31 January 2018

Wordless Wednesday 483

Seed head, 2018

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30 January 2018

Today's Read: The Queen of All Crows by Rod Duncan

Reveiw: The Queen of All Crows by Rod DuncanWhat would you do if you closest friend--your soul sister, your true family--were lost at sea and presumed kidnapped by notorious pirates? Elizabeth Barnabus disguised herself as a man and set sail on a whaler to find her.

Afternoon sun rendered every colour dazzling: the green and black of the Company flag, limp at the masthead; streaks of orange rust on the white-painted deck housing; the calm ocean, a teal blue; blood blossoming from the carcass of the whale.
The Queen of All Crows by Rod Duncan (Angry Robot, 2018, opening lines)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: an alternate contemporary world; England, the Atlantic Ocean
  • Circumstances: Elizabeth Barnabus appeals to the authorities, asking to be hired as a spy to not only find her friend but to gather intelligence about a colony of women pirates who have built a floating island community and live outside the law and society. The first step is to disguise herself as a male ship's scientist for a British whaling ship. Adventure and danger ensue.
  • Genre: steampunk women's fiction (is there such a genre?)
  • Themes: friendship, gender, women's issues, freedom
  • General thoughts: I thought I'd give The Queen of Crows a try because it was the first in a trilogy, and I've enjoyed a couple of steampunk books. To my disappointment, I quickly realized that this book is the beginning of a new adventure for established characters in an established universe: the Gas-Lit Empire. While I wasn't completely lost, the story assumed you knew things about the characters' background and their world.
  • The world: An organization called the International Patent Office maintains world peace by controlling (read: suppressing) technological advances. The year is 2012, and the world runs on steam. Society is very male-centric and has shades of the Catholic Church: the men who sign on to be agents for the Patent Office take vows of celibacy. There are a few outlaw countries: of the two we hear about, one has good intentions but operates under the idea of the ends justify the means. The other is just evil.
  • Plotting: Elizabeth's adventures on the whaler and then on the floating island are full of danger: she must hide her identity all the time and her gender sometimes, as she searches for her friend Julia. Her life is on the line a couple of times, but I never felt any true sense of impending doom. The story dragged in the middle, and the ending just, well, ended. It wasn't a cliff-hanger and it wasn't satisfying. The story just ended.
  • To be fair: I think if I had read Duncan's first trilogy set in the Gas-Lit Empire I would have appreciated this story more. But as it was, I didn't connect strongly to Elizabeth or her mission.
  • Final thoughts: If you're curious about a gender-fluid protagonist in a steampunk universe, then I suggest you read Duncan's books from the start instead of beginning here. Personally, I'm not curious enough to read more.
  • Audiobook: Genna Whelan's excellent narration of the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 9 hr, 54 min) is what kept me going. I doubt I would have finished the book without her good characterizations and expressive performance. Thanks to Random House for the review copy; the audiobook itself was grand.

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27 January 2018

Weekend Cooking: Easy Weeknight Chicken

Paprika Chicken Thighs with Brussels SproutsWinter is the time for hearty soups, beans and rice, and rich beefy stew. And while I did cook many of those kinds of dinners this month, we also had a few really good, and easy, chicken dinners.

The one I'm sharing today is from a 2014 Eating Well magazine and was incredibly quick and easy to make and delicious. I'm not normally a big fan of chicken thighs, but these came out great.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe method, and I share my directions here. This meal is on the table in about 40 minutes. It's hard to beat that for a busy weeknight.

I served this with a tossed salad, and it was perfect for the two of us. You could make this on a sheet pan, as suggested by Eating Well, or in a standard baking dish, which is what I did.

Note: the photo comes from Eating Well (Sept./Oct. 2014), and all rights remain with them. Visit the magazine's website for the original recipe.

Paprika Chicken Thighs with Brussels Sprouts

  • Paprika Chicken Thighs with Brussels Sprouts1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 4 small shallots, quartered
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 small skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 2½ pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 450°F.

Place Brussels sprouts, shallots, lemon, and garlic in a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Trim the fat off the chicken thighs, if necessary or desired, and add to the baking pan.

Pour the oil into the pan, and sprinkle the salt, pepper, paprika, and thyme over top. Using bare or gloved hands, gently toss the vegetables and chicken until evenly coated with the spices and oil. Then spread the ingredients out into an even layer.

Roast on the lower rack until the Brussels sprouts are tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken registers 165°F, 20 to 25 minutes.

The following video shows Eating Well's recommended method. Ingredients are the same.

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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26 January 2018

8 Books for Nonfiction Lovers

Little known fact: I was one of those nerdy kids who loved September because it meant the start of a new school year. Even though I'm *&^%# years past my last college exam, I still love to learn. These days, I turn to nonfiction to get my dose of, "Hey! I didn't know that!" moments. I've fallen a little behind in my nonfiction reading this month, but here are 8 books at the top of my list.

