28 February 2018

Wordless Wednesday 486

February Walk

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26 February 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Escape Reading Edition

2 good audiobooksRain, rain, and more rain kept me inside for the bulk of last week. Ugh. I was beginning to feel stir-crazy. Maybe it was a good thing, though, because I have so much work to do.

The second week of the Olympics played in the background, but neither of us seemed to be very committed to watching. We intermittently turned to the news or let the games play while we read or did other things.

I'm looking forward to getting back to our regular shows or perhaps streaming an Oscar-nominated movie or two.

Review: Tess of the Road by Rachel HartmanTess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Listening Library; 16 hr, 15 min) read by Katherine McEwan. This fantasy is set in the world Hartman created for Seraphina (my review here), but works absolutely as a standalone because it focuses on one of Seraphina's half-sisters. Tess has always been strong willed and an independent thinker, neither of which is a becoming characteristic of upper-society women. Despite her rebelliousness, she had a fairly sheltered upbringing, which left her vulnerable to a young man's attentions. Consequently, her family plots to place Tess in a nunnery. Needless to say, she runs away from home, ill-prepared but determined to survive on her own terms, whatever it takes. Through her adventures on the road and with the help of friends, both old and new, she finds her inner strength and discovers her true self. I enjoyed Tess's medieval-type world, which is inhabited by humans, dragons, and other creatures. The court politics and general societal details were believable and consistent, and the interplay between myth and science was well done. I liked the themes of self-reliance, friendship, prejudice, and redemption. Tess gets out scrapes a little too conveniently, but I was invested in her journey and rooted for her to find happiness and peace. The book does not end on a cliff-hanger, but there are clearly more Tess adventures to come. Audiobook notes: McEwan's characterizations and dialogue are strong, and her performance is expressive, capturing Tess's wide range of emotions. She has tendency to fall into a rhythmic cadence, but I was swept up in the audiobook nonetheless. (review copy)

Review: Death of a Celebrity by M. C. Beaton Death of a Celebrity by M. C. Beaton (Blackstone Audio, 5 hr, 19 min), read by Graeme Malcolm. I can't believe it's been a year since I read my last Hamish Macbeth mystery. This is the 17th installment in the series, and although you could start here, it's really best to read these mysteries from the beginning. Hamish Macbeth is a village constable in the Scottish highlands. He's smart and a good detective and has successfully avoided promotion. This is a good thing; he doesn't want to move to the city, and he doesn't do well with precinct rules and regulations. These books aren't considered to be cozies because Hamish isn't an amateur sleuth, but the stories are as much about the easygoing copper and his village as they are about the murder investigations. In this outing, a tell-all television series is set to be filmed in Lochdubh, which has the townsfolk both excited and nervous. It seems that everybody has a long-buried secret he or she doesn't want exposed on national TV. When the snotty host of the series is found dead in her car from carbon monoxide poisoning, Hamish doesn't believe it was suicide, despite the hose running from the exhaust pipe. Only after two more deaths, does Hamish finally tease out the facts of the case to solve the mystery. These books are light, short, and fun. They are great escape reading and the plots are deceptively complex. Plus I love the setting and the people in Hamish's life. As all good series, the characters grow and change and their relationships deepen. I had some issues with the last installment, but fortunately, Beaton--and Hamish--are back to form in this book. Audiobook notes: I will be forever saddened that Davina Porter (with her lovely Scottish accent) no longer reads this series. I'm trying my best to get over this because there's nothing really wrong with Malcolm's performance. His accent isn't as engaging, but his pace and understanding of the characters are fine. I'll get used to him. (personal copy)

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24 February 2018

Weekend Cooking: Day Drinking by Kat Odell

Review: Day Drinking by Kat OdellThe publisher's press release for Kat Odell's Day Drinking (Workman, 2017) begins, "Who day drinks? Everyone." And that's true. If you drink at all, you've certainly had a drink or two before 5:00pm. Think mimosa with a Sunday brunch, champagne at a wedding shower, an eggnog on Christmas Day, or a cold beer after mowing the lawn on Saturday afternoon.

If you live anywhere but the United States, you're probably thinking, "Day drinking? Well, duh!" That's because you don't live under our social sanctions that say we have to wait until evening before we can have a glass of wine.

Review: Day Drinking by Kat OdellAnyway, whatever your attitude, if you day drink (pretend it's vacation!), then you'll appreciate the variety of cocktails found within the pages of Day Drinking. These drinks have been specifically formulated to have a low alcohol content, to be food friendly, and to make you feel relaxed and social (not drunk).

A lot of the recipes are based on liqueur, wine, and sherry; some are built on beer or hard cider; and few call for whiskey. You'll find familiar cocktails with a twist: Irish Coffee transformed by hazelnut milk and cocoa powder sounds heavenly. And you'll find totally new creations (at least new to me), such as Fete Poire, which is a mixture of pear syrup, orgeat syrup, vermouth, lemon, and cardamom. Perfect for fall?

Don't drink or want something special for the kids? Odell includes a handful of mocktail recipes, which are every bit as pretty and delicious as the real thing. Try the ginger-lemon hot toddy. There's another chapter on large-batch party drinks. One that looks good to me is a cucumber gin punch that looks beautifully spring green with green chartreuse, parsley, and green apple slices.

Review: Day Drinking by Kat OdellOddly enough the thing I really love about Day Drinking is the very thing I don't like about the book. Many of the recipes include subrecipes for making syrups and other flavorings. I don't drink enough cocktails to justify making a batch of, say, kumquat syrup, and I'm also too lazy. On the other hand I love the idea of making my own instead of buying. And now, as I'm typing, I'm wondering if I could repurpose those syrups into ice cream toppings . . . hummm.

