31 March 2018

Weekend Cooking: Debbie Macomber's Table

Review: Debbie Macomber's TableOver the years, I've often featured cookbooks written by authors or that were inspired by a book or series. I love that connection between two important aspects of my life.

In my experience, these kinds of cookbooks are fun to read, and Debbie Macomber's Table (Ballantine, April 3), a new cookbook from the famous author, is no exception. This book of family recipes includes Macomber's stories and memories and even relates some of the dishes to characters and scenes from her popular novels.

Even if you're unfamiliar with Macomber's books, you'll enjoy her family-friendly, tried-and-true recipes, which are perfect for everyday dining and family celebrations. Although Macomber grew up in the Pacific Northwest, her dishes span a wide range of American flavors, such as fish tacos, raman noodle salad, clam chowder, and deep-dish pizza.

As you might guess, Macomber relies on easy-to-find ingredients, but they way she uses them gives her dishes a special touch. For example, my husband really wants to try the whiskey bacon brownies, which are a Macomber family favorite. I have my eye on her garden-fresh cherry tomatoes and goat cheese spread, which is served warm. Once tomatoes are in season, this dish will find a place in my house. Sounds like a nice treat for a summer evening on the deck with friends and neighbors and drinks.

Although I've seen recipes for baked oatmeal, I had never tried it before. We really liked Macomber's version, which is chock-full of fruits and nuts and can be assembled the night before. All we had to do the next day is slip it into the oven. So warming on these damp spring mornings. I made the apple cinnamon variation, but I plan to try all her suggestions. Note: The leftovers are good reheated or eaten at room temperature.

Review: Debbie Macomber's TableMacomber is my kindred spirit: we both love popcorn. Her herbed variation is great with wine after (or instead of) dinner. Next time my nephews visit, we're going to try the salted carmel-drizzled popcorn; I know they'll love it. I'm not sure why Macomber provides storage information; we never have any popcorn left over!

Thanks to Debbie Macomber's Table, I've got my next batch of house gifts, thank you gifts, and Christmas gifts taken care of: pretty jars of homemade soup mixes and home-blended teas for the savory side and white chocolate bark, Christmas toffee, and almond biscotti, for the sweet side.

Other recipes that I have marked are Guinness and beef pot pies, Southwest BBQ chicken salad, baked polenta, turkey lettuce wraps, and strawberry scones (I'm impatiently waiting for strawberry season!).

Recommendation: Debbie Macomber's Table is for you if you're a fan of Macomber's novels, if you like cookbooks that supplement your reading, and if you like easy-to-make and family-friendly recipes. I'd like this book just because it's from Macomber, but I'm extra-happy that it will be more than just an addition to my literary cookbook collection; Macomber's recipes are just the thing to spark up our weekly menus.

What's the downside? If you're vegetarian or vegan, you won't find many recipes that will suit your diet. Check this one out from the library.

For more about Debbie Macomber, visit her website. Thanks to Ballantine for the review copy.

We really liked the following salad. I'm not much of mayonnaise fan, so I substituted poppy-seed dressing instead, which has similar flavors to Macomber's dressing. I also cut the cheese smaller than she suggested. (Click the scan to enlarge the recipe).

Debbie Macomber's Broccoli, Apple, & Cheddar Salad

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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30 March 2018

A Rebel's Guide to the Bullet Journal

A Rebel's Guide to the Bullet JournalDo you keep a bullet journal? Do you know what a Bullet Journal is?

If you aren't familiar with the Bullet Journal concept, I encourage you to watch the introductory video by Ryder Carroll, the brains behind the entire system and the owner of the Bullet Journal & BuJo trademarks.

Basically, a Bullet Journal is an analog planner, diary, journal, and physical manifestation of your every thought. I was intrigued with the idea from the moment I learned about it several years ago, but because I've always been a total failure at keeping a journal, I was hesitant to try.

Regardless, I wanted a cool dotted journal, and I wanted to be just like all my friends who keep their lives in order via their ever-present BuJos. In 2014 and again in 2015, I started Bullet Journals: I drew out my monthly and daily pages. I memorized Ryder Carroll's symbol key, I bought a set of fun, colorful pens  . . . and I fizzled out after a couple of months in each case.

I'm stubborn. In 2016 I tried again, and this time I used my journal intermittently from May through the following February. But, again, it didn't really stick with me, and once I became busy with work, I let it slide.

I was ready to admit defeat, but I wanted to know why the Bullet Journal--which pretty much everyone else loves--wasn't clicking for me.

Aha Moment

After much thought, I realized I was trying to adapt to other people's systems instead of adapting the Bullet Journal to me. Well, duh! After that, I decided to give the whole thing one more chance.. After six months, I think I've finally tweaked my journal to fit my needs.

The first revelation was that I do not need a daily planner or elaborate to-do lists. I have a system that has worked for me for all my adult life and freelance career, so there is absolutely no reason to change. What I really needed was a tracking system and a place to write down ideas and information.

I also didn't need a new art project. If you Google "Bullet Journal," you'll find all kinds of beautifully decorated pages and gorgeous calligraphy. I love many of the journals I see on Instagram and Facebook, but, frankly, I'm just not going put that much work into a planner.

Instead, I developed a handful of very simple pages that I use month after month and that suit me fine. If I make a mistake, I use a correction pen or just go with it. I really don't care about perfect little squares and straight lines. Sorry, not sorry.

So with this in mind, I'm going to show you some of the pages I rely on every day. You'll need to click the images to see them clearly (then use your browser's back arrow to return to the post).

Bullet Journal Templates

A Rebel's Guide to the Bullet Journal

I start every month with the spread shown above. The only decoration I use is to put washi tape on the edge of the first page of each month to serve as a handy marker. I own three colors of tape, which I won somewhere or other, and use them in rotation. When I use up the tape I already have, I'll probably pick some prettier patterns.

On the left I draw a little calendar for the month. I use that page to record anything I want to do that is not date related. For example, last month I needed to renew my passport. In September, I wrote down "Call to have the furnace cleaned." Some months, this page remains blank.