  • 8 books for nonfiction loversThe Financial Diet by Chelsea Fagan & designed by Lauren Ver Hage (Holt paperbacks; Jan 2): Perfect for getting a fresh start to the new year, this guide to learning how to be better with money is full of down-to-earth, real-life advice that's made all the more accessible through fun graphics and an appealing design.
  • The Girl on the Velvet Swing by Simon Baatz (Mulholland; Jan 16): The true story of a 16-year-old artist's model who was date-raped by a rich and famous architect, who was in turn shot--4 years later--in Madison Square Garden, by the girl's then-husband. The 1901 murder trial, which reached the Supreme Court, was both scandalous and important.
  • Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies (Flatiron, Jan 30): A moving, frank, and emotionally charged collection of nonchronological, linked essays that look at the varied stages and roles of Davies's--and Everywoman's--life: childhood, postpartum depression, marriage, divorce, motherhood, new beginnings, sacrifices, and power.
  • The Last London by Iain Sinclair (Oneworld Publications; Jan 9): Sinclair takes us on an exploration of the ancient city of London, along the streets, into history, from The City to the ends of the underground, and into the post-Brexit future. For both armchair travelers and those of us who know and love the city.
  • 8 books for nonfiction loversBringing Columbia Home by Michael D. Leinbach and Jonathan H. Ward (Arcade; Jan 2): Even though the Columbia disaster occurred 15 years ago next week, the public knows very little of the massive search and recovery operation conducted by multiple federal agencies and hundreds of volunteers. The tireless and often heartbreaking efforts of these people, provided answers and closure as well as hope for future space missions.
  • Cræft by Alexander Langlands (Norton; Jan 2): Why is it that with all our technology and high-tech factories so many of us seek out handmade, artisan products, from jewelry and furniture to beer and cheese? Archaeologist Langlands sets out to explore the true meaning of craftsmanship and our deep connections to those who master their craft.
  • It Occurs to Me That I Am America edited by Richard Russo, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Lee Child, Mary Higgins Clark, & Jonathan Santlofer (Touchstone; Jan. 16): Dozen of authors and artists have come together to celebrate the real America--in all its diverse, multicolored, many layered glory. Through short stories, comics, art, and more embrace freedom and acceptance.
  • The Stowaway by Laurie Gwen Shapiro (Simon & Schuster; Jan. 16): In the late 1920s, teenage Billy Gawronski, wanted more than a workaday life in New York City, so he jumped into the Hudson River and sneaked aboard a ship destined to explore Antarctica. This is his story.

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24 January 2018

Wordless Wednesday 482

Through the Tunnel, 2018

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23 January 2018

Today's Read and Giveaway: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Still Me by Jojo MoyesHave you ever been at a crossroads in your life? When Louisa Clark is given a choice of sticking with the familiar or taking a chance on new experiences, she decides to listen to the voice of a dear, departed friend and accepts a job that will take her far from home.

It was the mustache that reminded me I was no longer in England: a solid gray millipede firmly obstructing the man's upper lip; a Village People mustache, a cowboy mustache, the miniature head of a broom that meant business. You just didn't get that kind of mustache at home. I couldn't tear my eyes from it.
Still Me by Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books, 2018, opening lines)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: contemporary times; New York City
  • Circumstances: This third Lou Clark book is set in New York, where Lou has been hired as a personal assistant to a woman whose marriage transformed her from Polish massage therapist to Upper East Side uber-rich. As Louisa settles into the rhythm of the 7000-square-foot, two-story "apartment," and learns to mingle with high society, she begins to question her choices.
  • Genre: contemporary women's fiction
  • Themes: family, love, figuring out what's really important
  • Why I want to read this: I really liked the first two Louisa books: Me before You and After You, so of course I need to see what happens next.
  • Extras! For an interview with JoJo Moyes on her new book, including themes and influences, see Chick with Books. For a word from Moyes herself, watch the following short video.

The Giveaway

Thanks to the nice people at Viking, I'm able to offer one of my readers a copy of JoJo Moyes new book, Still Me. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to have a USA mailing address and to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on January 30. Once the winner has been confirmed and his or her address has been passed along to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good Luck!

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22 January 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: All Audiobooks, All the Time

4 audiobook reviewsThank goodness for a little milder weather over the weekend. Even though I didn't have much time to get out and enjoy it, I was happy to see some of the snow melt.

Although I am a lifelong Vikings fan, my husband grew up in the Philadelphia area, and I've been living in Pennsylvania for ages, so it was easy to cheer on the Eagles to their Super Bowl chance. Now I'm really looking forward to February: Super Bowl Sunday and then the Olympics!

I'm just entering my busy editing season, so I'm again very grateful for audiobooks. I finished four (one was only an hour!) and started another.

Tomorrow I'm giving away a copy of JoJo Mayes's new book, Still Me, to someone with a USA mailing address. I'm in the middle of reading (in print) Louisa's adventures in New York, and I'm loving every minute.

What I Listened To

Review: Vengeance in Death by J. D. RobbContinuing on with J. D. Robb's Eve Dallas series, I listened to Vengeance in Death. In this one, murder comes very close to home: the victims are all people Eve's husband, Rourke, knew during his misspent youth. What's worse, the killer is trying to make it look like Rourke's friend and right-hand man Somerset is to blame. Eve and her police team, with some help from Rourke himself, must solve this one quickly. In some ways this book is a transition story: Eve and Rourke's relationship begins to solidify, we learn more about Somerset and Rourke's past and why they're devoted to each other. We're also introduced to a new character: police techy Ian McNab. I'm guessing we see more of him in future books. As always (phew!) Susan Eriksen is the narrator of the unabridged audiobook (Brillance Audio; 11 hr, 19 min). Eriksen is super with this series, nailing Eve's blend of toughness and fragility. I'm sure I'll soon run out of insightful things to say about her performance, but I doubt I'll stop enjoying it. (bought)