As with any good cocktail book, you'll need a well-supplied liquor cabinet that contains a variety of liqueurs, bitters, juices, mixers, and syrups. Because we drink mostly wine, beer and straight whiskey, I wouldn't be able to use Day Drinking without planning ahead. On the other hand, I plan to explore more of the cocktails this coming summer, when a refreshing day drink on the deck would be most welcome, whether I'm alone with a book or gabbing with a friend.

I recommend Kat Odell's Day Drinking to anyone who is looking to expand their cocktail repertoire, who doesn't mind a little prep work, and who appreciates the idea of a lower-alcohol drink. You don't have to drink during the day, but sometimes it's just the right thing.

I tried a coffee and rye cocktail, and though I would have never guessed that coffee and rye would be a good combo, I quite liked it. I garnished my drink with a lime for the photo because I liked the color.

Review: Day Drinking by Kat OdellFresh Thinking
Makes 1

  • 5 ounces tonic water
  • 1/4 ounce fresh yuzu or lemon juice (I used lemon)
  • 1 ounce rye whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce cold-brew coffee (I used regular brewed coffee)
  • 2-inch piece of orange peel
Fill a 12-ounce tempered glass halfway with ice cubes and add the tonic, lemon juice, rye, and coffee. Stir gently to combine, then squeeze the orange peel over the glass to express the oils (discard the peel).

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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23 February 2018

4 Short Story Collections to Read This Month

I used to think that I didn't like short stories because I was often left wanting to know more. That was before I started reading quality stories and before I learned how to read short pieces.

My epiphany came when I realized I didn't have to read a collection straight through in one or two sittings. Yes, I was slow on the uptake. Now my approach is to read only one story at a time, which gives me time to think about the characters or the situation before I'm willy-nilly into the next one. My other eye-opening revelation was that I didn't have to read every piece in a collection. If a particular story doesn't grab my attention, I now turn to the next, rather than abandon the whole book.

If you think you don't like short stories, want not give my approach a try. You may change your mind.

4 Short Story Collections to Read This Month
  • Black Sheep Boy by Martin Pousson (Rare Bird Books, Feb. 13): Set in Louisiana, this collection of linked stories explores LGBTQ+ themes and life in the Bayou country while introducing us to a young Cajun French man who's trying to find his way to a better future.
  • This Far Isn't Far Enough by Lynn Sloan (Fomite, Feb. 20): Many of the characters in this collection of stories experience a shift in perspective when they try to rebalance their lives after circumstances or personal choices throw them off-kilter.
  • Dreadful Young Ladies and other stories by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Books, Feb. 20): From the author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, this collection of stories takes us to fantastical worlds with characters who defy fairy tale and fantasy expectations; themes include love, death, and longing.
  • We Are Taking Only What We Need by Stephanie Powell Watts (Ecco, Feb. 6): Family and the American black experience are overarching themes of this collection of stories; some focus on large issues, and others show us a more personal sphere.

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21 February 2018

Wordless Wednesday 485

Walnut tree, 2018

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19 February 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 2 Good Books, 1 Good TV Show

2 good audiobooksI don't know what's wrong with me this year, but I haven't been watching as much Olympics as I usually do. I don't know if it's because of the nature of the coverage or because there always seems to be so much national news to absorb. Whatever the reason, the Olympics has mostly been in the background.

Thanks to my busy season, reading for pleasure is becoming a luxury. In case you didn't know or remember, I'm a freelance book editor, so after a 10-hour day of deskwork, my body wants to move and my eyes don't want to see any more printed (electronic) words.

Yay for audiobooks! I was able to listen to two very different books last week. I also started a new guilty pleasure television series.

Listening / Reading

Review: Chainbreaker by Tara SimChainbreaker by Tara Sim (Forever Young Audiobooks; 10 hr, 29 min) is the second entry in the steampunk, time-bending Timekeepers series. In an alternate England, Danny Hart is a clock mechanic, which is a highly skilled and important job because if the town clock towers aren't working correctly, then time itself doesn't flow as expected. Danny's talents entail more than just maintaining and fixing the cogs and gears; he can also manipulate the very strands of time and communicate with clock spirits, who inhabit the towers. In this outing, Danny and a fellow timekeeper, Daphane, are tapped to go to India, where someone or something is destroying clocks. Their job is to solve the mystery and learn more about the nature of time. Sim addresses a number of issues in this series. Danny is gay and is still dealing with feeling comfortable about coming out. Daphane must prove herself as a woman professional and struggles as the sole caretaker of her troubled mother. In India, we see the effects of colonization and a variety of prejudices. Finally, time, technology, religion, and mythology are tangled together and are at the heart of Sim's alternate world. The characters are well drawn so it's easy to get caught up in their lives. I like the developing friendships and the complexity of Danny's relationship with his boyfriend. The mystery of what is happening with the clock towers in India is nicely set up, and there's a good balance between action and description. If I have any complaint, it's that this book ends on a cliffhanger. Argh! Now I have to wait a year to find out what happens. The audiobook of Chainbreaker is read by Gary Furlong, and as I mention in my review of Timekeeper, the first book in the series, it took me a little time to warm up to him. But after the first twenty or thirty minutes, I became caught up in Furlong's performance. His consistent characterizations kept me on track, and his sense of pacing amped up the action scenes. I'll have more to say in my AudioFile magazine review. (Review copy for freelance assignment)

