a young person in his or her first apartment and for families with staggered eating times. People who are watching their diet for weight loss or general health can safely eat Tornatore and Bannon's meals. And, finally, I plan to use the book specifically for make-ahead lunches.

Review: Healthy Meal Prep by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam BannonAlthough I encourage motivated cooks to work their way through all twelve weeks of meals, I also strongly encourage people to mix and match the meals according their own situation. Remember, each meal makes four servings, and you can use those meals in a variety of ways.

Are Wednesday nights always a grind? Cook one meal ahead and save it for that midweek madness. Is everyone in your family on a different dinner schedule thanks to meetings, practice, and other activities? No worries; cooking ahead means there will always be a nutritious dinner ready and waiting in the refrigerator.

Cooking for a shut-in, new father, or elderly parents? With the recipes in Healthy Meal Prep and a couple hours of your time, you can be a godsend to a person in need.

Okay, what don't I like? Honestly, I don’t find much to complain about. My only real issue is this: although almost all of the meals can be eaten cold, I think the majority would be tastier heated up. That should be no problem for most workers and for at-home dining, but not everyone has access to a microwave during the day. In addition, experienced cooks may want to borrow Healthy Meal Prep from the library, reading through the tips and types of recipes so they can adapt their own family favorites to once-a-week cooking.

Watch the video to see how much fun Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon have in the kitchen and to get an idea of the types of recipes you’ll find in Healthy Meal Prep.

(Note: all images in this post are from Healthy Meal Prep and are used in the context of this review (any blurriness is totally my fault). All rights remain with the original copyright holder: DK Publishing. Thanks to the publicist for a review copy; all thoughts are my honest opinion.)
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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07 December 2017

AudioFile Magazine's Editor Picks for 2017's Best Audiobooks in Biography & History

AudioFile Magazine's best audiobooks in biography and historyDecember is all about the best-of books--and audiobooks--of the year. This year, I'm happy to be celebrating the best listens in biography and history of 2017 with AudioFile magazine.

The editors of the magazine tapped 12 audiobooks as deserving special recognition in this category. Here, I feature the book covers, give you a hint of what each audiobook is all about, and share some sound samples and videos.

Don't forget to check out AudioFile magazine's review of each winning biography and history audiobook; just click through the title links in the following list. To see all the winners in all the categories, read the AudioFile ezine "2017 Best Audiobooks".

To learn even more about the don't-miss audiobooks from 2017, be sure to follow @AudioFileMag on Twitter or like AudioFile Magazine on Facebook.

AudioFile Magazine's best audiobooks in biography and history

Between Them by Richard Ford, read by Christian Baskous: The novelist's first work of nonfiction is a tribute to his parents. For more about this audiobook and how Baskous approached the narration of this memoir, watch this video:

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport, read by Xe Sands: Amazing firsthand accounts of the early days of the Russian Revolution in 1917 Petrograd.

Grant by Ron Chernow, read by Mark Bramhall: The well-known, prize-winning historian and biographer turns his attention to the Civil War general and 18th president of the United States. Here's a sample of Bramhall's narration:

The Jersey Brothers by Sally Mott Freeman, read by Cassandra Campbell: Three brothers joined the navy during World War II but only two came home; this is the true-life story of the search for the youngest brother, who was reported missing in action.

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, read by Alfred Molina: One of our best biographers brings to life the story of the definitive Renaissance man. Listen to a sample of Molina's narration:

Lucy and Desi by Warren G. Harris, read by Jim Frangione: A behind-the-scenes look at what was once television's most famous and loving couple.

AudioFile Magazine's best audiobooks in biography and history

A Mind at Play by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni, read by Jonathan Yen: All about Claude Shannon, one of the often-overlooked pioneers of the digital information age. Here is narrator Yen's reaction to innovator and his work:

Remember the Ladies by Angela P. Dodson, read by Suzanne Toren: On the hundredth anniversary of women's suffrage, a tribute to those who fought for equal voting rights.

Sting Like a Bee by Leigh Montville, read by J. D. Jackson: An examination of Mohammad Ali's objection to serving in the Vietnam War. Listen to a sample of Jackson's narration:

The Vietnam War by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, read by Ken Burns: This is the official companion audiobook for Ken Burns's documentary series on the controversial war.

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous, Philip Boehm [trans.], read by Isabel Keating: An eye-witness account of the Russian invasion of Berlin and the last weeks of the war.