Review: The Great Alone by Kristin HannahMy next audiobook could possibly be one of my favorite books in a long time, and will likely make by 2018 top ten list. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press, Feb. 6). In the 1970s a struggling family moves to Alaska after Ernt is bequeathed a homestead from a fellow Vietnam POW who didn't make it home. The three of them arrive in a VW bus totally unprepared to face the harsh landscape. With the help of their neighbors, Cora, Ernt, and their 13-year-old daughter, Leni, prepare for the long winter. But Cora and Leni have more to fear than grizzlies and the cold, Ernt, suffering from undiagnosed PTSD (not well understood back then), has a hair-trigger temper and takes his furry out on his wife. The small community is aware of the abuse, but the courts in the 70s aren't supportive of beaten women. The tension and foreboding are perfectly built, and my heart went out to Leni, a girl who grew up too fast and little room to think about herself. Hannah's novel is much more than a story about domestic violence, it is also a love story to stark and beautiful Alaska. Those who live in the northern wilderness must be ever vigilant because their land is unforgiving. You may be able to survive one mistake, but rarely two; let your guard down for a second and all could be lost. The unabridged audiobook (Macmillan Audio) was read by Julia Whelan, who is brilliant. She gave each person a distinct voice and so beautifully worked the pacing that I could barely turn off the book. My full audiobook review will be available through AudioFile magazine, but don't miss this one.

Review: Spin (audiobook musical)Spin: The Rumpelstiltskin Musical is an audiobook original that I just loved. What a fantastic production of storytelling and singing with a full cast led by Jim Dale. This short audiobook (Harper Audio, 1 hr, 28 min) is a delight, and you and your family will be singing along with Rumpelstiltskin in no time. The story itself is a fun update to the original tale, and I loved the young king and his stepsisters (because every fairy tale must have stepsisters!). This is an audiobook to share with your kids, especially on a rainy or cold day or a short driving trip, but it's also perfect for adults. Each member of the full cast of performers is wonderful. You'll feel as if you were at the theater and will be spellbound from start to finish. The story has some grim (ha!) moments, but remains lighthearted and the contemporary elements will make you smile. The transformation of the stepsisters is a delight, and you'll love getting to know what drives Rumpelstiltskin to make his bargain with the poor girl who is tasked with spinning straw into gold. Spin gets my highest recommendation, and I truly hope the production team, Hvam Audio and Sammy Smile Music, is planning more modern musical fairy tales. (review copy)

Review: Timekeeper by Tara SimI also listened to Timekeeper by Tara Sim. This is a genre-blending novel that contains elements of alternate history, steampunk, and speculative fiction and has a gay protagonist. In a different sort of London, 17-year-old Danny is a clock mechanic, which is a much more important position than it is in our world. Time is a living thing, and unless the mechanics keep the big clock towers running smoothly and in sync, human lives would be chaos. Danny is the youngest master clock mechanic ever, but he seems to have a natural talent for steadying time and helping the world flow smoothly. But ever since he was a victim to a violent accident--one of the clocks he was working on exploded--he's been a little nervous at work. When a second explosion kills a mechanic, it's clear that someone is out to sabotage time. Danny has a vested interest in solving the crimes and figuring out how to restore fatally broken clocks: his father, also a clock mechanic, has been stuck in time, trapped in a town with a destroyed clock tower. Without the powerful clock, the townsfolk must live the same moment over and over forever. Besides the mystery of the broken clocks and warped time, Danny is learning to live with being openly gay, experiences his first love, and discovers something surprising about time itself. A promising start to a new trilogy that features diversity and solid world building in a fresh setting. The unabridged audiobook (Forever Young Audiobooks; 8 hr, 48 min), was read by Gary Furlong. It took me about 30 minutes to warm up to his performance, but then it clicked for me. Furlong did a good job distinguishing among characters and picking up on their personalities and ages--for both males and females. I also appreciated that both Furlong's delivery and Sim's writing presented Danny's sexuality in a matter-of-fact manner: no stereotypes here. The book is complex and a little difficult to explain without spoiling the surprises, but I definitely recommend this first in series. (bought)

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20 January 2018

Weekend Cooking: Healthyish by Lindsay Maitland Hunt

Review: Healthyish by Lindsay Maitland HuntJust in time for post holiday eating, I received Lindsay Maitland Hunt's cookbook Healthyish from Abrams as part the Abrams Dinner Party.

I love the concept of this cookbook, which offers a realistic perspective on eating for good health. While the dishes include whole grains and vegetables without processed foods, they don't shun a little bacon or cheese.

It's also reassuring that the recipes have been tested by real cooks, and the final dishes have regular people appeal. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a photograph, and all come with tips, clear instructions, and international measures.

The majority of the recipes in Healthyish are weeknight friendly and use a minimum of equipment, making cleanup easy. And the food is just so darn pretty to look at. You can get a hint from the photo on the cover, and even my own photographs (to the right, below) make dinner look yummy.

As I'm writing, I'm laughing at myself because I really hadn't planned on writing a review. I was just going to share a recipe for a pork and squash dish we really liked. But as I was composing the introduction, I seemed to have fallen into review territory. Ooops.

Review: Healthyish by Lindsay Maitland HuntThen when I started flipping through Healthyish to find that pork recipe, I stumbled on what may be the most genius recipe of all. I live under a rock, so perhaps this will be not be news to you, but it was earth-shattering to me. Hunt has a recipe for a single chocolate and peanut butter cookie. Whoa!

You know how sometimes you wish you had a little something to go with your tea, but you don't want to actually bake and you don't then want to stare at all 36 cookies? Well, here's a single cookie you could be eating about 10 minutes after you had the thought.

I can't eat peanuts but I know this would work with a nut butter substitute, and the blurb for the recipe assures me that almond butter works just fine too. Oh and no oven required, so it's perfect for summer too.

Since I've kind of written a review, I'll finish by saying that, although I like many of the recipes in Healthyish and plan to continue exploring it, it's not going to be as heavily used as The Dinner Plan. I would recommend Lindsay Maitland Hunt's cookbook for cooks who need a little inspiration for tasty meals (breakfast through dessert) that are nutritious but that don't go cross the line into the too austere. Vegetarians will find a number of good recipes, but should probably look before they buy.