Review: I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamaraYou'll want to listen to or read I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (Harper Audio; 9 hr, 45 min) with the lights on. In fact, you may have trouble sleeping--like ever again! This true crime story follows the trail of the Golden State Killer, who raped at least 50 women and murdered at least a dozen people in California from the late 1970s to late 1980s. He's never been indentified. McNamara was fascinated by this young man, who terrorized women in their homes in the middle of the night. He was a stalker, voyeur, rapist, and murderer. Truly chilling, especially because he's still on the loose. McNamara died young and unexpectedly before finishing this book, which was was completed by other true crime writers / investigators who knew her and knew her work. The finished book flows smoothly, and editor's notes alert you to the sections that were compiled from McNamara's notes or taped interviews. McNamara's writing style is engaging and finds a balance between informative and poetic. She doesn't leave out the gruesome details, but neither is she prurient. What's particularly interesting is the developing technology, especially for the DNA evidence. Warning: this story is damn creepy and scary. I can't imagine what it was like to live in California during that time. The audiobook is brilliantly read by Gaba Zackman, who approaches the material matter-of-factly but with good expression. She blurs the line between narrator and author, which allowed me to lose myself in the story. I had a copy of an eGalley, and so read a little when listening wasn't convenient. If you decide to listen to the book, don't forget to download the supplemental materials, which include a few maps that you'll want to refer to. Author Gillian Flynn reads her own introduction to the book, and McNamara's husband, the comedian / actor Patton Oswalt reads his own conclusion. The very end of the book consists of a letter McNamara wrote to the killer; you'll want to read or listen to that more than once. If you're into true crime or nonfiction, you won't want to miss this book, which comes out next week. (Review copy from the publisher)


Okay, so apparently I live a very sheltered life. Until Saturday I hadn't even heard of the television show Parenthood. I'm now a little bit addicted. It stars Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) as well as other recognizable actors and explores parenthood in its many stages and guises. Great escape viewing. Here's the official trailer, which was a little out of focus on my screen, but may look better on yours. The show is on DVD and available for streaming on Netflix and Hulu.

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17 February 2018

Weekend Cooking: Decanted (Documentary)

I'm a wine fan. I drink a glass almost every night, and I like to try different grapes, different regions, and different blends. I, however, am by no means a wine expert. There is always something new to learn, and watching a film makes learning fun.

The 2016 documentary Decanted (directed by Nick Kovacic and produced by Matthew Riggieri) takes a look at wine making in California's Napa Valley. The film starts with picking the 2014 grapes and follows the process through to the 2015 harvest.

Much of the focus is on a relatively new vineyard, Italics, which produces Bordeaux varietals and blends from the sixteen Napa Valley appellations. Throughout the film, we meet other growers, including Heidi Peterson Barrett, who has created several 100-point wines and, as film producer Kovacic notes, holds a world record for the highest price ever paid for a single bottle of wine.

There isn't much of story line in Decanted, but it well conveys the atmosphere of the Napa Valley grape industry. I was left with a strong sense that wine making is a very personal endeavor, involving much hard work. Most of the owners were conscious of how their work played out over a fluid time line: past growing conditions, the current bottled wine, and their own future legacy. Several mentioned their wish to build something that could be passed along to their children or to others in the next generation.

The grape business combines both old and new techniques and technology. Each vintage, each wine reflects the weather as well as the winemaker's knowledge, skill, and craft. I was struck by one grower's remarks on the depth of his experience, which went something like this: "I've been in the business for 45 years. What that means is that I've made wine only 45 times." Well, that was something I've never really thought about.

Don't expect to learn how wine is made by watching Decanted. The film is more about a place and the people who are fully committed to their lives and their product. Some of the owners grew up around vineyards, others came to wine making as a second or third career, but all of them acted as stewards of the land and strove to create the best wine possible from what nature (and their hard work) gave them.

On the down side, Decanted suffers from a lack of direction. I think too many vineyards were featured, and I sometimes lost track of which person was associated with which vineyard. On the other hand, the filming itself showed off the beautiful valley, and I was definitely ready for a glass of California wine by the end of the movie. One other thing to keep in mind is that the film was made before last year's devastating wild fires.

I'm including the official trailer for Decanted. Note, however, I noticed a few scenes in the trailer that were definitely not in the final movie. Regardless, the trailer gives you a feel for the documentary.

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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16 February 2018

5 New Coming-of-Age Novels

I'm never sure what to say when someone asks me to name my favorite type of book because I like to read across the genres, I love literary fiction, and I don't hesitate to read middle grade books. Of course, I find often myself drawn to specific settings and themes, and one of those is the coming-of-age story. The five novels featured today all involve the loss of innocence, as the main characters contend with secrets, love, family, and a variety of pivotal life moments.