On the right is what I call my discovery page. Here I record anything new I come across during the month: I hear about a restaurant opening, a friend tells me about a great local hike, or I learn about a new kitchen gadget--I write it down on this page. Whether it's a thing, a place, a website, or a television show, I record it here so I can find it later. (And the washi tape makes the page easy to find.)

A Rebel's Guide to the Bullet Journal

Every month I also create some pages for my reading life. I used to be terrible at keeping track of my library books. On the page at the left is where I record the books or audiobooks I have on hold, and I use the space at the right for indicating whether the book is an ebook or an audiobook. Below, I record which books I have checked out, and use the space at the right to record the date they're going to expire. (I have a similar page for physical library books.)

The middle image shows how I keep track of all the books that come into my house for the month. I record the medium (print, ebook, audiobook), the title, and the publishing date.

Finally, the right image is my reading log for the month. At the top, I keep track of various data: pages read, minutes listened, age (adult, YA, MG), genre, medium, whether the book is new or one I've had for a while, whether the author is male or female, and whether the book counts as a diverse read. At the bottom, I record the title of every book I read and then give it a rating to the right.

A Rebel's Guide to the Bullet JournalAlthough I don't make daily pages, I do make weekly pages. I start each week on Sunday, and I don't worry when a week is split between two months.

Here's where I track all kinds of things. At the top is my dinner plan for the week. Note that my little symbols are kind of messy: I don't lose sleep over it. At the right is where I record how much money we spent on food, household products, eating out, and wine for the week.

To the left of the middle section, I record any unnecessary spending (like those cool new pens, I had to have). At the right I track a variety of things that I try to do every day. For example, "Wa" stands for my daily water intake.

Below that section (not shown in the photo), I have a place to track my weight and my husband's weight and a place to record anything that strikes my fancy, like the first flower in the garden, a big snowfall, or a great quote from my current book.

Other Pages

The rest of my Bullet Journal is filled with what Ryder Carroll calls collections. These are simply lists of things you don't want to forget. Here are some of my collections:
  • Movies we want to see
  • Packing list for camping
  • Health things
  • Blog ideas
  • Cleaning tips
  • Music we want to listen to
  • Cool sayings
  • Car maintenance schedule
These lists are really the heart of my Bullet Journal. I love the fact that all those vacation ideas are now in one place and easily retrieved. Every so often I go through my discovery pages and transfer items that still look interesting to a collection page.

But What About Appointments and Work Deadlines?

A Rebel's Guide to the Bullet JournalFor years we have kept a wall calendar in the kitchen, where we record all birthdays, anniversaries, appointments, travel, social events, and so on. We are so completely in the habit of checking the calendar each morning and recording every event on it that there's really no need to re-create it in my Bullet Journal or to add it to an on-line calendar.

We each have our own system for tracking of our work responsibilities and expenses. Because we're both self-employed, we need to keep records in a format that can be shared with our accountant. For obvious reasons, a Bullet Journal isn't a good choice for these data. We each have a small weekly planner that is used solely for our individual businesses.

Rebel or Traditional?

So there you have it: I'm a rebel BuJo-er! Only after I stepped away from the norm to make the Bullet Journal fit my needs did it become my new BFF. I'm minimal, I'm not a perfectionist, and I'm not afraid to modify the system to suit my life. I don't need no stinkin' to-do lists!

On the other hand, the original system as developed by Carroll may be perfect for you. If you discover that you love decorating your journal and making it a thing of beauty, check out Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for inspiration. Whether you go rogue or stay traditional, Bullet Journaling could be just what you need to organize your days and keep track of your ideas.

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28 March 2018

Wordless Wednesday 490

Spring Flower (2017)

Too early for flowers this year, but I'm on the look-out. Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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26 March 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: What I Read Last Week

2 audiobook reviewsIf I recall last week, I think I foolishly thought my busy season was winding down. Hahahahaha. I had one free afternoon and then suddenly I was once again almost overbooked for another two weeks.

Granted, I am not complaining. I love my work and am grateful to have good clients. But so much for finding extra reading time.

By the way, I finally finished all seven seasons of Parenthood, so I'm up for suggestions: what's one of your favorite binge-worthy shows? I need a new television/streaming addiction.

I finished two audiobooks last week and got about halfway through a print book--Sometimes I Lie--which I'll review next week.

review: Mira T. Lee's Everything Here Is Beautiful I wasn't really sure how I'd feel about Mira T. Lee's Everything Here Is Beautiful (Pamela Dorman Books, Jan 16) because it touches on some difficult issues. It deals with sisters, immigration, relationships, motherhood, and most especially with mental illness. Lucia's first loses her grip on reality soon after China-born mother dies. Her diagnosis is vague and shares elements with schizophrenia, dissociative disorder, and bipolar disorder. The story is told from several perspectives--Lucia's and that of important people in her life--and presents a heartbreaking but realistic picture of life under the cloud of a mental disorder. Lucia struggles with determining what's real and what's hallucination; she wants to live life large, but the pills that stabilize her give her headaches, make her fat, zap her energy, and/or flatten her emotions. For everyone else, life is unpredictable and revolves around Lucia's mental state. It's impossible to let down your guard. Guilt, anger, frustration, and fear are all caught up in feelings of love and and the desire to protect. Everything Here Is Beautiful gives you quite a bit to think about and so would be great book club choice (you can find a reading guide at the Penguin Random House website). The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 13 hr, 18 min) is read by a full cast, though Cassandra Campbell performs the bulk of the story. Unlike many full-cast productions, there are no weak links in this audiobook and the narrators as a group created believable accents (Chinese, Israeli, Latino, New York City, Swiss German) and nicely handled both Lucia's breakdowns and the reactions to those events. (My full audiobook review will be available via AudioFile Magazine.)