Here's the photo of the single-serve cookie and the recipe. Click on the image to enlarge it. Enjoy!

Review: Healthyish by Lindsay Maitland Hunt

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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19 January 2018

12 New Crime Fiction Books Written by Women

There's something about long winter nights that say crime fiction to me. Maybe it's because these books tend to draw me in completely and beg to be read in one long go, testing my solving abilities and sometimes making me get up to double-check that the doors are locked. This week I'm featuring 12 mysteries and thrillers, all written by women and published this month, to get you through snowy evenings. You'll recognize some of the titles, but I hope you find a few new books too.

12 New Crime Fiction Books Written by Women
  • Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan (Atria/Emily Bestler Books): When a high-profile British politician and family man is accused of rape, the ensuing trial pits two women lawyers, each determined to win the case. This very timely story, told from three view points, will have you adding up the evidence to make your own guilty or not guilty declaration.
  • Best Friends Forever by Margot Hunt (MIRA): When two Florida women, Kat and Alice, meet by chance while flying home, they form a tight, trusting friendship, despite their lifestyle differences. But when Kat's husband dies under questionable circumstances, Alice is forced to reassess what she really knows about her friend, especially when Kat stops answering her texts.
  • Blood Sisters by Jane Corry (Pamela Dorman Books): Alison, an art teacher, still suffers from survivor's guilt after a childhood car accident left her sister brain damaged and institutionalized and their young friend dead. The women's lives are good as can be expected, until Alison starts to find notes implicating she had a role in the tragedy and someone is out for vengeance. Secrets and twists.
12 New Crime Fiction Books Written by Women
  • The Burial Society by Nina Sadowsky (Ballantine): An American businessman is murdered in Paris, setting off a chain of events that threatens to expose his grown children's secrets. When the siblings meet a mysterious woman who heads a dark net organization that helps people disappear, they discover their family may be the target of a dangerous killer.
  • In a Cottage in a Wood by Cass Green (HarperCollins): An escape to the country is just what Neve needs to set her life back on course. But the little country cottage she unexpectedly inherited isn't at all what she had envisioned. Is the house haunted or is someone playing mind games and watching her every move? What exactly drove the previous owner to suicide? A creepy psychological thriller.
  • Need to Know by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine): A CIA analyst is hot on the trail of a Russian sleeper cell embedded firmly on American soil. She's about to celebrate her successful mission when she discovers one of the enemy agents is someone she knows very well: her husband. Now she must weigh family, country, and loyalties and decide on her next move without tipping her hand to anyone.
12 New Crime Fiction Books Written by Women
  • The Other Side of Everything by Lauren Doyle Owens (Touchstone): A serial killer is targeting elderly women in a small Florida town, bringing three generations of townspeople together in unexpected ways. For the survivors, the past doesn't seem to want to stay in the past, and the prime suspect begins to worm his way into the heart of a local lonely teenager. Kirkus calls this a slow-burning thriller.
  • Scones and Scoundrels by Molly MacRae (Pegasus): A killer is afoot in the small Scottish town of Inversgail, and the owners of the bookstore / tea room are among the prime suspects because the victims were patrons of their establishments. Janet and her partners must find the villain before he (or she) strikes again. This is the second installment in a twisty cozy mystery series.
  • Sunday Silence by Nicci French (William Morrow): London psychologist Frieda is no stranger to crime, as she often works with the police, but this time murder and danger are hitting too close to home. While she works to keep herself and her loved ones safe, she must also try to figure out if the killer is a nemesis returned from a faked suicide or a copycat killer--or maybe there're are two men out to get her.
12 New Crime Fiction Books Written by Women
  • The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime): Set in 1920s Bombay, this first in series introduces Perveen Mistry, one of the first woman lawyers in India. While doing the paperwork for three Muslim widows who are donating their shared inheritance to charity, Perveen smells a rat. Why would the women give up their future security and who is encouraging them to do so? Great period details.
  • The Wife by Alafair Burke (Harper): This domestic thriller set in New York City has all the elements of a great read: a whirlwind romance, a wife with secrets, a husband with even more secrets, a crime, and a possible coverup. Can Angela trust her new husband and just how much is she willing to risk to insist on his innocence after one of his female interns goes missing? Solid plotting and plenty of twists.
  • The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (St. Martin's Press): Newly divorced from her controlling husband, Vanessa is out to prevent his remarriage to a much younger preschool teacher. Meanwhile Nellie might be having second thoughts on giving up her freewheeling party life to settle down as the perfect businessman's wife. Everyone has secrets, everyone has a story, but who is telling the truth? Read this thriller all in one go.

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17 January 2018

Wordless Wednesday 481

Winter 2018

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15 January 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: A Good Book and a Good Show

A Good Book and a Good Show: Beth Fish ReadsArgh! This is pretty much my slowest reading week ever. I didn't have a lot of time for pleasure reading because my editing work ramped up as my clients returned to their offices after the holiday break.

In addition, instead of reading after dinner, we've been working on a jigsaw puzzle and playing a lot of rummy. Both are fun and take our minds off the news of the world.

I'm still reading The Hazel Wood, a fairy tale / contemporary fantasy, and The Six, about the Mitford sisters.

