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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter- A Perfect Novel

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-192812-3
Hardcover $25.99
Source: Amazon Vine program

Two years ago I read and loved Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of Poets, about a married man who leaves his job as financial writer to start a website just as the economic crisis hits. He doesn't know how he can support his family, keep his children in Catholic school, and take care of his father who has dementia and has moved in with them.

I was so excited to see that he had a new book out, Beautiful Ruins, which is as beautiful on the inside as the cover art is on the outside. This time, Walters takes us from 1962 in a small town on the coast of Italy, where a young Pasquale has lost his father and now runs the small family hotel that has few guests.

A beautiful, fragile American actress, Dee Moray ends up at his hotel and Pasquale feels protective of her and her situation. She confides in him that she is very sick, and Pasquale goes to Rome to confront the production assistant of the movie she is working on, which is the infamous Cleopatra, starring Richard Burton and Liz Taylor.

Richard Burton has always been a larger-than-life figure, and Walters conjures him in all his glory. Pasquale's adventure and relationship with the drunken, egomanical Burton is fascinating.

Fast forward to today, and the production assistant, Michael Deane, is now a has-been movie producer who has a successful reality television show. His assistant, Claire, is at a crossroads professionally and personally, and ready to leave her job unless she finds a movie worthy of her efforts.

Walters toggles back and forth between time frames and his stories and manages to keep both story lines interesting to the reader as we wait to see how these characters will ultimately intersect. When he finally brings both story lines together, it is brilliantly done.

Every character, and there are many, are fully fleshed out and distinct, and unlike some novels, the reader is able to keep them all straight in her mind. I find that to be the work of an accomplished writer.

Interspersed in the book are a chapter of a book written by an American writer who stayed every year at Pasquale's hotel, a synopsis of a movie written by a young man about a survivor of the infamous Donner party, and a chapter from Michael Dean's memoir. All were fascinating.

I was in awe of how Walters brought everything together in the end. The last chapter, titled Beautiful Ruins, brings the reader up-to-date on the characters in the novel, such a satisfying conclusion. Deane says that "This is a love story, but really what isn't?"

Beautiful Ruins may just be as close to perfection as I have ever read. It's like a beautiful package that you keep unwrapping, only to find more pretty wrapping, until you get to the last box and realize that the perfect gift is inside. The writing, the characters, the way it is crafted- it's the total package. This is a book I can imagine many writers will read and be envious that they didn't write it.

rating 5 of 5

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Weekend Cooking- Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food!
Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen- 100 of My Favourite Recipes by Michael Smith
Published by Pintail, a division of Penguin ISBN 978-0-14-317763-0
Paperback $32
Source: received from the publisher for review consideration

I guess I'm not up on my chefs because I don't know too much about Michael Smith, arguably Canada's most famous chef. I received a copy of his newest cookbook, simply titled Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen - 100 of My Favourite Recipes. (The spelling of favourite is a clue that he is from Canada.)

The book, like the title, is simple but gorgeous. It is divided into the typical chapters- Breakfast, Soups, Salads, Main Course, Dessert. In between chapters there are pages, like Salt & Pepper and Knives & Pots, where Smith describes simply what you need to know about using salt and pepper to season and the six (Martha Stewart would faint!) kitchen tools you need. They are:

  • One large pot, big enough to boil pasta in
  • One small pot, big enough to make a small batch of pasta sauce
  • One frying pan, large enough to make a batch of pancakes
  • One large chef's knife, for slicing and dicing
  • One serrated knife, for slicing bread
  • One small paring knife, for opening envelopes and cutting limes for your gin and tonics
Even a small apartment kitchen like mine can handle that.

The book is beautifully done, and each recipe is divided into four sections, with different colors and fonts: the recipe name and introduction, the ingredients, the directions and kitchen tips. Each recipe has an accompanying photo (well done by James Ingram), either of the finished product or of ingredients.