  • 5 coming-of-age books to read in FebruaryAll the Castles Burned by Michael Nye (Turner, Feb. 13): This novel is set in 1990s Cincinnati. Owen, 14 years old, has won a basketball scholarship to a local private day school, where he befriends an Uber-rich older teammate. Owen's freshman year includes more than book learning, as he realizes money doesn't make you a good person and one's parents are not infallible.
  • Things to Do When It's Raining Marissa Stapley (Graydon House, Feb. 6): I may be stretching the coming-of-age theme, but this is the story of a young woman, who returns to her home town after things go wrong in New York. While figuring out what to do next, she learns the true meaning of love, not only in romantic relationships but also in families and the strength it gives her to make difficult decisions on behalf of her grandparents.
  • Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson (Soho, Feb. 20): In 1980s Oklahoma, Sequoyah, a teenager, is put in foster care after his mother is arrested on drug charges. Dreams of freedom, a taste of young love, coming to terms with his Cherokee background, and the lure of easy money draw the boy--and his foster siblings--into a dark and dangerous place.
  • The Calculus of Change by Jessie Hilb (Clarion, Feb. 27): Despite being smart and talented, teenage Aden suffers from insecurities related to being overweight and unresolved issues stemming from her mother's death, a decade earlier. When she's tapped to tutor Tate, cute, cool, and Jewish, she is forced to make decisions that will ultimate determine the type of person she really wants to be.
  • Rosie Colored Glasses by Brianna Wolfson (Mira, Feb. 20): After her parents divorce, 11-year-old Willow has trouble adjusting to joint custody; she wants to live full-time with her fun-loving mother, Rosie. But without the buffer of her more-aloof father, Willow begins to question her mother's choices, finally realizing that love and parenting are more complex and difficult than she had ever imagined.

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14 February 2018

Wordless Wednesday 484

Happy Valentine's Day

Taken in 2017. Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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12 February 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 5 Books for Winter Reading

5 Books for Winter ReadingLast week was the Super Bowl, this week it's the Olympics. I'm afraid I'm going to totally forget what's going on in Victoria (PBS), Frontier (Netflix), and whatever else we were watching.

I've started my annual period of working 10-hour days, 7 days a week, so watching a little ice skating, curling, or skiing makes for good escape. I usually don't get a lot of reading done in February and March, but you wouldn't know if from this week. How I managed to get through 5 books is a mystery.

Here are my thoughts on last week's books.Completely unplanned, I picked two boarding school books. One I listened to, and one I read. (Thanks to the publishers for all the review copies, print and audio, except the JD Robb audio, which I bought.)

Review: People Like Us by Dana MelePeople Like Us by Dana Mele (Putnam, Feb. 27): Our protagonist, Kay, was not born to be an It Girl, but her family sends her to the prestigious Bates Academy after her best friend committed suicide and her brother died after being hit by a car. There she thrives as one of the most popular girls. But after she and her group discover the body of one of their own floating in the lake, Kay's life spins out of control: she's suddenly the victim of blackmail and is being manipulated into carrying out a revenge plot to destroy the lives of the other cool girls. This was a fast-paced double mystery (whodunit and what's Kay secret) and has all the good parts of a prep school thriller plus a couple unexpected twists. I went back and forth in guessing who could be trusted and who was telling the truth and thought the ending was very cleverly done. The LBGTQ characters were handled casually and naturally. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 9 hr, 18 min), read by Erin Spenser. She did a fine job with the teenage voices--both male and female--and she delivered on Kay's full range of emotions.

Review: S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. BennettS.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett (Delacorte Press, Jan. 2018): Greer, not to the manor born, has earned a scholarship to St. Aidan the Great School (STAGS), the oldest school in England. With her northern accent and working-class background, Greer has no friends at her new school and is especially isolated because STAGS is an anti-technology institution: no television, no cellphones, no Internet, no laptops. That means she can't text her dad or call her old mates. When she's invited to join the cool kids on a weekend outing to one of their estates (think Downton Abbey or Brideshead), she says yes, even though she knows absolutely nothing about the "huntin' shootin' fishing' " promised by engraved invitation. Turns out two other plebeians were also asked to join in. Need I say that the visit is anything but a relaxed outdoorsmen (outdoorsperson) adventure? Greer soon learns the sinister side of upper-class privilege and finds herself in a deadly game of survival. Lots of things to like in this thriller, including Greer's down-to-earth but realistic reactions to the snooty kids at STAGS and her many pop movie references. Vivid descriptions of the estate and suitably creepy servants add to the atmosphere, and the plot includes a few surprises. A worthy entry in the prep school thriller genre.

Review: The Stowaway by Laurie Gwen ShapiroThe Stowaway by Laurie Gwen Shapiro (Simon & Schuster, Jan. 2018): I'm not sure what I was expecting from this true story of a teenage boy who attempted to stowaway on one of the ships Richard Byrd was taking to explore Antarctica in the late 1920s, but I ended up wanting something more. Billy Gawronski, son of a Polish upholsterer, yearned for an adventurous life. He sneaked aboard ship three times before Byrd, and Billy's father, agreed to let the boy join the expedition. The well-researched book goes into Billy's family history, life on the ship, and how the explorers used the boy for good publicity. Although the focus is on Billy, we also learn a little bit about three other men in Byrd's crew: a Jewish aviation mechanic, a black stowaway, and an Eagle Scout. America fell in love with Billy--the plucky kid who wouldn't take no for an answer--but their interest faded with the deepening economic depression after the mission was completed. The book ends by telling us about Billy's involvement in World War II and his later life. Shapiro is a good writer and tells a compelling story, but I'm not sure there was enough material here for a whole book. Still, I was happy to get to know Billy Gawronski, and I'm glad Shapiro brought him back into the spotlight. I alternated reading and listening to this book. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 6 hr, 27 min) was nicely read by Jacques Roy, whose soft, straightforward delivery kept my interest and suited the book. His Polish accent sounded believable to me, but I'm not sure I'd know the difference.