The Burning Page by Genevieve CogmanI finished my reread (via audiobook) of The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman. I've come to appreciate Susan Duerden's performance of this series. I think because I read the books first, I needed to get used to Duerden's style and characterizations, which didn't match what was in my head. Now, however, I'm thinking that I'll go ahead and listen to the newest entry, The Lost Plot, instead of reading it in print. In case you missed any of my earlier reviews, this is an adult speculative fiction series that includes a fresh take on fae and dragons and involves a powerful library, alternate worlds, time bending, a little steampunk, lots of action, and mystery. The books are published by Roc (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and the audiobooks are from Audible Studios.

Godless (Netflix)On television, we watched the Netflix original Godless. I highly recommend this dark miniseries set mostly in the mining town of La Belle, New Mexico in the 1880s. The town is run by a group of bad-ass women who took charge after the men died in a major mine accident. The story revolves around Frank Griffin (played by Jeff Daniels), the ultimate bad guy in a generally lawless land, and mystery man Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell), who shows up one night on a ranch outside of town, wounded and alone. The plot eventually connects the townswomen, Griffin, Goode, and a few lawmen. The series includes quite a bit of violence, a little romance, a twist or two, good character development and a satisfying ending. It's a complete story in seven episodes and feels almost like a novel. The acting and filming are great, and you'll recognize many of the actors (Michelle Dockery, Tantoo Cardinal, Sam Waterston). Don't miss this one (if you can handle the blood and guts). Here's the trailer (warning--adult language):

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13 January 2018

Weekend Cooking: Rotten (Documentary)

Review: Rotten (Netflix original)If you eat food, here in America or around the world, you should watch the new Netflix documentary series Rotten, which takes a hard, cold look at the food industry. The films examine more than your usual topics of pesticides, disease, and cleanliness--they also explore fraud, theft, global contamination, scams, the rise of allergies, and more.

The six documentaries in season 1 cover honey, allergies (peanuts), garlic, poultry, dairy, and fish. The films aren't for the faint of heart. You may find hard to trust any food source besides a local farmer . . . if you can find one. I watched the first two episodes of Rotten and can already recommend that you watch too.

Episode 1, "Lawyers, Guns & Honey," starts out explaining how bees make honey and then turns to the business of honey production and packaging. The primary focus of the documentary is on one of the largest food frauds in U.S. history, which involved tampered honey from China, which entered the country via a global network of shippers and sellers, which was meant to hide the honey's origins. I had no idea there was such a thing as bee hive theft (there is) and wasn't aware of the effect almond farms have had on beekeeping and on bee health. The film also mentions colony collapse and highlights the problems faced by family-run honey producers and packagers.

The second episode, "The Peanut Problem," examines the rise of food allergies in the last two decades. Because a peanut allergy is the most common food allergy, the documentary is focused on it. You may think this is a U.S. problem, but allergies are on the rise worldwide. The impact is felt at home and especially at restaurants. Although many restaurants do their utmost to protect their customers, some either don't care or don't understand the risks. No one really knows what has triggered the rise in allergies: is it antibiotics, our changing gut flora, the way we grow food, or something else? The good news is that researchers believe there will be a cure for food allergies in the near future.

Review: Rotten (Netflix original)

Through the films we meet farmers, restaurant owners, scientists, beekeepers, federal investigators, and other individuals who have something to contribute to the topic at hand. The issues are examined from a variety of angles, such as health, the environment, economics, and the effect on consumers. The cinematography may not be Hollywood glamorous--the filmmakers get down to business--but the documentaries are nicely edited and interesting to watch. The point of Rotten is to offer information, though there is an underlying bias against mega-agribusiness.

I plan to watch the other documentaries (each is about an hour long and the series is a Netflix original), even if it increases my already high concern about our food supply. Not every moment is full of startling facts, but I'd be surprised if you watched Rotten and didn't learn something. Here's the series trailer:

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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12 January 2018

8 New Speculative Fiction Books for Your Wish List

It's just two weeks into the new year, and my reading list is already overflowing. As you know, I enjoy books from many genres, but I will always have a soft spot for speculative fiction, especially fantasy. January is bursting with so many great books for those of us who like to venture into different worlds that I had a hard time narrowing down my choices for today's post. Featured here are the 8 books at the top of my speculative fiction reading list this month. Which titles have you read? Which January releases have I missed?

  • 8 speculative fiction books to read in JanuaryBetween the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking (Wednesday Books; Jan 2): I really like Hocking’s writing and am looking forward to this first in a young adult fantasy duology (yay! no long series), especially because it features Valkyries. The plot centers on a conflict between a mother and daughter and promises good action, Norse mythology, and young love.
  • The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (Flatiron, Jan 30): You won’t want to miss this young adult contemporary fantasy: It deserves all its prepub hype and starred reviews. The story involves three generations of women, a book of fairy tales with a cult following, and dark magic. This is not your sugar-coated princess kind of tale, but it is bewitching.
  • Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Jan 2): Middle grade readers will love this story about Emmeline, a girl who can control and befriend shadows. When her parents decide to “cure” her of magical abilities, Emmeline is caught up in a dangerous game of survival that tests her and her shadow's friendship and loyalties.
  • The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson (Scribner, Jan 2): Looking for an adult dystopian that may seem scarily possible? Johnson's novel is about a woman trying to survive in a frozen, post-nuclear world. The story, set in Canada, has been described as having elements of outdoor adventure, thriller, and coming-of-age.
  • 8 speculative fiction books to read in JanuaryChainbreaker by Tara Sim (Sky Pony Press, Jan 2): This second entry in the steampunk Timekeeper series is set in Victorian (British-occupied) India and stars a gay clock mechanic. Sim’s stories are more than mashups of diversity themes; the fast-paced adventures feature gods, magic, and mythology; clockworks; and time bending, all set on a foundation of facts tweaked into an alternate world.
  • Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen (Bloomsbury, Jan 30): A trusted publicist told me about this fantasy in which a young woman agrees to marry the enemy king and suppress her magic in return for the safety of her people. After her brother turns rebel and her powers call to her, she must weigh the costs of taking control of her own future.
  • Sinless by Sarah Tarkoff (Harper Voyager, Jan 9): What if your sinfulness were made manifest for all to see? In Tarkoff’s dystopian world, each wrong act results in physical disfigurement, but who decides what is good and what is evil? Our hero, the preacher’s daughter, begins to notice the gray areas, making her question everything she’s been taught as true and threatening the very fabric of her world.
  • The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill (Sky Pony Press, Jan 9): Although geared to a middle grade audience, this story of a boy found abandoned in bookshop should have wide appeal. Full of magic, dreams, mysterious disappearances, and a quest to a dangerous place, the novel puts a fresh twist on familiar fantasy elements and introduces you to Max, who will win your heart.