The recipes are simple too, using ingredients that can be found in most grocery stores, another plus for me. I don't have room for ingredients I will use only once.

I have bookmarked at least a dozen recipes to try that I know my adult sons would enjoy, including:
  • Bacon Breakfast Taco with Cheddar Scrambled Eggs
  • Chicken Cheddar Quesadillas with Jalapeno Cilantro Pesto
  • Buffalo "Wing" Salad with Spicy Chicken Chunks and Spicy Blue Cheese Dressing
  • Sweet Potato Vegetarian Chili with Cinnamon Sour Cream
  • Pan Roasted Zucchini with Cherry Tomatoes and Oregano
One recipe that is in the book is also on Michael's website. It's Cheddar Apple Flipjack, and you can find it here:
The flipjack from Michael's website
What I like best about this book is that it is filled with recipes that aren't intimidating, they are simple, made with fresh ingredients, and I think pretty much anyone can make them. I'll keep you posted on which recipes I try.

rating 4 of 5

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dan Rather- Rather Outspoken

Rather Outspoken- My Life in News by Dan Rather with Digby Diehl
Published by Grand Central Publishing ISBN 978-1-4555-0241-7
Hardcover $27.99
Source: book provided by the publisher for review

Dan Rather has been a news reporter for over 50 years and in all those years he has made a few enemies, from the KKK during the civil rights movement to President Nixon to members of George W. Bush's administration. He covers the reasons why in Rather Outspoken- My Life in the News, co-written with Digby Diehl.

There are several events in Rather's life that had a lasting impact on him, beginning with a bad case of rheumatic fever when he was a child that left him trapped in his home, unable to play with his friends or even attend school. The radio became his best friend and he grew up listening to reporters like Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid and Charles Collingwood in the run-up to WWII.

When he was a child, a few teachers took an interest in Rather, encouraging him in his love of writing. Although Rather acknowledges that he is not the best writer (and in fact a bad speller), or the smartest man in the room, he credits his dogged determination for much of his success.

One of his biggest strengths is his ability to ad-lib, which he learned working at a Houston radio station.  He had a lot of air-time to fill, and he also covered play-by-play in high school sports, which gave him a leg up when it came time to move into television.

He got his dream job of working for CBS News, one of the most prestigious news organizations in the world. On his first day, one of his idols, Charles Collingwood offered to show him around and invited him for a drink.

The book gives a terrific overview of Rather's career, and he covered many of the most important stories of the last fifty years. He spent a lot of time covering the civil right movement, and that section of the book is fascinating, especially for those who were too young to remember that period.

He covered Vietnam, and I liked his analysis of the difference between reporters working in Vietnam, where they could just tag along and grab a ride with a helicopter pilot to cover whatever story they wanted, to today's embedded reporters, who can only go where the US military allows them.

His chapter on Afghanistan, which Rather covered back in the 1980s by sneaking into the country then at war with Russia, is very interesting. I can remember watching Rather on CBS at this time, never imagining how important that country would become to our nation twenty years later.

The best chapters in the book cover the end of Rather's career with CBS News. He and his news team did a story on President George W. Bush's National Guard service during the Vietnam War. They found evidence that Bush went AWOL from his unit for more than a year, and when they tried to run the story, they were stymied at every point by corporate executives at CBS.

Rather's most important point in the book, and one that I think he makes very well, is how the corporatization of the news has changed what news the American people get. The big three networks are now owned by huge corporations- ABC by Disney, NBC by Comcast/Universal and General Electric and CBS by Viacom.

All of these corporations have vast holdings, and as such, they are constantly lobbying government for legislation favorable to their companies. Because of that, the news divisions are pressured to not report on anything that may hurt their lobbying efforts. The days of the news divisions having the freedom to cover the stories they think are important to the American people sadly seem to be over.