review: Kelley Armstrong's BetrayalsI was reminded last week that I'm behind in Kelley Armstrong's Cainsville series, so I loaded the fourth book, Betrayals (Audible Studios; 13 hr, 15 min; Oct. 2017), onto my phone. The audiobook is read by Carine Montbertrand, who appears on all the books in the series, and Julie McKay replaces Mozhan Marno, who performed on the first three books. In earlier reviews, I described the series as "paranormal light," and that still holds. While there are indeed otherworldly beings (fae, gobblins, living gargoyles) the core of the story is less fantasy than it is about ancient rivalries, the cycle of fate, Old World tales and myths, and solving a mystery. There is also a complicated relationship among the three main characters: a wealthy socialite turned PI, a biker gang leader getting an MBA, and a pickpocket turned high-powered Chicago lawyer. I like the way Armstrong doles out clues to the main characters' ultimate fates, which are guided by both twenty-first-century expectations and the deep traditions set by their fae blood. You have to read this series in order to see the build up of events and to understand the characters' motivations. Although I can recommend the books themselves, I'm not quite sure why I've committed to listening this series because I have problems with the audiobooks. First, I don't know why the producers decided there should be two narrators. I realize the point of view sometimes changes, but I think one narrator could have handled that. Second, I don't really love the performances. The pacing is good and the dialogue is distinct, but for some reason (which I can't pinpoint), I'm just not wowed. Each time I listen to a Cainsville book, I tell myself to read the next one in print. We'll see what I do with book 5. (personal copy)

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24 March 2018

Weekend Cooking: 4 Easy Dinners & a Snack

4 easy dinnersIf you're not in the publishing business, you might not realize that late winter into spring is the busy time for copyeditors--at least it has been for me my entire freelance career.

From mid-February to mid-April, I work 10-hour days, 7 days a week. I'm okay with working hard at something I love, but it really does cut into my kitchen time. Regardless, I do my best to put a nutritious home-made dinner on the table every night.

This past week, I relied heavily on Cooking Light recipes, which are always reliable and easy to pull together on a busy weeknight. I also took some time to explore a new cookbook I received from the Abrams Dinner Party program.

sweet, spicy pecansFirst We Eat by Eva Kosmas Flores (Abrams, March 20) is a beautiful cookbook that focuses on seasonal, fresh foods that are perfect for casual entertaining. Once my days return to normal, I plan to dive deep into the recipes, starting with the summer dishes. After our farmer's markets open in May, I'll be turning to this cookbook for new ideas for cooking farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. In the meantime, I made the spicy, sweet pecans pictured to the left. They were perfect for pre- and post-dinner snacking with a glass of wine or a cocktail. I'm sharing the recipe (at the bottom of this post) and can attest to how tasty these are. I cut the recipe in half because I don't do much entertaining this time of year (for obvious reasons), and there are only two of us in the house. I plan to make a full batch of these nuts this summer; they'll perfect for a long evening on the deck with friends.

Here's what else I made this week (all recipes come from Cooking Light as does the photo). I've pinned them to my Recipes Tried and Liked Pinterest board, or you can click the links to find the recipes on Cooking Light.

  • 4 easy dinnersSmoky Farro and Chickpea Soup: Swiss Chard, chickpeas, farro, tomatoes, paprika, and garlic made for a hearty and warming soup. The recipe calls for vegetable broth, but I used chicken. Just what we needed to on a snowy March night. I had this on the table in about 40 minutes, and it made enough to last us two dinners.
  • Creamy Tuna Noodle Casserole with Peas and Breadcrumbs: This was another great comfort food recipe and was so amazingly quick to make. I made a couple of minor changes: I used whole wheat no-yolk egg noodles, whole wheat panko, and almond milk instead of cow's milk. We ate the leftovers for lunch the next day. Next time I might add some diced mushrooms, but it was really good just as it was.
  • Whole-Grain Mini Meat Loaves: These were my husband's favorite of the week. I did make one change because I forgot to cook the quinoa ahead of time. I substituted oatmeal for the cooked grain, which is mixed into the ground beef. These took a little more time to get on the table, but the results were worth it. Garlic, carrots, mushrooms, thyme, and goat cheese make these mini loaves really special.
  • Quick Chicken Piccata: This recipe took under a half hour and calls for chicken thighs instead of breasts. The only change I made was to use 6 thighs instead of 8. The flavors are classic: lemon, capers, butter, and parsley. This is one of those dishes that is so easy, I have to wonder why I don't make it more often.
If you're looking for healthy, quick, reliable recipes for weeknight cooking, Cooking Light (magazine, website, cookbooks) has your back.

And now for the promised pecan recipe from First We Eat (thanks Abrams for the review copy):

Sweet, Salty, Spicy Skillet Pecans
5 cups
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons kosher flake salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar-based hot sauce (Tabasco)
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and vanilla and stir. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the mixture starts bubbling. Add the pecans and stir to coat.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring every 2-3 minutes, until the pecans are lightly browned and smell toasted, 10-15 minutes, taking care not to allow the nuts or sugar to burn.

Turn the pecans out onto the baking sheet and spread them evenly using a spatula. Immediately sprinkle with the salt, chile powder, and cayenne, and drizzle with the hot sauce. Allow to cook to room temperature.

Once cooled, break apart any large chunks and serve as a snack or a topping.
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 March 2018

8 Audiobooks for Early Spring

My favorite part of spring is that the days are getting longer, which leaves me plenty of evening daylight for walking, yardwork, and (eventually) gardening. Of course, all that outdoor activity is prime time for listening to an audiobook. Despite this week’s snow, I’m optimistic that good weather is just days away. Fortunately, I don’t have to wait for a good audiobook. Here are 8 books for late-March listening.