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10 January 2018

Wordless Wednesday 480

I See (Cat) Faces, 2018

Probably just me ... but there you have it. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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08 January 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Short Reviews; Or Reading through the Polar Vortex

3 recommended booksThe best part about the cold, cold weather is the need to stay inside, which means more time to do fun things. We've been working on a jigsaw puzzle, playing lots of rummy, and catching up on a few television shows.

I also managed to finish three books. I'm still reading The Six and have started The Hazel Wood, both in print. I'll be starting a new audiobook today, but I haven't decided what I'll listen to yet.

I received a couple of gift cards for Christmas (neither for a bookstore), and I'm having fun trying to decide what to buy.

What I Read Last Week

Review: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin CashoreJane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (Kathy Dawson Books, Sept. 2017): I was hesitant to read Jane, Unlimited because I didn't love Cashore's Graceling series, but after reading a couple of reviews, I decided to give it a try. I wanted to read this novel in print (apparently there are a couple of helpful maps in the book), but I was about 10th on the library waiting list, so decided to listen to my review copy of the audiobook instead. Here's the basic premise: Jane is invited to spend some time at a friend's family mansion on a private island. Upon arrival, she enters the foyer and meets several people and the dog, after which she decides to go with Ivy, a staff member, to explore the house. As the two young women move through the many rooms, Jane observes some strange goings-on and gets involved with some of the owners' drama. After a few days, Jane is once again newly arrived at the house and leaves the foyer with a different person. This happens five times, making the book (as one reviewer said -- I forget who) a kind of pick your own adventure story. I thought the novel was fun, and I enjoyed seeing how a seemingly benign decision (whom to befriend) determined Jane's experience at the mansion: will she be caught up in magic, in solving a mystery, or in a love affair? Good reading if you can buy the premise. Rebecca Soler performed the audiobook (Listening Library, 14 hr, 37 min) with good pacing and clear characterizations. She verges on the theatrical, but that approach fits the novel well. Note, though, if you listen to the book you'll miss out on the maps, I think the maps would have made me like the book even more.

Review: Wonder Valley by Ivy PochodaWonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda (Ecco, Oct. 2017): This novel starts out with a bang: In 2010, a naked man is spotted running against traffic on the 101 during LA's morning rush (or stalled) hour. This sets off a series of events that have their roots in the heat of the California desert, four years earlier. The novel is made up of the interwoven stories of a handful of diverse people who have a brief shared experience at an isolated ranch run by a cult healer in 2006. We meet teenage twin boys, a college student who lost her tennis scholarship, two drug dealers, earnest cult followers, a street artist just released from juvie, and others both on the ranch and in the city. Although there is action (and some disturbingly violent scenes), Wonder Valley is an intense character study of people trying to find their way in the world and learning to live with the choices they made, whether intentional or not. It takes a while for the story to develop and to learn how the characters' lives intersect, but my attention never wavered. The audiobook (Harper Audio; 10 hr, 40 min) is read by Will Damron. My first take on his performance was that it was too singsong-y, but quite quickly I began to appreciate his approach, which emphasizes the rhythm of Pochoda's prose. (My full audiobook review will be available through AudioFile.)

Review: Very, Very, Very Dreadful by Albert MarrinVery, Very, Very Dreadful by Albert Marrin (Knopf Books for Young Readers, Jan. 9). This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great flu pandemic, which killed more people worldwide than any disease ever recorded in human history. I've always been fascinated by this disease and its concurrence with World War I. People who lived through both must have felt as if death were everwhere. I've read a couple of other nonfiction books by Marrin and love his approach to history. Although he writes for tweens or young teens, Marrin's work is in no way childish. Very, Very, Very Dreadful explores the complex factors that lead to the pandemic, discusses how flu viruses attack the human body and why that particular strain of flu was so deadly, and traces the virus's journey across the globe. He also makes it clear how vulnerable we are to another such deadly outbreak -- the question is not if it could happen again but whether we can save more lives when it does happen. Politics, war, trade, religion, and contemporary medical practices all played a part in the spread of the flu, and the flu, in turn, affected them. The book is illustrated with maps, historic photos, and more. It's hard to imagine whole cities brought to their knees and the sheer number of people who died. As some of the soldiers in the trenches realized, their families, despite being far from the cannon fire and mustard gas, were daily facing more death than they were. Highly recommended for readers of all ages. I listened to about an hour of the audiobook (Listening Library; 5 hr, 44 min) so I could keep reading while running errands. Jim Frangione's expressive performance was engaging, and I especially loved how his performance was in tune with Marrin's style: the book may be accessible to young readers, but the material is serious and adult.

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06 January 2018

Weekend Cooking: 3 Good Cookbooks

3 good cookbooksI don't know about you, but I like to spend the week between Christmas and New Years getting organized. This year, as I was going through my books, I found a few cookbooks I really wanted to share with you but didn't--for whatever reason.