Rather ends the book describing his new job at HDNet, owned by billionaire Mark Cuban. Rather and his news team create 42 hours of investigative reports per year (unheard of!), and he lists some of their most honored reports, including a story on a British bank that launders money for Iran, the horror of underage sex trafficking in Portland, Oregon, and a problem with Boeing's new Dreamliner plane that endangered lives. I definitely will be checking out HDNet and Rather Reports, they are doing the reporting I want to watch.

Rather Outspoken is a fascinating look not only at an interesting man, but also at the most important news stories of the last fifty years. The book is really written in Rather's distinctive voice, with many of his Texas-isms, like his description of the very small office for Dan Rather Reports, running it as a "Hong King hot-pillow joint."

He is a somewhat polarizing person with a big ego, and those who do not like Rather will probably not have their minds changed by this book, but for those looking for one man's story of his place covering the history of the past fifty years, this is an enlightening book.

I had the pleasure of hearing Rather interviewed at this year's Book Expo America, where he talked about his childhood, gave a quick overview of the presidents he has covered, and the most moving was when he cried describing the women and children being fire-hosed and set upon by dogs during the civil rights demonstrations.  He left the audience speechless with that emotional recollection. While walking back to his publisher's booth, he was inundated by people and he graciously signed autographs and posed for pictures.
Dan Rather being interviewed at BEA

rating 4 of 5

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tayari Jones' luminous novel SILVER SPARROW

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 978-1616201425
Trade paperback, $13.95
Source: Picked up a copy at BEA 2011

When a novel starts with the sentence, "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist", you know it's going to be an intriguing book. Tayari Jones' luminous novel has two narrators, Dana Lynn Yarboro, who knows that she has a sister and that her father has two wives, and Chaurisse Witherspoon, who does not know about her sister or her father's other wife.

Dana tells us how her daddy was buying his first wife Laverne an anniversary gift, and he fell in love with the woman at the gift wrap counter of the department store, her mama Gwen. Gwen knew right away that James was married, yet she still dated him, fell in love and had his baby. She also insisted that they get married in the next state over, and James agreed.

When Dana was five, she drew a picture of her family in school, including her daddy's two wives and two girls. Her daddy told her then that she couldn't tell anyone about him or his other wife or daughter. When Dana asked if they were a secret, he told her "no, you've got it the wrong way around. Dana, you are the one who is secret."

That moment changed her life. Dana and her mother would go 'surveilling', following Laverne and Chaurisse around, spying on them. Every Wednesday, James would come to Dana's house for dinner, sometimes accompanied by his best friend Raleigh, who also knew the secret.

Gwen fought for her daughter, shaming James into paying for science classes, any extra she could get to make up for the fact that Dana did not have a daddy she could acknowledge publicly. Gwen worked long, hard hours as a nurse, resenting that Laverne, the other wife, got to work out of her own home in a beauty parlor she owned.

Dana resented Laverne and Chaurisse, especially when Chaurisse got things Dana wanted. She got a job at the local amusement park, but couldn't take it because Chaurisse got a job there too. When her daddy presented her with a beautiful rabbit fur jacket, she felt special, until she saw Chaurisse wearing the same jacket.

The second half of the book is narrated by Chaurisse, and I thought it was the stronger half of the book.  Chaurisse is a sympathetic character. She is lonely, not pretty or smart like Dana. She didn't have any friends, and neither did her mother.

I found this intriguing; none of the women in this book had friends, they were all lonely. You might say that because Dana and Gwen were a secret, they probably wouldn't have many friends, but why didn't Laverne or Chaurisse have friends? Laverne was exposed to many women at her home beauty salon, but she seemed to have no friends. I wonder if this is a commentary on these women or on all women?

I didn't really have a handle on James as a character, he seemed to be an OK guy, but he always appeared a bit out of focus for me. Raleigh, on the other hand, was a fascinating character. James' mother took him in as a child, and he grew up like James' brother.

Raleigh had so many good qualities, but somehow he got swept into James' deceptive life. He always seemed to be the one who tried to make things right, to smooth things over for everyone. But he was lonely too, never having a family or love of his own because he had to keep the peace for James and his two families.