The World Remade by G. J. Meyer, read by Rob Shapiro: A look at the far-reaching political and economic implications of World War I, especially from an American perspective. Here is narrator Shapiro's thoughts about the audiobook:

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06 December 2017

Wordless Wednesday 475

Covered Bridge

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

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05 December 2017

11 Christmas-Themed Novels to Read This Month

'Tis the season to read holiday books. Although many of you may be seeking out books about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Druids, the solstice, and other December holidays or events or religious observances, today I'm featuring 11 books that have something to do with Christmas. You'll find humor, mysteries, a middle grade book, and adult fiction. Enjoy the Christmas spirit, or bypass these books for tales that fit your own celebrations.

  • 11 Christmas-themed books to read in 2017Bel, Book, and Scandal by Maggie McConnon (St. Martin's, Dec. 5): A wedding caterer who takes a healthy interest in crime. In this outing she's on the trail of a missing person.
  • A Bella Flora Christmas by Wendy Wax (Penguin, Nov. 7): Old friends gather to celebrate the holiday in this brand new Ten Beach Road novella.
  • A Christmas Return by Anne Perry (Ballantine, Nov. 7): An anonymous Christmas gift provides a clue to a long-ago unsolved murder, prompting grandmother Mariah Ellison to visit an old friend; set in 1896 England.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen (Minotaur, Nov. 14): PI Molly Murphy Sullivan and her husband are celebrating Christmas 1906 at the home of friends when a young woman knocks on the door, claiming to be the hosts' long-lost daughter.
  • The Gift by Shelley Shepard Gray (Avon Inspire, Nov. 7): A series of not-so-accidental accidents threaten to mar Christmas for a newly arrived family in this Amish of Hart County story.
  • The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig (Knopf Books for Young Readers, Oct. 31): One of Santa's secret sources of magic comes from Amelia, the first child to have ever received a Christmas present; this is her story, set in Victorian London.
  • 11 Christmas-themed books to read in 2017Hark the Herald Angels Slay by Vicki Delany (Berkley, Nov. 28): Christmas in July in a small town in upstate New York will come to a murderous halt unless a gift shop owner can track down the killer.
  • Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb (William Morrow, Oct. 3): When Evie's brother and best friend go off to war in 1914, everyone is sure they'll be home for Christmas; this epistolary novel reveals their fates.
  • Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva (Flatiron, Oct. 31): This historical fiction imagines how Dickens came to write his famous Christmas story by reimagining that very tale.
  • Not a Creature Was Purring by Krista Davis (Berkley, Nov. 7): Christmas in West Virginia is tinged with the wrong kind of red, when Holly Miller stumbles on a murder victim at the holiday market; she and her furry helpers are determined to find the killer.
  • Twas the Nightcap before Christmas by Katie Blackburn (Faber & Faber, Sept. 26): After putting the kids to sleep Mom and Dad get a little too carried away with holiday cheer; good fun (and a good stocking stuffer).

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04 December 2017

Sound Recommendations: 2 Short Audiobook Reviews

You know it's the holidays when you've already been to a Christmas cookie exchange! Now to remember the cookies are for guests, not for me. Boy they're tempting though.

What I Read Last Week

Review: Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline FraserPrairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (Metropolitan Books): One of my favorite ways to read nonfiction, especially history and biography, is to combine print and audio, so that's the approach I took to this fascinating and eye-opening look at Wilder's life and work. The book starts with a factual account of Laura's childhood, which sometimes differs from the picture Wilder painted in her Little House series. What's new here aren't so much the generalities as the details, especially of some of the decisions Charles Ingalls (Pa) made, the family's financial situation, and Wilder's education and need to work. Next, Fraser looks at Wilder's adult life: as wife, mother, and author, especially in the Ozarks. Fraser delves into Wilder's marriage to Almanzo, the couple's relationship, his disabilities, and their struggles on their farm. Most surprising for me was learning more about Wilder's daughter, Rose. Rose had many financial and mental issues but still managed to become a well-known writer and world traveler. In addition, there is no doubt that Rose helped sell her mother's initial manuscript and also played a role in editing and polishing Wilder's work--though the stories, the charm, and perspective are all Laura's. The final section deals with Wilder's legacy. Throughout, Fraser puts Wilder's experiences, opinions, and literary work into the broader context of history and contemporary issues: American Indian relationships, civil rights, the Depression, the New Deal, communism, the romance of the West, and more. Note that Fraser doesn't hesitate to share the less endearing aspects of Wilder and her family; your opinions of the beloved Little House gang will likely be changed. Prairie Fires is important both to fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books and to people interested in American history. It's hard to fully comprehend the expanse of Wilder's life: from a covered-wagon pioneer helping Pa clear sod to a world-famous author flying in a plane to visit her daughter. The unabridged audiobook (Recorded Books; 21 hr, 26 min) was read by Christina Moore. Moore's performance was engaging, and I was particularly impressed with how she handled the more sensitive material. My full audiobook review will be available through AudioFile magazine.