  • 8 audiobooks for MarchI’m looking forward to listening to Laura Thompson’s Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life (Brilliance Audio; 20 hr, 46 min), read by Pearl Hewitt. This biography of the maven of mysteries is written by an experienced biographer (The Six) and read by an experienced narrator. I think Hewitt’s light British accent and clear diction will pull me in.
  • Although I tend to like Anna Quindlen’s nonfiction more than her fiction, it’s hard to resist her new novel, Alternate Side (Brilliance Audio; 7 hr, 40 min), because it’s read by Ellen Archer. Archer’s wide range of voices and engaging delivery is sure to enliven to this story of a family coping with a neighborhood tragedy.
  • Kate Rorick’s The Baby Plan (Harper Audio; 11 hr, 18 min) explores three different kinds of twenty-first-century pregnancies. Eva Kaminsky’s fun, expressive narration should bring out both the humor of the story and the frustrations of the women as they face the realities of their upcoming little miracles.
  • It’s hard to believe that the Maisie Dobbs series is up to number 14! Narrator Orlagh Cassidy is back to perform To Die but Once by Jacqueline Winspear (Harper Audio; 10 hr, 29 min). Cassidy took over the series at audiobook 3, and fans say she is the voice of Maisie. I love her accents and engaging performances.
  • 8 audiobooks for MarchDennis Boutsikaris and Dagmara Dominczyk team up to perform the heartbreaking Every Note Played by Lisa Genova (Simon & Schuster Audio; 8 hr, 2 min). Boutsikaris and Dominczyk are known for rendering lively dialogue and impactful narrative, skills that should shine in this story of two pianists, a marriage, and a devastating illness.
  • I’m a Scott Westerfeld fan and can't wait to listen to his new book, Peeps (Listening Library; 8 hr, 10 min), read by Joshua Swanson. Swason’s youthful voice and good comedic timing will be perfect for this story of a college student who becomes an unwitting vampire maker after encountering a strange woman.
  • Women’s relationships, family, and cooking come together in The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman (Macmillan Audio; 10 hr, 18 min), read by Susan Bennett. Bennett is well able to create believable voices for characters of all ages and personalities, which makes it easy for listeners to make strong connections to the story.
  • Set in Morocco, Christine Mangan’s Tangerine (Harper Audio; 9 hr, 28 min) is about a marriage, a friendship, life in a strange world, and the deep secrets we all keep. I have faith that veteran narrators Barrie Kreinik and Erin Mallon will build the appropriate unsettling mood for this atmospheric historical novel.

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21 March 2018

Wordless Wednesday 489

Waiting for Summer, 2018

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

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19 March 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Good Books

My eye is on the start of spring, which is coming up in a few days. I'm going to ignore the temperatures and the snow flurries and pretend that deck season is right around the corner.

My busy work time is slowing down, and I plan to take advantage of my break by getting in some long walks and reading more in the evenings.

Other than that, nothing much going on around here. We're catching up with Homeland on Showtime and the new David Letterman show (My Next Guest Needs No Introduction) on Netflix.

What I read last week

Review: Only Killers and Thieves by Paul HowarthOnly Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth (Harper, Feb. 6): Put this book on your must-read or must-listen list right now. Set in rural Australia in the 1880s, this is the story of two brothers caught up in something they are too young and too unprepared to understand. Tommy (15 years old) and Billy (16) turn to their unscrupulous neighbor for help in the aftermath of a family tragedy; he gives the boys help but not without a price. From the haunting descriptions of the stark Australian landscape to the fully realized characters and heartbreaking, horrifying action, this book took over my life right from the first sentences:

They stalked the ruined scrubland, searching for something to kill. Two boys, not quite men, tiny in a landscape withered by drought and drenched in unbroken sun.
I know the novel has been described as a kind of western, which might throw some of you off. It’s really a coming-of-age story, and although there is plenty of action, it’s a very character-driven story. My heart went out to the boys, especially Tommy, and I understood their different reactions to what they witnessed and what they did. The unfolding of Only Killers and Thieves will be stronger if you go into the book blind. Try to avoid reading the summary or spoilery reviews. The unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 11 hr, 29 min) read by David Linski is so, so good. Linski embodied the characters and helped bring them alive for me. His varied pacing and volume matched the text perfectly, and I was completely won over by his performance. In print (which was my husband’s choice) or in audio, this book will be on many best-of 2018 list. Don’t miss out.

Review: Conspiracy in Death by J. D. RobbConspiracy in Death by J. D. Robb (Brilliance Audio; 12 hr, 27 min) read by Susan Ericksen. Seeing as this is the 8th entry in the long series (I think Robb’s up to book 46 now), I don’t have much new to say about these futuristic sci-fi, police procedural, romance mashups except that I really like them. In this outing our homicide detective hero, Eve Dallas, is searching for who or what is behind a series of murders involving organ harvesting. The technology of Dallas’s world is always fascinating, and this book focuses on medical issues as well as a unique lie-detector test. Although the In Death books are gritty, Robb always manages to keep Dallas’s marriage steamy, and the main characters continue to grow and change. The audiobooks are always a treat and are short enough to squeeze in between more recently published books.

Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (Disney Hyperion; March 27): If you’re a Rick Riordan fan, you’ll love this new Pandava series, published under his imprint, Rick Riordan Presents. The style of Aru Shah is very much in line with the Percy Jackson books, but this time the story is set in the Hindu universe: the tales, the ancient books, and the gods are Indian and so is our heroine. Twelve-year-old Aru Shah lives on the grounds of a cultural museum in Atlanta, Georgia, where her archaeologist mother is the curator. Aru has free run of the museum, but is told never, ever to light the Lamp of Bharata—if she does, the world will end. Of course, on a dare from snotty classmates, Aru lights the lamp. The world doesn’t end right away, but time freezes. This is when Aru learns who she really is: a reincarnated Pandava warrior and thus a demi-god. With help of Mini (a sister Pandava) and a talking pigeon sidekick, Aru must solve riddles, find the keys to the land of death, fight off demons, and save the world. Humor, fast action, great characters, and tricky puzzles make this a lot of fun to read. Aru and Mini are flawed and sometimes scared; they bicker a little but are ultimately loyal. In the end, they find their inner strengths. Highly recommended for middle grade readers and for diversifying your reading list. I really loved meeting Aru and can’t wait for her next adventures.

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17 March 2018

Weekend Cooking: Nailed It! (on Netflix)

Nailed It! on NetflixConfession: I totally stole the idea for this post from my long-time blogging friend Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. On Facebook this week, she mentioned she had watched a funny new baking series on Netflix, and I knew I had to watch it too.

Nailed It! is hosted by Nicole Byer, with Jacques Torres as star judge. This, however, is not your mother's bake-off show. The premise seems tame enough: three home bakers try to win $10,000 by re-creating beautifully decorated desserts designed by a guest judge. Much hilarity ensues.

If you don't laugh out loud in the first show, you can safely bag the rest; Nailed It! won't be for you. But if you have a good sense of humor, you'll have almost as much fun as the judges and contestants--except you won't have to taste the cakes or get food dye all over your hands and face.