The author said that all stories are about secrets, and that what happens when the secret is revealed is the interesting part. Eventually, James' secret comes out, and the sadness and heartbreak that follows makes for gripping reading.

The writing in Silver Sparrow is just beautiful, and this story has a lot to say about the relationship between mothers and daughters and between sisters. One line really resonated with me. Chaurisse was a bit envious of the easy conversation between her mother and Dana, saying "it was like my mother was a newspaper that everyone could read except for me." I think it's true that we don't see our mothers in the same way others do.

This luminous story grabbed me right at the beginning, and I found myself caring so deeply about these characters, it was like they were people I actually knew. I rooted for them all to be OK, even though the situation dictated that it may not end that way. Tayari Jones has written a lovely novel, one that begs to read again and again.

rating 5 of 5

Tayari Jones and Judy Blume appeared at the Algonquin Book Club at Barnes & Noble 86th St. in NYC. My blog post on that is here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Algonquin Book Club: When Judy (Blume) Met Tayari (Jones)

Tayari Jones & Judy Blume at Barnes & Noble

I was thrilled to discover that the Algonquin Book Club would be at my neighborhood Barnes & Noble webcasting a discussion between Judy Blume, (Are You There God, It's Me Margaret?) and Tayari Jones, whose newest book is the luminous Silver Sparrow.

The room was filled with quite a diverse crowd; young and older, women and men, publishers, editors and readers. But the one question that everyone seemed to have was "How do Judy Blume and Tayari Jones know each other?" Judy has sold over 80 million copies of her books, many of them young adult classics, and Tayari is a relatively new writer, whose latest book is her best known.

The answer is that in the recent past, Tayari was speaking at the Key West Literary Seminar, pondering a change in publishers for her next book. A woman she didn't know came up to her and said she heard that Tayari was looking for a new publisher.

Tayari thought "Why are people talking about my publishing situation?" The woman took her over to Elisabeth Scharlatt, the publisher at Algonquin Books, and then left. Elisabeth asked Tayari "How do you know Judy?", to which Tayari replied "I don't know anyone named Judy." Elisabeth informed Tayari that the woman who just introduced them was none other than Judy Blume!

Judy and her husband invited some of the new authors to dinner that night and Elisabeth was there too. Judy joked that she was a matchmaker, mating a "wonderful young writer to a wonderful publisher." And that is how Judy met Tayari and Tayari became an Algonquin author.

Tayari said that the trajectory of her career changed when this happened, but she was ready. "You have to be ready, and I had something worth sending, Silver Sparrow."  This came at the right time in her life, when preparation met opportunity.

Silver Sparrow tells the story of James, a man married to two women who each have a daughter by him, born just four months apart. The second wife and daughter know about the first wife and daughter, but the first wife and daughter are in the dark regarding wife and daughter number two.

Judy asked why Tayari gave away the secret in the first sentence, "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist." Tayari believes that it is more interesting that one woman married a man, knowing he was already married. She says that all stories are about secrets, like Romeo and Juliet, and that's what keeps us turning pages. She says that there are two important things, what is the secret and what happens when the secret comes out.

We learned that Tayri uses a manual typewriter to write her stories; actually, she uses six of them, and they each have names. The pink one is 'Tuscadero', named after Fonzie's girlfriend from Happy Days, who always wore pink. The deep purple one is named 'Jeannie' and 'Andre' is a 1919 one she bought on Ebay.

The subject of categories, or classification, like women's fiction, chick-lit and YA, came up. Judy says "I hate them!" Tayari brought up a good point, that it is not necessarily that the classifications themselves, but the way people perceive or react to the classifications that matter. If people reject a book out of hand because it is "chick-lit" or YA, it is not the classification that is wrong, but their perception that that category is a lesser one that is wrong.