Review: Holiday in Death by J. D. RobbI also listened to the unabridged audiobook of J. D. Robb's Holiday in Death (Brilliance Audio, 1998; 10 hr, 21 min) read by Susan Eriksen. Eve Dallas, murder investigator for a futuristic New York City, is tasked with finding the link between a deadly Santa and a dating service. I got fooled by some of the red herrings and will be looking askance at men in Santa suits from now on. I continue to enjoy Eve's relationship with the very sexy (and rich) Rourke and am happy to see their marriage strengthen. I had to laugh at Eve's take on the whole holiday shopping phenomenon; apparently nothing really changes in the future. I also liked seeing what her assistant, Peabody, was like when she wasn't on duty. I'm seven books in and am still looking forward to reading the rest of the series. At this point, I don't think I can think of more things to say about Eriken's narration. Just believe me that audiobooks are the way to go for the In Death series.

Review: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell JohnsonTyrell Johnson's The Wolves of Winter (Scribner, Jan. 2018) is a mashup of thriller and dystopian. Set in the not-too-distant future (and kind of spookily believable), worldwide nuclear war is brought to a halt by a deadly flu pandemic. The McBride family has moved from small town Alaska to the wilds of the Yukon to hide: from the flu, from marshal law, and from the U.S. government. Besides one unsavory neighbor, 23-year-old Gwendolynn (Lynn) has seen only family for years, so when she spots a harmless-looking man and his dog in the woods one day, she succumbs to loneliness and invites him home. Naturally, her family is upset and suspicious--good survivalist instincts in a world gone haywire. That one chance meeting sets off a series of events that change all of their lives forever. This novel is full of adventure, beautiful descriptions of the northern woods, and realistic scenes involving a family that must stick together or die. The truth of the stranger's background, the journey through the snow, Lynn's conflicted feelings, and the family's decisions all ring true. You don't have to be a dystopian fan to find a lot to love in this novel, which is more Station 11 or the Dog Stars than it is Hunger Games or Pure. I highly recommended this novel.

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10 February 2018

Weekend Cooking: Cooking That Counts by Cooking Light

Review: Cooking That Counts by Cooking LightOne of my go-to sources for good recipes and sane tips for healthful eating is Cooking Light magazine. In all the years I've been cooking from their pages and website, I don't think I've had a miss. Thus I was pretty happy when this Cooking That Counts by the magazine's editors (Oxmoor House, 2017) showed up on my doorstep last year.

I'm a little sorry I didn't write about this cookbook in the fall or in January, because it's great for helping people who made New Year's resolutions to lose weight, take charge of their diet, and generally improve their health.

Neither my husband nor I have any real weight to lose. On the other hand, we've noticed that as we age, we don't rebound as quickly from holiday eating or those occasional indulgences. That's when I really appreciate a cookbook like this, which lets me know at glance the nutritional and caloric breakdown of each recipe.

Review: Cooking That Counts by Cooking LightAs you can see on the cover, Cooking That Counts contains meal plans as well as recipes. As with all these kinds of cookbooks, you can follow the 30-day schedule or you can pick and choose the meals that appeal to you (which is my style).

Cooking That Counts is specifically geared to people who need help losing weight, but the focus is on what you can eat instead of what you can't. The idea is that if you shop and plan ahead and have delicious and easy-to-prepare recipes at hand, you'll be less likely to turn to empty calories at mealtimes.

Review: Cooking That Counts by Cooking LightEach recipe is marked with codes so you can see at a glance whether it's dairy free, gluten free, low carb, and/or vegetarian. The calorie counts are also predominantly displayed, as shown on the cover. The recipes and meal plan assume 1,200 calories a day, but Cooking That Counts gives easy adjustments for adding more calories, if you need to eat more.

Many recipes are accompanied by full-page photographs (see the scans for examples), and all list exact serving sizes and cooking times. Throughout the book are weight-loss success stories from the magazine's readers, cooking tips, and shopping tips.

The recipes cover breakfast to dessert, alcohol, and snacks. Shown here are avocado sandwiches (339 calories), pork with an herb sauce (375 calories), lasagna bowl (398 calories), and maple-pecan bars (149 calories). The cookies, lasagna, and pork are gluten free.

Review: Cooking That Counts by Cooking LightThe target audience for Cooking That Counts: I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for inspiration for weight loss and/or more healthful eating. In addition, Cooking Light's recipes are always easy to follow and use everyday ingredients, which would be appealing to new cooks and less confident cooks. People who are looking for heart-healthy and diabetic-friendly recipes will also find a lot to love in this cookbook. Busy cooks will appreciate the fact that almost all the recipes can be made in under hour, and a number can be on the table in under 30 minutes (like that pork dish).

Review: Cooking That Counts by Cooking LightEven if you're not in the target audience for Cooking That Counts, you might want to borrow it from the library, because you'll likely find some recipes that will catch your eye (stomach?). If you're new to gluten free or are looking for some low-cal vegetarian entrees, you too might want to at least take a look.

I have number of recipes marked to try, including lemon chicken skillet, slow-cooker flank steak, lemon ricotta muffins, orzo salad, salmon salad, and tamale chicken pot pies.

NOTE: Thanks to the publicist for providing me with a copy of Cooking That Counts for review. All thoughts are my honest opinion. All scans come from the book and are used here in the context of a review. All rights remain with the original copyright holders.

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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09 February 2018

12 Audies Award-Nominated Audiobooks: An Annotated List

12 Audies Award-nominated audiobooksTuesday was an exciting day for audiobook fans. It was the day the Audio Publishers Association (APA) announced the nominees for this year's Audie awards.