Before I find room for these cookbooks on my real or virtual bookshelves, I wanted to give them a moment in the limelight.

I'm starting today with three titles that are at the top of my to-try list. Let me know if you've explored any of them. Each cookbook has lots of promise, so I hope you find at least one to add to your wish list.

Homegrown by Matt JenningsHomegrown by Matt Jennings (Artisan, Oct. 17, 2017): Jennings has made a name for himself in the food world, catching the eye of the James Beard committee and Food & Wine, among others. He's currently located in Boston and is chef/owner of the brasserie Townsman. I'm always a bit hesitant to pick up a cookbook by a restaurant chef because I'm worried the recipes will require fancy tools, professional ovens, and/or expensive ingredients. Thus I was relieved to see that Homegrown's recipes are pretty straightforward, in a contemporary creative cook kind of way. The dishes are modern takes on the flavors of New England and most look doable for experienced cooks. Jennings includes tips and notes, full-page photographs, and even lists needed equipment (like a meat thermometer or a springform). The book is arranged by the source of the main ingredient (dairy, farm, orchard), and each section includes a "feast"--a complete meal to show off New England's best ingredients. Note there are (as can be expected) a number of seafood recipes, and there are also a handful of game dishes. Three recipes: Evie's Pub Cheese (for snacking), Maple-Lime Grilled Chicken Legs (with a bean salad on the side), Summer Tagliatelle ("like a BLT sandwich dressed in pasta's clothes").

Packed: Lunch Hacks and Recipes to Squeeze More Nutrients into Your Day by Becky Alexander and Michelle LakePacked: Lunch Hacks and Recipes to Squeeze More Nutrients into Your Day by Becky Alexander and Michelle Lake (Nourish, Feb. 14, 2017): If you've been following Weekend Cooking, then you know I'm on a never-ending quest for easy, healthful lunch ideas. I don't know why I have breakfast and dinner nailed, but I've always had a problem with lunches (except leftovers, of course), especially meals my husband can take to work. Alexander and Lake to the rescue! Their nutritious, easy, cost-effective, and "realistic" ideas are just what I need. The recipes, complete with packing and serving tips, are very appealing and come together quickly (though you may want to prep or cook on Sunday). I particularly love the section on "fork-free meals," which includes dips and nutritious sandwiches. If you're on a special diet (paleo, vegan, GF), you'll find recipes to suit you, though you should probably borrow Packed before you buy. Besides the recipes, you'll also find "healthy hacks" to make your lunch hour more enjoyable. I was relieved that most of the recipes require no microwave (but you'll want a couple of wide-mouth thermoses for the soup) and use everyday ingredients. Probably best suited to adults or teens. Three recipes: Pear, Hazelnut & Goat Cheese salad (perfect for fall); Coronation-ish Chicken Sandwich (curry flavors); Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup (store-bought mushrooms & almond milk).

Texas Slow Cooker by Cheryl JamisonTexas Slow Cooker by Cheryl Jamison (Harvard Common Press, Sept. 12, 2017): You might be surprised to learn I'm a huge fan of the slow cooker, considering I own three pressure cookers. Well, I also own a slow cooker or two as well. Jamison is a veteran cookbook author, and clearly knows her way around a recipe and how to get the most out of a slow cooker. Besides solid advice on how to buy the right machine for your needs, she also suggests four must-have items: specific baking dishes and a 3-inch ring biscuit cutter (for use as pan stand). The recipes take you from breakfast to dessert and absolutely have a Southwest, Tex-Mex attitude. I was looking through the starters and snack section, which I think would be great for any casual get-together (especially those dips and wings). As you might expect, Texas Slow Cooker has a number of chili recipes, but you'll also find German meatballs and creole flavors. More unusual ingredients are game and goat, but most of the peppers and spices are readily available in a good grocery or via mail order. As the entire USA is experiencing freezing weather and our friends in the other hemisphere are starting to think twice about turning on the oven, this cookbook would be a welcome addition to almost any kitchen. Three recipes: Chicken Breasts with Chipotle Cream (cheesy goodness), Chile Relleno Casserole (no stuffing or frying required), Praline Bread Pudding (need I say more?)

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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04 January 2018

Giveaway: Victoria & Albert: A Royal Love Story by Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan

Giveaway: Victoria & Albert: A Royal Love Story by Daisy Goodwin and Sara SheridanAre you as excited as I am that we're just 10 days away from season 2 of Masterpiece's Victoria? I wasn't the only one who loved the first season; 16 million people watched the PBS premiere!

In order to celebrate the return of Victoria--and thanks to the nice people at Masterpiece on PBS and WGBH Education in Boston--I'm happy to be able to offer two of my readers a copy of Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan's beautifully illustrated official companion book Victoria & Albert: A Royal Love Affair (St. Martin's Press).

Here's the publisher's summary:

The official companion to the second season of the PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria by award-winning creator and screenwriter Daisy Goodwin.

More than 16 million viewers watched the first season of the Masterpiece presentation of Victoria, created and written by Daisy Goodwin—the highest-rated PBS drama in twenty years, second only to Downton Abbey. But what happened after the queen married her handsome prince? Did they live happily ever after, or did their marriage, like so many royal marriages past and present, fizzle into a loveless round of duty?

Giveaway: Victoria & Albert: A Royal Love Story by Daisy Goodwin and Sara SheridanThis all-new companion book by Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan transports us to the private world of Victoria and Albert. Though first cousins, they could not have been more different: Victoria was impulsive, emotional, and capricious, Albert cautious, self-controlled, and logical. But together they forged a bond with each other and with their people that would change the world. Drawing on letters and diaries and fresh insights into royal history, this gorgeous book charts the constant ebb and flow of power within the couple’s surprisingly ardent and modern marriage.