The discussion was delightful and informative, and I hope that my neighborhood Barnes & Noble can host another one soon. You can get more information on future webcasts at Algonquin Books Blog here. And you can watch the entire discussion here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Worthy Companion to Maisie Dobbs- Victoria Thompson's Sarah Brandt

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson
Published by The Berkeley Publishing Group ISBN 978-0-425-22972-9
Trade paperback $15
Source: purchased at Barnes & Noble

I am a big fan of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, about a female private investigator/psychologist in post WWI London, having read all of the books.  Chelsea Clinton is also a fan, posting on Facebook about her memories of reading the books with her grandmother. Chelsea asked if anyone had recommendations for books like Maisie, and someone posted about Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mystery series, about Sarah Brandt, a midwife living in New York City around the turn of the 20th century.

I kept that in mind, and when I was waiting for a book signing at Barnes & Noble 86th St. store in NYC recently, I found myself in the Mystery section, and remembered the books. I found the first one, Murder on Astor Place, and picked it to read while waiting.

Once I started it, I knew I had found a companion for Maisie across the pond. Sarah was a widow who lost her husband, a doctor, to a violent crime. She served her community as a midwife, and one night while helping a boardinghouse owner deliver her baby, she sees a teenage girl who looks very much like a woman she knew as a teen. The girl looks frightened, but Sarah had other duties at hand.

The next day she discovers that the scared teen had died, and Sarah met Sergeant Frank Malloy of the NYPD, who was investigating the case. Sarah gives Malloy some help with the case, and they discover that the girl was pregnant when she died.

Sarah becomes curious, and finds out that the girl, Mina, was the younger sister of the woman she knew. She entangles herself in the police case, at first to the consternation, then at the request of Sgt. Malloy. Sarah came from a prominent New York society family, although she has been estranged from her family since her younger sister died tragically.

She uses her connections to insinuate herself in the middle of the case. Mina's family does not want to help the police find their daughter's killer, which only makes Malloy and Sarah more suspicious.

The mystery of who killed Mina is a puzzler, and there a few red herrings to throw the reader off the track. This is a fine mystery series, and I especially liked the setting of NYC at the turn of the century. You get a real sense of time and place in this book, and others in the series include Murder on Lenox Hill and Murder in Gramercy Park, so I imagine that working your way through the series would be a real snapshot of New York at that time.

If you are a history buff, you would enjoy learning about Teddy Roosevelt and the NYPD reforms he put in place, and the medical aspects and the society angle of the book fascinated me as well. And for those going through Downton Abbey withdrawal, there is a bit in here about "the merits of marrying off wealthy American girls to poverty-stricken English noblemen just to have a titled lady in the family- a practice that had become so widespread it had a name: Anglomania."

The author has a sturdy, honorable heroine in Sarah Brandt, and her budding relationship with Sgt. Malloy is one I look forward to discovering in future books.  If you are a Maisie Dobbs fan looking for a new series, give Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mysteries a try.

rating 4 of 5

Monday, June 18, 2012

Overseas by Beatriz Williams: A 50 Shades/Time Traveler's Wife Mashup

Overseas by Beatriz Williams
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons ISBN 978-0-399-15764-6
Hardcover, $25.95
Source: review copy provided by the publisher

Take Fifty Shades of Gray (minus the whole BDSM-thing), add The Time Traveler's Wife, plus a dash of Erin Duffy's debut novel Bond Girl, and a pinch of Maisie Dobbs' WWI mysteries, shake them all up in a box, and you get Beatriz Williams' imaginative debut novel Overseas.

Young analyst Kate Wilson has a summer job at Sterling Bates bank, a Wall Street institution. When she attracts the attention of superstar hedge fund billionaire Julian Laurence, sparks fly and they begin a relationship, much to the consternation of her hated boss Alicia, who aims to do Kate in.

But what does this have to do with Captain the Honorable Julian Laurence Spencer Ashford, WWI British Army hero who wrote a famous love poem, Overseas, to his fiancee back home and died tragically on the battlefield in France? Are the two men distant relatives or something more?