Season 1 consists of 6 half-hour episodes, and I bet you'll end up watching them all in one go, like I did. My husband hates baking contest shows, but he was laughing right along with me. Thank you, Marg, for brightening up my week; I'm passing along the joy.

Here's the trailer for Nailed It!, which really doesn't do the series justice. Just trust me on this one.

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 March 2018

10 New Thrillers Written by Women

I love a good thriller, mystery, suspense, or crime novel, and I'm not too picky about subgenres. I'll take a fun cozy mystery, a creepy domestic thriller, or an intense suspense novel. Once I've settled into a comfy chair and opened to the first page, I'm ready for an afternoon of escape reading. Here are 10 good thriller/mysteries, all written by women and all new this month.

  • 10 new thrillers written by womenThe Broken Girls by Simone St. James (Berkley, March 20; supernatural thriller): Murder, ghosts, and secrets that won't rest are all connected to an event that took place at a boarding school for unruly and unwanted girls. Set in Vermont. Opening lines: "The sun vanished below the horizon as the girl crested the rise of Old Barrons Road. Night, and she still had three miles to go."
  • Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh (Berkley, March 13; psychological thriller): A new mother feels the loss of her parents, whose deaths were considered suicide. As she digs into her family's past, she feels danger closing in. Set in East Sussex. Opening lines: "Death does not suit me. I wear it like a borrowed coat; it slips off my shoulders and trails in the dirt."
  • If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin (William Morrow, March 6; suspense): A teen is accused of a carjacking and hit-and-run murder, but when the case hits social media the facts don't look that simple. Set in New York state. Opening lines: "By the time you read this, I'll be dead. This isn't Jackie. It's her son Wade."
  • Death Comes in through the Kitchen by Teresa Dovalpage (Soho Crime, March 20; mystery/detective): After a Cuban food blogger is found dead in her bathtub, her fiancé--newly arrived in the country for the wedding--becomes the prime suspect. Can he clear his name and find the true killer? Set in Havana. Opening line: "The Cuban customs officer lifted an eyebrow at the bridal gown--a white satin bodice with tulle appliques, sheer sleeves, and a two-foot train--and took a long, suspicious look at the couple."
  • Crimson Lake by Candice Fox (Forge, March 6; suspense): A private investigator and ex-police detective meet in an isolated Australian community, each hiding from their past. In this first of a new series, the two team up to find a missing person. Set in Queensland. Opening lines: "I was having some seriously dark thoughts when I found Woman. The only company I'd had in a month was my gun, and they can start to talk to you after a while, guns, if you're alone with them long enough."
  • 10 new thrillers written by womenDipped to Death by Kelly Lane (Berkley, March 6; cozy mystery): Eva Knox is surprised when her ex-boyfriend shows up at her family's olive farm and inn, claiming he's in town to do some bird watching. After he's found dead in her pond, poisoned by olive oil, she must scramble to find the murderer and save her family's reputation. Set in rural Georgia. Opening lines: "Given the bizarreness of the night before, all in all, it'd been a pretty ho-hum September day in Abundance, Georgia. Right up until the moment Dolly and I spied that odd mop of brown stuff bobbing in the pond."
  • Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau (HMH Books for Young Readers, March 13; thriller / suspense): A diverse group of six teens are trapped in their school after a series of bombs goes off. Their survival may depend on how well they can work together, especially when they learn the bomber is still inside the building. Opening lines: " 'Don't fight,' Cas said from the doorway that Frankie and Z had just disappeared through. Tears glistened in her eyes. 'Can we turn the radio back on? Maybe they'll tell us help is finally coming.' "
  • Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney (Flatiron, March 13; domestic thriller): A woman is in a coma, able to hear but unable to speak or move. She listens and thinks while her family talks, remembering her past and beginning to suspect that her husband might be a bad, bad man. Set in England. Opening lines: "My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me: 1. I'm in a coma. 2. My husband doesn't love me anymore. 3. Sometimes I lie."
  • The Woman Left Behind by Linda Howard (William Morrow, March 6; romantic suspense): Can a woman with a military desk job and a high security clearance transform herself into a valuable member of a field-op team? Maybe with the help of the man who trained her. Set in Syria. Opening lines: "Congresswoman Joan Kingsley moved quietly through the deep night-shadows of her home, not turning on any lights because darkness suited her these days. She resented the sun for shining, people for laughing, the days for passing."
  • The Other Mother by Carol Goodman (William Morrow, March 27; Gothic thriller): Taking her infant daughter and running from a controlling husband, a woman assumes a new identity and starts a job as an archivist in a remote mansion in the Catskills. A new friend, a decades-old mystery, a creepy mental asylum, and a bout of postpartum depression threaten to pull her under entirely. Opening lines: "She's crying again. I don't know why I say again. Sometimes it seems as if she's done nothing but cry since she was born. As if she'd come into this world with a grudge."

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14 March 2018

Wordless Wednesday 488

Small Barn, 2018

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12 March 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Mixed-Reviews Edition

4 book reviews, 3 book listsYawn! I hate the spring change to Daylight Savings Time. The fall doesn’t bother me, but it will take me all week to get used to waking up an hour early. I am happy about extra light at the end of the workday, but it’s so hard to adjust!

We’re slowing catching up on all the shows we missed during the February sports/speical events. Fortunately, neither of us is a basketball fan, so we’re spared March Madness.

Coming up this week I have a fun post over at the AudioFile Magazine blog in celebration of Pi Day. If you’re an audiobook fan, be sure to click on over on Wednesday afternoon.