Sumptuously illustrated and full of rich insider detail, Victoria & Albert takes us behind the scenes of the magnificent TV drama, including fascinating, in-depth information on the actors, the props, and the costumes--and bringing an extraordinary royal marriage even more fully to life.
The book is full of gorgeous photos from the show and includes interesting facts, quotes from Victoria's letters, and more. If you love the show, you'll love the book. Take a look at the tie-in trailer:

The Giveaway: All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win a copy of Victoria & Albert: A Royal Love Story by Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan is to have a USA mailing address and to fill out the following form. I'll pick two winners via a random number generator on January 12, and the good people at Masterpiece PBS will mail a copy to two of my readers. Good luck! And as one of the promo's for the Victoria series says: Keep Calm and Watch!

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03 January 2018

Wordless Wednesday 479

January Trees

Taken in 2017 with Hisptamatic (it's too cold to walk outside this week). Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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01 January 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 6 Books to Finish Out the Year

6 Books to Finish Out the Year
Happy New Year, everyone! New year, fresh starts, second chances.

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted reviews (thanks to the holidays), but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading and listening. Because many of you are taking advantage of the day--watching football, taking down the Christmas decorations, sleeping in, getting organized for the new year--and because I have a number of books to talk about, I'm going to try to keep my thoughts briefer than normal.

I'm looking forward to getting back to the rhythm of regular life.

My Last Books of 2017
  • 6 Books to Finish Out the YearLibrary at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy (Harper Perennial, Oct. 2017) was a fun, light book about a middle-aged woman finding the courage to step out of her comfort zone. I liked the Irish small-town setting and was happy that the plot had a twist or two to keep things interesting. This contemporary story would appeal to readers who like women's fiction and/or quirky characters. The unabridged audiobook (Dreamscape Media; 9 hr, 42 min) was nicely read by Emma Lowe, whose light accent added to the atmosphere of the novel. (full audiobook review will be published by AudioFile magazine)
  • I can't tell you how much I loved The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (Putnam, Jan. 9, 2018). The novel explores what happens after four New York children visit a fortune teller who tells each of them, privately, the exact date of his or her death. The story reveals how each sibling's life plays out and how each is affected by the old woman's predictions. I couldn't put this book down and ended up both reading and listening because I just had to know what happened to the characters and how the choices they made were influenced by their childhood visit to the Romany. Maggie Hoffman narrated the audiobook (Penguin Audio; 11 hr, 29 min) beautifully. I liked her pacing and her characterizations and appreciated the fact that she didn't foreshadow the ending. Don't miss this one! (review copies provided by the publisher)
  • 6 Books to Finish Out the YearI had the good fortune to meet Danish author Sara Blaedel a few years ago at BookExpo America. Although I liked her and I love Denmark, for some reason I never got around to reading her books. This month, the first three books in her Louise Rick series are being re-issued in print and audio under new titles. I took this as a sign to finally read Blaedel. The Night Women (Grand Central Publishing, Jan. 2, 2018) was an intense mystery that involved abandoned babies, young women in trouble, and human trafficking from eastern European countries. The characters and plotting were tight, and I liked mix of perspectives: Louise's take as a police officer and her BFF Camilla's thoughts as a newspaper crime reporter. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 10 hr, 21 min) read by Christine Lakin. I normally really like Lakin, but her performance this time was a miss for me. The book takes place in Copenhagen and involved Danish and Slavic characters, but Lakin's accents were British, American, and maybe Irish. I would have rather had no accents than a mix of accents that made no particular sense. Because I requested all three audiobooks from the audiobook publisher, I thought I'd give Lakin a second chance with The Running Girl, but after a couple of hours, I decided to set it aside and wait to read the novel in print. I was caught up in the mystery of The Running Girl and am looking forward to finding out how it all plays out..
  • 6 Books to Finish Out the YearI continued with my re-read of Genevieve Cogman's Invisible Library series by listening to The Masked City (Audible Studios; 10 hr, 39 min), read by Susan Duerden. I know I said that I didn't love Duerden's performance of the first book in the series, but I gave her another chance. Either I became accustomed to her delivery or she improved because I listened to this audiobook straight through. If you haven't yet listened to or read this genre mash-up (alternate history, time bending, fantasy, steampunk) centered on a powerful library, you should add the books to your list. This is an adult series with adult characters and no angst-filled teenage love triangles. In this installment, our librarian hero and her not-quite human assistant face a deadly challenge. (audiobook purchased)
  • Finally, I spent all of Saturday cooking and cleaning and organizing for our annual New Year's Eve dinner party with friends. I started listening to J. D. Robb's Ceremony in Death (Brilliance; 10 hr, 32 min) in the morning and finished just as I was about to collapse for the evening. It's been several years since I listened to the first four books in the Eve Dallas series and was pleasantly surprised that I could jump right back in and not feel lost. Phew. I was equally happy to still love Susan Ericksen as narrator. She is the voice of this series. The Eve Dallas series is another one that blends genres; in this case it's romance, science fiction, and police procedural mystery. The books are set in a future New York City, and I love the characters, the technology, and the plotting. In this outing (the 5th book in the series), Eve is investigating a number of bizarre murders that may or may not involve drugs, Wiccan beliefs, devil worship, or extreme sexual practices. As always, Eve's personal life is as much of a focus as is the murder mystery, but these books are by no means cozies; there's as much violence as there is hot sex. (audiobook purchased)

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