If you're unfamiliar with the Audies, you can think of them as the audiobook world's Academy Awards: the biggest honor in the industry. You can find the full list of nominees in 26 categories at the APA's website. The final four categories, including Best Audiobook of the Year, will be announced next month.

Today I'm featuring a dozen of the nominated audiobooks: some I've already listened to and others have been recommended to me multiple times. Be sure to check out all of APA-honored audiobooks, and start adding to your listening/reading list. (The book descriptions in quotation marks are taken from the publishers' summaries, unless otherwise noted.)

  • 12 Audies Award-nominated audiobooksWe're Going to Need More Wine, written and narrated by Gabrielle Union (Harper Audio; Best Autobiography/Memoir): A "collection of thought-provoking essays" that "tell astonishingly personal and true stories about power, color, gender, feminism, and fame." Union's acting experience makes her an excellent audiobook narrator, especially of her own, very personal stories. The difficult subjects, some related to the #MeToo movement, are tempered by Union's honesty and humor.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin (Harper Audio, Best Female Narrator, Best Young Adult): This is one of those audiobooks that everyone is talking about. The story is about a teenage girl who balances her life "between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends." She may be doing okay, until her best friend is killed by a cop right in front of her eyes. Turpin's performance is dramatic and emotional and her broad range of characterizations makes you forget that there's only one narrator.
  • The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin, narrated by Robin Miles (Hachette Audio, Best Female Narrator, Best Science Fiction): This audiobook is the third in a science fiction / fantasy series about a world that is physically changing in response to awakened forces from the broader universe. In my own review of Miles's performance I said she was "a-maze-ing in giving voice to the characters, picking up on the emotional atmosphere, and keeping me glued to my earbuds." You'll need to start the Broken Earth trilogy at the beginning (The Fifth Season), but the good news is that Miles narrates all the books.
  • Glass Houses by Louise Penny, narrated by Robert Bathurst (Macmillian Audio; Best Male Narrator, Best Mystery): This 13th entry in the much-loved Three Pines series starts at Halloween and ends in the summer and involves a murder, folk lore, and a trial. Bathurst had the difficult task of following the late Ralph Cosham, whose narration developed the characters' voices and the pace of the stories over the first 10 books. This nomination is proof that Bathurst not only met the challenge but excelled at it.
  • 12 Audies Award-nominated audiobooksBeartown by Fredrik Backman, narrated by Marin Ireland (Simon & Schuster Audio; Best Fiction): You might think this book is about hockey, but you'd be wrong. It's really about "the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain." When I raved about reviewed the audiobook, I predicted there'd be awards for Ireland's pitch-perfect characterizations and not-to-be missed delivery. I truly can't say enough good things about her.
  • I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiashi, narrated by Susan Bennett, Dan Bittner, and Therese Plummer (Macmillian Audio; Best Fiction): This is the story of a loving wife and mother who jumps off the top of a building, "leaving her husband and teenage daughter to redefine their understanding of family," meanwhile, she has thoughts from the afterworld. I loved the way Bennett, Bittner, and Plummer's performances blended together, bringing the characters' personalities to the fore and realistically rendering their full range of emotions.
  • Code Girls by Liza Mundy, narrated by Erin Bennett (Hachette Audio, Best History/Biography): This audiobook reveals the little-known story of the "10,000 women [who] served as codebreakers during World War II." Their work was vital to the Allies' successful war effort, yet few people are aware of their contribution. Bennett's clear, straightforward delivery makes it easy for listeners to absorb the information, and her few characterizations enliven the performance. The audiobook is supplemented with downloadable materials.
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, narrated by 166 performers (Random House Audio; Best Multi-Voiced Performance): When Abraham Lincoln's 11-year-old son died, the president was so devastated, he actually returned to the cemetery vault several times to be with his boy. This incredible audiobook imagines that time of limbo for both the living and the dead. When I wrote about the full-cast performance, I noted that it turned a good book into "an amazing experience. Sometimes it was tough to listen to (sad, raw) but there was humor too, and it made me think."
  • 12 Audies Award-nominated audiobooksMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, narrated by Samantha Bond and Allan Corduner (Harper Audio, Best Mystery): This engrossing mystery within a mystery starts with a contemporary book editor who becomes way too involved with her manuscript, which describes a 50-year-old murder but fails to end conclusively. Bond performs the contemporary sections and Corduner takes on the text of the manuscript, each creating a distinct atmosphere, enlivening the twisty plot.
  • Norse Mythology, written and narrated by Neil Gaiman (Harper Audio, Best Narration by the Author or Authors): I would listen to Gaiman read absolutely anything, so it's no surprise to me that his performance has been nominated for an Audies award. His collection of tales includes stories about powerful Norse gods, evil beings, jealousies and loves, Valhalla, battles and drink, the beginning of time, and the end of the world. Gaiman, a master storyteller, keeps us spellbound.
  • This Fight Is Our Fight, written and narrated by Elizabeth Warren (Macmillan Audio, Best Narration by the Author or Authors, Best Non-Fiction): In this well-thought-out and well-presented treatise, Warren explains the origins of the American middle class, its current rapid decline, and specific steps we can take to reverse this trend. She's a natural behind the mic and the stories of both her own life and the lives of struggling citizens are heart-felt. In a review of her performance, I noted that she "is expressive and passionate. Her conversational tone makes it feel as if she were talking just to you."
  • Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles, narrated by Scott Brick (Harper Audio, Best Thriller/Suspense): This 6th installment in the Penn Cage series, a family saga set in Natchez, concludes a story arc that involves murder, rivalries, love, racial violence, and crimes of passion. This story revolves around a trial, complete with courtroom drama and a few surprises. Brick's noteworthy performance includes a range of believable characterizations. His perfect pacing and ability to build the tension hook listeners almost from the get-go.