What I Read Last Week

Review: The Hunger by Alma KatsuThe Hunger by Alma Katsu (Putnam, March 6): I’ve always had a fascination with the Donner Party story; people do desperate things in desperate situations. In this reimagining of history, Katsu provides a paranormal/spooky element to explain the wagon train’s misfortunes. You don’t have to know anything about the facts to enjoy the story, but if you’re familiar with the names and places (such as Jim Bridger and Chimney Rock) then the novel will be just that much more fun. I really loved the way Katsu mixed the facts with a good dose of creep factor. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I was particularly impressed with the way she provided an explanation for why only some of the survivors admitted to cannibalism. The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 34 min) was nicely read by Kirsten Potter. Her expressiveness added to the undercurrent of forboding and picked up on the characters’ personalities. Even better, I was grateful she didn’t give the ending away. Recommended in print or audio. (review copy)

Review: The Spring Girls by Anna ToddThe Spring Girls by Anna Todd (Gallery, January 2) I love modern-day retellings of beloved classics. It’s fun to see what favorite characters would be like if they could be transported a century or two into the future. Thus I was eager to read Todd’s version of Little Women. In this story the Spring sisters live on an army base near New Orleans while their father is deployed overseas. Their mother, renamed Meredith, has a hard time coping, and Meg, Jo, and Beth pitch in to help; Amy is too young to contribute much. That’s about where the similarities end. I found it very hard to connect the Spring sisters to the March girls, and it had nothing to do with the contemporary issues young women faced, such as social media, sex, and high school. Instead, this retelling just seemed to lack all the charm of the original. Amy is a spoiled brat, Beth is basically the family servant, the mom is emotionally absent, Laurie wears a man-bun and is half Italian, Meg is boy crazy, and Jo is clueless. Ugh. If I hadn’t had to listen to the audiobook for a freelance assignment I would have quit early on. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 11 hr, 25 min) was read by Cassandra Campbell, Joy Osmanski, Erin Mallon, and Madeliene Maby. Their performances were fine (except Laurie is given a stilted and weirdly accented voice) but couldn’t save this retelling. (more on the audiobook at AudioFile magazine)

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and read by the fabulous Bahni Turpin (Macmillan Audio; 18 hr, 9 min): I don’t know why, but I ended up bailing after about 90 minutes. I love Turpin’s performance, and I usually enjoy anything in the fantasy genre, but I just wasn’t getting swept into the story. I decided not to return the audiobook to Audible because I may give it another chance. I think part of my issue may have been one of language—the book contains quite a few non-English words and without a glossary and without seeing the words in the print, I think I simply kept getting lost; I was even having trouble remembering who the bad guys were. This book may be a good candidate for a print and audio combo read or maybe I’m simply better off reading this one with my eyes. I provided a short description of the book last week. (personal copy)

Review: Brazen written and illustrated by Pénélope BagieuBrazen written and illustrated by Pénélope Bagieu (First Second, March 6): I loved this collection of short biographies of 29 women who bucked tradition, expectations, or the law to fulfill their potentials and/or to make a difference in the world. The audience for this fabulous graphic / comic book is adult, though I wouldn’t hesitate to share it with teens or even middle grade readers (your own boundaries for young readers may differ from mine). I was familiar with some of the women, such as Temple Grandin (a scientist who is on the autism spectrum), Nellie Bly (fearless investigative journalist), and Josephine Baker (singer / dancer and French spy), but there were many other women who were new to me, such as Annette Kellerman (polio survivor, swimmer, feminist), Wu Zwtian (a Tang dynasty empress), and Sonita Alizadeh (an Iranian rapper). The artwork is expressive, colorful, and easy to follow. You may want to read this book all in one or go (as I did) or read only a biography or two at time. Perfect for Women’s History Month and a volume you’ll want in your permanent collection. (review copy)

Book Lists

I love themed lists of books (which comes as no surprise to those of you who read my weekly round-ups). Here are three that caught my eye last week.

  • Esquire magazine’s “25 Best True Crime Books Everyone Should Read”: I’ve read only a handful of the books on this list, but most of the others were already on my radar. Two of the recommendations (Helter Skelter and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark) were among the scariest books I’ve ever read—these are true stories (yikes!).
  • Bustle’s “21 Sci-Fi Books to Read after You Watch Annihilation”: Although I’m not quite sure I’d call them all science fiction (Welcome to Night Vale is on the list), most of the recommended titles look good to me. I’ve read very few of them.
  • Southern Living magazine’s “50 Books from the Last 50 Years That Everyone Should Read at Least Once”: There are some awesome, amazing books on this list (A Thousand Acres is one of my favorites), but there are also books that I know everyone loved but me (for example, Let the Great World Spin). Still this is a solid list, and I’d like to read many of the titles I’ve missed.

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10 March 2018

Weekend Cooking: 2 Recipes to Beat the Winter Blues

2 recipes to beat the winter bluesDo you remember the old saying "March comes in like a lion . . ."? Boy it sure has, and winter has made a big comeback! The other half of the saying is ". . . and goes out like a lamb." Here's hoping!

In the meantime, it's still cold enough to encourage soup dinners, baking, and hot chocolate. I'm featuring two of these today. The soup and bread were among this week's winning recipes, and they come from magazines I have turned to time and again over the years.

Note: the photos are my own.

St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner, and I caught the fever early and baked Irish soda bread. I tried a new recipe from the latest issue of Eating Well, and it was so good, I doubt I'll ever make another version.

Irish Soda Bread with Dried Fruit & Caraway
Eating Well magazine, March-April 2018

  • Irish Soda Bread from Beth Fish Reads1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4.5 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup currants (I used dark raisins)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2.25 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425F.

Warm a 9-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and add butter, swirling to coat the bottom and sides.

Combine flour, currants, raisins, caraway seeds, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Gradually add the buttermilk, stirring just until the flour is fully incorporated. Do not overmix. The dough should be sticky and a little shaggy.

Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, using a spatula to spread it evenly. It's OK if it doesn't reach all the way to the sides. Use a sharp knife to score a deep X in the top of the loaf.

Bake until cooked through and golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

The original recipe for this delicious bean soup was written for the slow cooker, so if you don't have a pressure cooker, click the link and follow the directions. I made a few other changes, most notably, I had some chorizos to use up, so I used them instead of pancetta. Also, I didn't feel like chopping the rosemary, so I just dropped the sprigs in whole. I made this in an electric pressure cooker, but you could use a stovetop cooker.