Julian and Kate begin a relationship, only to have Julian dump Kate soon after, without warning or reason. When Julian reappears months later, saving Kate from an attack in Central Park, they reignite their relationship, although Julian acts very mysterious, paranoid even.

Kate is accused of violating insider trading laws and fired from Sterling Bates, and she believes that Alicia is behind it. Julian offers to help her find out what happened, and whisks her off to his country home in Connecticut where their relationship grows deeper.

Julian loves Kate, almost from the first moment he saw her, and he showers her with affection and gifts. Kate understands the affection, but the expensive gifts make her uncomfortable. There was one line I adored, something that explains the deep relationship between true soulmates. Julian says:
"There's a difference between giving and sharing, darling. I'm not giving you anything. You're a part of me. It's all just yours."

But Julian is keeping secrets from Kate, and there are men following her. What is behind all this? The mystery behind who exactly Julian is and why people seem to want to hurt Kate and him is well drawn-out and comes to a convincing conclusion.

This imaginative book defies categorization, with aspects of mystery, romance, fantasy, and a little science fiction all carefully put together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that, when finally finished, brings great satisfaction.

It's not a book that when described to me I thought I would choose to read, but I'm glad I opened my mind and heart up to it. The storytelling is very clever, and I would have loved to seen the editor's pitch for this book. My only criticism would be that it may have been a bit too long, with too many scenes between Kate and Julian establishing their relationship.

That said, I look forward to Beatriz Williams next book; she has a lot going on in that creative mind of hers.

rating 4 of 5

If The House of Mirth Were Written Today, It Would Be And Laughter Fell From The Sky

And Laughter Fell From The Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan
Published by William Morrow Books, ISBN  978-0-06-210576-9
Trade paperback $14.99
Source: Won on LibraryThing

Jane Eyre has been a perpetual favorite, but 2012 seems to be the Summer of Edith Wharton. Francesca Segal has written The Innocents, a novel set in modern London and a retelling of Wharton's The Age of Innocence. Claire McMillan modernizes The House of Mirth in The Gilded Age, set in Cleveland.

Jyotsna Sreenivasan also took inspiration from The House of Mirth for her debut novel, And Laughter Fell From The Sky, about Indian immigrants trying to maintain their culture and lifestyle in modern Ohio.

Rasika is a 25-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants. She is a college graduate, has a good job at a bank, and tries to be everything that her family wants her to be; yet she is unhappy. By chance she runs into Abbay at the Oberlin College campus. Abbay was her younger brother's childhood friend, and she hasn't seen him in awhile.

Abbay seems a bit lost, having spent some time at a commune, but he has returned home to his family, hoping to find his place in this world. Running into Rasika rekindles his romantic feelings for her, but she is looking for a successful Indian man to marry, someone of whom her family would approve.

Although she is physically attracted to Abbay, he is not someone she would marry. He doesn't have a good career, and not many prospects for one. To the outside world and her family, Rasika appears happy, but she is not. She invites Abbay to meet her at a hotel in Cleveland for a secret rendezvous, where he learns that he is not the only man she has ever invited there.

By chance they run into distant family members attending a wedding, and Rasika panics that her family will find out about her affair with Abbay. She ends their relationship before it can begin, and Abbay is disconsolate.

Rasiks is living two lives; one in which her family is actively seeking a successful Indian man as her husband, and one in which she makes her own choices. You can feel her agony as the stress is tearing her apart.

Abbay declares his love for her, and tells her that she can make her own choices, her parents love her and will understand. Rasika can't disappoint her parents, and allows them to arrange a marriage for her after gossip starts buzzing in the Indian community about Rasika and her relationships with other men. They must marry her off before no respectable man will have her.

I learned so much about the Indian culture, from food to dress to the changing caste system. I particularly enjoyed the scenes set in India, and this book has encouraged me to discover more about it.