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07 February 2018

Wordless Wednesday 484

Looking Up on a Winter Afternoon, 2018

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

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05 February 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Recommended Novels

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Good BooksAs I'm writing this on Sunday afternoon, the snow is falling (we're up to about 3 inches now), and we're waiting for the Super Bowl to begin. It was great day to stay inside: we read a little, played some cards, and listened to music.

In case you couldn't guess, we're rooting for the Eagles in my house. I spent most of the weekend baking and preparing sinful snacks (read: fatty and salty) to go with the copious beer that I'm sure we and our friends are going to consume as we cheer our state's team on to victory. (By the time you read this, you'll know if we're smiling or crying.)

My busy editing season is creeping up, but I managed to finish three books and break up with a fourth.

Review: The Lost Plot by Genevieve CogmanI finally read the newest book in the Invisible Library series. In The Lost Plot (Ace, Jan. 9), Genevieve Cogman keeps the characters and plotting fresh and promises many more adventures to come. In this outing, Irene Winter and her assistant, Kai, must visit an alternate 1920s New York City to obtain a book that is being used by a dragon queen for her own political games. I loved the way Irene reaches into her bag of many skills and talents to outwit the mob, the crooked police, and warring dragons while protecting a fellow librarian and saving her own life. I also love the ending of this installment, which will take the series into new territory. The Invisible Library books breath new life into speculative fiction: part paranormal, part steampunk, part alternate history, part mystery plus adult characters in adult situations. I'm sad I have to wait another year for book five. A note on the audiobooks: As you know, I recently reread the first three Invisible Library books via audiobook. Susan Duerden narrates the series (produced by Audible Studios) and does a decent job. My only complaint is that her performance sometimes toes the line of overdramatic, making me forget these books are not middle grade fantasy but adult stories that often address adult themes. I'm not sorry to have listened to the audiobooks, but I was happy to return to print. (Thanks to the publisher for a review copy.)

Review: The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph CassaraHere's a book for your best of 2018 list: The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara (Ecco, Feb. 6). Set in New York at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic, the book focuses on four transgender or gay teens who escape their homes looking for acceptance, love, and a future. Cassara personalizes the Latino ball scene and exposes the indignities and cruelties suffered by this population of men and boys who want nothing more than to be themselves, some hoping to escape their birth gender. Undereducated, without resources, and finding it difficult to pass as straight, so many of these boys see prostitution as their only recourse. If they're lucky, they'll find shelter in a house run by a more experienced queen, who tries to protect them, feed them, and support their true natures. But even with friends and lovers, too many of these individuals succumb to disease, poverty, drugs, and violence before they've even had a chance to truly live. Angel, Venus, Juanito, and Daniel's stories broke my heart and opened my eyes. I'm so glad I took a chance on this book--based on true events--and I can't recommend it enough. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 15 hr, 35 min) read by Christian Barillas. My full audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine, but let me say here that Barillas's respectful and brilliant performance is unforgettable.

Reveiw: The Winter Sisters by Robin OliveiraSet in 1879 Albany, New York, The Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira (Viking, Feb. 27) is the story of two young girls who disappeared when trying to walk home from school after a massive spring blizzard. Readers learn the fate of the sisters fairly early on, so this complex mystery focuses less on the girls and more on the identities of the men who kidnapped them. Woven throughout the novel are feminist issues that still haven't been fully dealt with almost 140 years after this story takes place. Although the current #MeToo movement has given some women courage to speak out, teens, children, the poor, and women of color are still very much without a support system, and for them, rape trials haven't advanced much since the nineteenth century. One of the disturbing facts I learned from this book is that the age of consent at that time was 10 years old, and so a preteen girl could be blamed by a defense attorney for her own rape. The mystery was well done, and the ending wasn't completely predictable, though I had one of the bad guys pegged midway through. I also enjoyed revisiting Oliveira's previous character Mary Sutter, who has her own problems as one of the few licensed female physicians of the era. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Random House Audio; 16 hr, 36 min), read by Tavia Gilbert. I'm a big fan of Gilbert's work, especially her characterizations and the way she has of completely drawing me into a story. Her performance here met my every expectation. She enhanced the drama of action scenes, found the emotional heart of the characters, and kept me glued to my earbuds during the courtroom scenes. Recommended in print or audio. (Thanks to the publishers for the review copy.)

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03 February 2018

Weekend Cooking: 5 Quick Breads

5 Quick Breads for a Winter WeekendHello, February! A month past the holiday season, a few cold days, plus mega sports events equals I'm in the mood to bake again. (Actually, I'm just in the mood to bake, but thought I should have a good excuse.)

We're not huge dessert eaters, but sometimes a winter weekend just calls for puttering around the kitchen, and for whatever reason today's the day.

I haven't decided what I'm going to make, but I know it's not going to be big and it's not going to be super sweet. In fact, I have my eye on a savory tea bread that might be good to nibble on during the Super Bowl.

My other goal is to try some of the recipes I've saved on Pinterest. I'm sure I'm not the only one who pins and pins and never looks at those pins again.

Without further ado, here are my top 5 pins. I'll edit this post on Sunday and tell you which I picked.