Tuscan White Bean Soup
Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2018
  • Tuscan white bean soup from Beth Fish Reads1 pound dried cannellini beans
  • 6 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 2 links smoked chorizos
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can unsalted diced tomatoes
  • 1 (2-in.) piece Parmesan cheese rind
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Place beans in a heatproof bowl. Pour in enough boiling water to cover. Cover tightly with foil and let sit at least 1 hour to soak. Drain beans, rinse, and drain well.

Place all ingredients, except the vinegar, in a pressure cooker. Lock the lid, bring to full pressure, and let cook 27 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then manually release the remaining pressure.

Taste the beans to make sure they’re cooked. Adjust the seasoning, remove the bay leaf and rosemary sprigs. If the beans aren't cooked, either bring the cooker up to pressure again for a few minutes, or use the saute function to let them boil until tender. Stir in the vinegar right before serving.
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 March 2018

8 New Fantasies to Read in March

Good news for speculative fiction fans: March's new releases offer a wide range of subgenres and settings, and readers of all ages will find a a great story to carry them through the last weeks of winter. Today's round-up includes stand-alone stories and books that start new adventures. You'll also find a bonus list of three long-awaited continuations of some favorite series.

New Worlds

8 fanatasies to read in March
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt BYR, March 6): This first in the new Legacy of Orisha series takes place in a world that's been stripped of its magic. With the help of her brother and a runaway princess, Zélie is determined to restore power to her people, even if she must put herself in mortal danger. Themes of race, family, overpowering tyranny, and love are set in an African atmosphere.
  • The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw (March 6, Simon Pulse): About 200 years ago in a small Oregon town, three sisters were tried and executed for witchcraft. The town thought they were done with the witches, but the sisters weren't done with the town. Every summer they seek revenge by inhabiting the bodies of young girls and luring boys to their death. Will one of this year's girls finally break the spell?
  • Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins (Del Rey, March 6): In this new epic fantasy series, a king falls into a coma, leaving his realm vulnerable. His five daughters scour the land to find a cure, while fending off their step-brother, who is only all too eager to take the reins of power. The story shares elements with Norse legends.
Young Readers

8 fanatasies to read in March
  • Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (Rick Riordan Presents, March 27): When Aru takes a dare from her classmates to light a supposedly magical lantern housed in a museum where her mom is a curator, the young girl awakes a sleeping spirit who is bent on destroying the world. Rich in classic Hindu tales, infused with humor and feminism, and starring a delightful protagonist this is the first in the Pandava series.
  • Strange Star by Emma Carroll (Delacorte BYR, March 20): In June 1818, Lord Byron invites four guests to a villa in Switzerland to entertain each other with ghost stories. Just as Mary Shelley is about to speak, the party is interrupted by a young girl who arrives exhausted and covered in strange scars. This is her spooky tale, which was inspired by the classic Frankenstein, on its 200th anniversary.
Continuing Series

8 fanatasies to read in March
  • Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs (Ace, March 6): In this fifth installment in the Alpha and Omega series, the werewolf pack is under threat from other not-so-human creatures. Perfect for fans of urban fantasy and werewolves. Note of interest: set in the same universe as Briggs's Mercy Thompson books.
  • Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebook Fire, March 20): In the follow-up to the first Bone Witch book, our hero, Tea, is amassing her power and revenge will soon be hers. Perfect for fans of black magic mixed with a touch of humor and solid characters.
  • Lost Crow Conspiracy by Rosalyn Eves (Knopf BYR, March 27): In this middle volume of the Blood Rose Rebellion trilogy, Anna must face the consequences of her reckless behavior, which set loose unregulated magic to wreak havoc across 19th-century Europe. Perfect for fantasy fans who like historically recognizable settings, flawed characters, and good action.

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07 March 2018

Wordless Wednesday 487

No. 27 (Germany)

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05 March 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Eclectic Edition

3 good books to read right nowHappy Monday! Not much going on in my part of the world. I'm grateful we survived the big winds and escaped the flooding and snow that plagued those living farther north and east.

I'm also happy that all the big shows are behind us: Super Bowl, Olympics, Academy Awards. I'm ready to be free from the television shackles so we can get back to the shows we really want to watch and return to commercial-free viewing.

Plus all this television is cutting into my reading time!

Review:  Speak No Evil by Uzodinma IwealaI read Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala (Harper, March 6), which is a timely story of immigration, sexual identity, and black profiling set in a wealthy Washington, DC neighborhood. All Niru has to do is get through the last months of his senior year at a prestigious day school. He has his early-acceptance letter from Harvard, and his best friend, Meredith, is one of the prettiest, smartest girls in his class. But Niru isn't like the other rich kids. He's a first-generation Nigerian American and feels the pressure to meet his parents' every Western dream. He also suspects he's gay, something he could never tell his religious parents or the guys on his track team. My heart went out to Niru, who seemed to carry the burden of other people's happiness on his shoulders. When he finally does one thing for himself, his life unravels, and he finds little support anywhere. The ultimate fate of Niru is strongly foreshadowed but that doesn't take away from the impact of the story. I was especially interested in Niru's father's behavior, which displayed a mix of cultural and religious expectations. In the end, though, Iweala's novel is about what happens when we fail to treat people with humanity, empathy, and understanding. This book is well deserving of all its starred reviews. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 6 hr, 21 min) read by Prentice Onayemi and Julia Whelan. Onayemi performs the bulk of the book, which is told from Niru's perspective. He captured the teen's personality and inner conflicts, and his Nigerian accents seemed realistic and consistent. Whelan reads the parts told from Meredith's view, also doing a fine job. My full audiobook review will be available from AudioFile Magazine.

Review: Atomic City Girls by Janet BeardJanet Beard's Atomic City Girls (William Morrow, February 6) takes place in the secret, heavily guarded city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during the final year of the war. June is a smart country girl with a limited future, so she jumps at the chance to work for the government and to further the war effort. Cici, her beautiful roommate, is at Oak Ridge for one thing only: to marry rich. Joe, a black construction worker, has moved north to earn enough money to keep his wife and children from absolute poverty. The novel covers a lot of issues without being overwhelming: the making of the atomic bomb, the building of a military research facility, the differing ambitions of the people who worked there, race issues, feminist issues, jealousies, and antisemitism. Although books about how women helped win the war are popular right now, Beard's contribution is interesting because it focuses on the personal stories of ordinary people who were hoping to make better a better future for themselves as well as for the country. It was easy to root for June and to hope that Cici would get her comeuppance. The story is made all the better because the author has family connections to Oak Ridge and the Manhattan Project. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 8 hr, 46 min) read by Xe Sands. Sands's soft, expressive performance kept my attention, and I especially appreciated her consistent, thoughtful characterizations. I'll have more to say about the audiobook in AudioFile Magazine.