Review: Winter Sky by Patricia Reilly Giff I also listened to a children's book: Winter Sky by Patricia Reilly Giff (Listening Library, 2 hr, 49 min) read mostly by Arielle Sitrick (Cassandra Campbell had a small part). Although Sitrick's rendition of the young girl's voice and perspective was very nicely done, it couldn't save this story of a young girl in New York City who worries about her firefighter father. Siria, named after her late-mother's favorite star, sneaks out at night to chase the sirens when her father is on duty. When Siria suspects there is an arsonist in the neighborhood, she decides to figure out who is doing the burning, almost destroying some her friendships along the way. So much of this story is unrealistic, from the fact that neither Siria's father nor her baby-sitters ever notice the youngster (I think she is around 10) climbs out her window or tiptoes out the door at night to the idea that the child of a firefighter would decide it was safe to investigate arson all on her own. I finished listening only because the book was short and got me through some of my holiday baking.

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02 December 2017

Weekend Cooking: Veneto by Valeria Necchio

Review: Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Kitchen by Valeria NecchioOne of my favorite cookbooks being released this season is Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Kitchen (Faber & Faber, Nov. 28). Not only am I attracted to Valeria Necchio’s enticing recipes but her photographs are simply gorgeous.

Necchio grew up in the Venetian countryside with an abundance of seasonal and local foods, cooked in traditional ways by the women of her family. After years of travel and sometimes living far from home, Necchio built on her childhood culinary foundations to give familiar dishes “a more modern twist.”

She is now both a well-known food blogger at Life Love Food and a skilled food photographer.

Veneto is divided into three parts, which reflect Valeria Necchio’s foodie history. Part One is all about family recipes that can “take you through a classic five-course Italian meal.” Part Two contains recipes Necchio collected during her travels and developed into her own. Both parts are filled with stories of family and Italian culture—and, of course, those beautiful photographs of Italy and the finished dishes.

Review: Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Kitchen by Valeria NecchioThe recipes include polenta and pasta dishes, risottos, ragus, braised vegetables, and fruit-based desserts. Here are some that I have marked:

  • Rice and pumpkin soup
  • Pumpkin gnocchi (served with a sage butter sauce)
  • Chicken in red sauce (kind of a braise)
  • Marinated zucchini (then pan-fried until golden)
  • Sweet and sour braised baby onions (I’m thinking holiday side dish)
  • Almond polenta shortbread tart
Each recipe is introduced with a story, in which Necchio tells us the origin of the recipe and often what it means to her or how she came to create it. The ingredients are listed in both weights and measures and shouldn’t be too difficult to find (except fish in landlocked areas). The directions are clear and easy to follow yet have a casual feel to them—for example, in a rice salad recipe, she says, “Leave in the colander to drain properly while you take care of the rest.”

Review: Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Kitchen by Valeria NecchioI’ve made her meatballs twice already; they were that good. The only change I made to her recipe was to bake the meatballs instead of frying them on the stovetop. Necchio has several red sauce recipes in Veneto; I tried the one in the pantry section (simple basil and garlic) and the one with the meatball recipe (onion and olive oil). Both were delicious. I also loved her Polenta Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Lemon. OMG, as Necchio says in the recipe introduction
It’s the sort of cake you never get tired of, no matter how much you eat. You’ve been warned.
So who would love Veneto? Cooks interested in learning about foods from northern Italy, foodies who like their cookbooks mixed with a good bit of memoir, and anyone looking for easy recipes that span the bridge between time-honored and modern. If you’re hesitant to buy another cookbook, check it out from the library, you’ll enjoy reading about Valeria Necchio’s culinary world, you’ll love the photographs, and I bet you get inspired to cook.

The recipe I scanned from Veneto is one that I’m dying to try. It looks easy to make and is just a little different. Plus, I love the color. Click to enlarge the image so you can read the recipe.

Review: Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Kitchen by Valeria Necchio

(Note: all images in this this post are from Veneto and are used in the context of this review. All rights remain with the original copyright holder: Valeria Nicchio. Thanks to the publicist for a review copy; all thoughts are my honest opinion.)
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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