From Food 52: Last September Food 52's baking club was focusing on the cookbook Tartine. In a post discussing bakers' successes, the editors shared a recipe for Yogurt Bread with Molasses. Why I want to try it: I like baking with white whole wheat, I love the flavor of molasses, and I just happen to have a batch of homemade yogurt in the refrigerator. (photo below is from the original recipe)

Yorgurt Bread with Molasses from Food 52

From The Splendid Table: I'm not sure if I heard about this California Orange and Olive Oil Cake on the Splendid Table podcast or if I just stumbled on this recipe, but I'm glad I pinned it. Why I want to try it: I love anything citrus and I've had great success baking with olive oil in the past. This looks good for both dessert and for morning coffee.

From Food & Wine: I subscribe to Food & Wine through a magazine app, and came across the recipe for Sugared Lemon-Rosemary Scones a couple of years ago. Why I want to try it: I realize I'm repeating myself here, but I really do love anything citrus and I have a weakness for rosemary. Like the last recipe, scones are good for dessert and breakfast. (photo below is from the original recipe)

Sugared Lemon-Rosemary Scones from Food & Wine

From the Food Network: I usually have good success with the Food Network's recipes, and at some point I had been looking for a savory bread to serve with drinks so pinned this Ham and Cheese Quick Bread. Why I want to try it: First, the ingredients are classic (ham, cheese, scallions, mustard). Second, I think this would be terrific with beer or wine while watching football.

From the New York Times: I think I pinned this Olive Oil Zucchini Bread recipe a summer or two ago when summer squash was abundant at the farmers' market. Why I want to try it: This is a Melissa Clark recipe, so I have a lot of confidence that it will turn out great. Plus it uses yogurt (of which I have a lot at the moment) and olive oil. And, hey, there are vegetables in this bread. That means it's really a health food, right?

UPDATE: I made the yogurt molasses bread, which was really good and not at all sweet. I plan to make the ham and cheese bread this morning.

Do any of these call to you?
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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02 February 2018

8 New Books for Historical Fiction Fans

Many people equate historical fiction with novels about the Tudors or other European royal families. The genre is, however, much broader than that. Technically, historical fiction is a story that takes place in the past and commonly focuses on or mentions real people or events. At the least, these kinds of books include period details and create a plausible historical context.

Today I'm featuring 8 novels that fall under the historical fiction umbrella. The stories recommended here span about 100 years, from the Irish potato famine to the end of World War II.

Nineteenth Century

  • 4 historical fiction books set in the 19th centuryHunger by Donna Jo Napoli (Paula Wiseman Books, Feb. 13): Told through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl, this is the story of one family's struggle to survive after the 1846 potato crop fails across Ireland. The novel, geared to middle grade readers or young teens, contrasts the experience of Irish Catholic tenant farmers with Protestant English landlords and gives perspective to the dream of immigration and the hope for a better life.
  • Hour Glass by Michelle Rene (Amberjack Publishing, Feb. 20): Set in Deadwood, South Dakota, in about 1877, this coming-of-age story strips some of the legend from Calamity Jane's reputation without whitewashing her crudity and love of drink. After their father falls ill with smallpox, a young boy and his little sister come to town for help and are taken in by Jane, who offers her own brand of protection.
  • Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira (Viking, Feb. 27): After a failed six-week search for two sisters who never made it home from school during the 1879 Albany, New York, blizzard the community presumes they're dead. When the girls later show up at Dr. Mary Sutter's home, their story sets off a chain of events that exposes the town's secrets, strains the court system, and shows the limitations of women's power over their own bodies. Relevant in light of today's #MeToo movement.
  • Only Killers and Thieves by Bill Howarth (Harper, Feb. 6): In 1885 Australia, two teenage brothers want answers and possible revenge after their family is murdered, presumably by one of their Aboriginal ranch hands. In the heat of distress, the boys take up with the Queensland Native Police, who are tasked with "cleansing" the land of indigenous peoples. The brothers' relationship to each other and the events they witness is at the heart of this novel.
Twentieth Century
  • 4 historical fiction books set in the 20th centuryAs Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner (Berkley, Feb. 6): A family-owned funeral parlor becomes overwhelmed as the 1918 flu pandemic hits Philadelphia. The novel is told from multiple viewpoints, as three sisters and their mother try to cope with their own losses as well as the horrors of both the war and the devastating disease. How far will one of the sisters go to try to give a spark of happiness to her family?
  • The Driest Season by Meghan Kenny (Norton, Feb.13): In 1943 drought-ridden Wisconsin, 15-year-old Cielle has more to worry about than the war. In the weeks after her father's apparent suicide, she copes with the changes in her family's circumstances, the unforgiving forces of nature, and her own awaking--not only to the world at large but to her own wants and desires. A thoughtful coming-of-age story that has the markings of a classic.
  • The Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman (Mira, Feb. 13): Set in 1944 Hawaii, this is a home-front story of women adjusting to the new normal of the influx of soldiers, the distrust of their Japanese-heritage neighbors, and the changing economics brought on by war. The plot focuses on a mother and daughter, the mystery of why they're alone, and the hope for a brighter future while facing the uncertainties of combat.
  • What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper (Knopf Books for Young Readers, Feb 20): Liberated from Bergen-Belsen in 1945, a teenage girl, now orphaned and alone, must find a way to have a life that embraces more than simply survival. She recalls the shattering discovery that she was Jewish, her transportation to the camp, and the incomprehensible horrors she survived. Freedom does not bring an end to her degradation, and this book, with its haunting illustrations, tells that story too.

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