Review: The Undertaker's Daughter by Sara BlaedelI also read Sara Blaedel's The Undertaker's Daughter (Grand Central Publishing, February 6). This is the start of a new trilogy by the Danish thriller author; this story, however, is set in Racine, Wisconsin. Ilka Jensen, a school-picture photographer in Copenhagen is asked to come to the United States after learning about her estranged father's death and a possible inheritance. Against her mother's advice, Ilka makes the trip, thinking she'll meet with the lawyers and be back home in a couple of days. What she discovers is that she's now the sole owner of her father's funeral house and may be responsible for both his outstanding business and his outstanding debts. Her two employees are sending mixed signals: sometimes they seem to be helping her, but other times they set her up for failure; sometimes they seem loyal to her father's memory, but not always. They are both clearly harboring secrets and seem to want Ilka's business for their own personal gain. Before Ilka can sort out her father's papers and make a final decision on the fate of the funeral home, the police call asking her to pick up the body of a homeless man who was found beaten to death. The discovery of this man opens up a cold case murder and threatens to expose a long-buried scandal. Between trying to help the grieving and figuring out the behavior of everyone who knew her father, Ilka is finding it difficult to turn her back on her inheritance, especially because she smells a rat. I liked the setup of this trilogy and clearly no one is telling Ilka the truth about her father, not even the nun who serves as the funeral home's secretary. Sometimes I wanted to side with Ilka's mother and advise her leave America and get back to her safe, quiet life in Denmark. Still, I understand that Ilka wants to know more about the father she hadn't heard from in decades. The book doesn't end on cliff-hanger, but I really, really want to know what Ilka has truly inherited and why no one will tell her. (review copy from the publisher)

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03 March 2018

Weekend Cooking: 4 New Books for Cooks and Food Lovers

4 books for cooks and food loversMarch? Really? How did that happen? I'm full-steam into my busy month, but despite sitting in my office for up to 10 hours a day, I still manage to head to the kitchen each evening and get a nutritious dinner on the table.

Granted, March isn't the month of fancy-schmancy meals, elaborate baking, or hours of experimentation. On the other hand, I never hesitate to try new recipes when I know they'll be a snap to make and turn out great--like the red beans and rice I made last Monday.

There are a number of good cookbooks and food-related books coming out this season, and here are four that caught my eye. Two are cookbooks and two are memoirs, perfect for reading on a cold, damp March evening.

Get Cooking

Review: Tom Fitzmorris's New Orleans FoodI received a copy of Tom Fitzmorris's New Orleans Food (February 20) from the Abrams Dinner Party. This is a "revised and refreshed" edition of an earlier Fitzmorris cookbook, which I believe came out just after Hurricane Katrina. This new cookbook helps us get the good times rollin' with recipes that cover drinks to dessert. It's full of wonderful regional recipes, all geared to the home cook; some recipes have been adapted from well-known chefs and restaurants. The flavors are Creole, Cajun, Southern, French, and more. I'm a little hampered when it comes to buying good fresh fish, but I found a quite a few recipes to try. One of the other members of the Abrams Dinner Party says the non-yeast beignets are fabulous. We loved the red beans and rice (shown above) and Creole pork chops. I'm sharing the recipe for a chicken dish (at the bottom of this post) that was also a huge hit.

Review: Cameron Stauch's Vegetarian Viet Nam Another new cookbook is Cameron Stauch's Vegetarian Viet Nam (Norton, March 13). I haven't cooked much Vietnam food, though I've eaten it in restaurants. The recipes in this book should be doable for most home cooks. There is heavy reliance on soy--tofu, seitan, soy sauce, miso, etc.--but the recipes don't call for American soy hot dogs or soy chicken nuggets. Some good recipes are Swiss chard rolls (yummy, soy-free, and pretty easy to make) and winter squash and sweet potato soup (with coconut milk, white beans, and cilantro). If you live in an area with large Vietnamese community, you'll probably be able to find most of the ingredients. For me, alas, things like Thai bird chile, jackfruit, tofu skin, banana blossoms, perilla sprigs, and betel nut leaves are unavailable or hard to find in my area. But if you're a fan of Vietnamese food and live near a good Asian market, be sure to take a look at this cookbook: the recipes look great.

Get Reading

  • Another book I received through the Abrams Dinner Party program is Brent Preston's The New Farm (March 20). In this memoir, Preston reveals how he and his wife, Gillian Flies, transformed themselves from happy city-dwellers to even happier organic farmers in rural Ontario. Hard work, stubbornness, and lessons learned in the fields transformed their previously neglected 100 acres into a thriving farm that not only feeds their family but also turns a profit. Preston was a journalist in his former life, and his writing style is straightforward and accessible. Expect a real review when I finish reading.
  • The premise of Eating with Peter by Susan Buckley (Arcade, March 6) was near impossible for me to resist. In the 1960s, Susan, sheltered fresh out of college meets older, wiser Peter who introduces her to a world of good eating. Buckley's memoir of traveling and eating and cooking with her beloved husband is a food-lover's delight. Through charming stories, self-deprecating humor, descriptions of high-end restaurants, and tales of home cooking (with recipes!), Buckley shares her blossoming from a young woman who could barely order off a French menu to a full-fledged global foodie. Again, I plan a full review when I finish reading.

Here's the promised chicken and artichoke recipe from Tom Fitzmorris's New Orleans Cookbook. This was delicious and I plan to make it often. It came together quickly enough to be good for a weeknight dinner. Click the image to see the recipe clearly. (Excuse the quality of the scans; I bought a new scanner and I haven't gotten the hang of the settings yet.)

Chicken with Artichoke Sauce and Pasta from Tom Fitzmorris's New Orleans Food
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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