This is a wonderful debut novel, full of heart and soul, familial and romantic love, and the search for happiness. My favorite passage is Abbay speaking to Rasika:
"We've both been looking for an ideal. You think your life will be perfect if only you can be the kind of person your parents seem to want. I thought my life would be perfect if only I could find a place on earth that touched the utopia in my imagination. We're both searching for something we've built in our own brains."

I happily fell into the world of And Laughter Fell From The Sky, surrendering myself to this Indian immigrant culture about which I knew little. Rasika is such a vivid heroine, and her struggle moved me so. She wants to be a good daughter, but she also wants more for herself. It is something that many immigrants have dealt with for many years, but also something that many young people, not only immigrants, can relate to. I loved how Sreenivasan makes Rasika's timeless story seem fresh.

This is one of the best books I have read this year, and clearly the best debut novel I have read in awhile.

rating 5 of 5

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Weekend Cooking- Father's Day Dinner

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food!

This weekend is Father's Day, and I always like to make a delicious dinner to honor my wonderful husband and father of our two fantastic sons.

The meal below came from an appearance by America's Test Kitchen's Chris Kimball on The Today Show in April. It's for Rib Eye Steaks with Tarragon Smashed Potatoes, and I have made it before to rave reviews. (The potatoes are a new family favorite)

Recipe: Rib-eye steaks with tarragon smashed potatoes

  • 2 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
  • 4 (10-ounce) bone-in rib-eye steaks, 1 inch thick, trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Place potatoes in large saucepan and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Add 1 tablespoon salt, bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes; drain and return to pot. Add sour cream, 4 tablespoons butter, and tarragon, and mash with potato masher. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving bowl and cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, pat steaks dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook steaks until well browned and meat registers 120 to 125 degrees F (for medium-rare), 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer steaks to platter, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 minutes.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and mushrooms to now empty skillet and cook until mushrooms start to brown, about 8 minutes. Add sherry and cook until reduced to glaze, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and cook until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Off heat, whisk in heavy cream and remaining 2 tablespoons butter until butter is melted and sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve steak with potatoes and top with mushroom sauce.
Serving Size
Serves 4
If the kids want to help make Dad dinner,  Kraft Foods Low-Fat Raspberry Summer Sensation, is an easy and tasty summer treat that they can put together with a little help from Mom if they are little, or on their own if they are a bit older.

Enjoy your Father's Day weekend, give your Dad a treat and tell him how much you love him!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

BEA12 Wrap-Up Part 3- Is speed dating wrong if you're already married 2- the sequel

Three upcoming book club titles
So my first experience with speed dating worked so well at BEA12, I decided to try it again at Hot Book Group Titles for Fall/Winter, hosted by BookReporter.com's Carol Fitzgerald.

Instead of authors, this time we "dated" publishers, who shared the books they were most excited about for book clubs.  We were assigned tables, and I got lucky number seven. In previous years, this was a panel discussion, and there was little time for interaction as the publishers raced through their presentation to get all of their titles in.

At the tables we got to interact with our tablemates and the publishers. I liked this much better; it seemed less like a lecture and more of a discussion. The only downside was, due to time constraints, we didn't get to talk to all of the publishers.

Craig from Algonquin Books shared his two favorite books with us, one of which was B.A. Shapiro's The Art Forger, about an artist who makes a pact with the devil in the form of a person who wants the artist to forge a work that was stolen 20 years ago from a museum in Boston. (It's based on the infamous Gardner Museum heist.) Craig says ""it's a great book to put in anyone's hands." It publishes in October.

I also loved how he described Algonquin Books as "the only publishing house that does not do vampire books." (YAY!) He also said, laughing, that wine goes great with Algonquin Books, cause "the more you drink, the better Algonquin Books read."

Hachette had a book I was interested in- Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins, which was described as about family, marriage and obsession.  Mom Edie is obsessed with food, and she just keeps getting bigger. Her husband finally leaves her, and their adult children don't know how to handle this. It is set in Chicago, and we were told that "what Alice McDermott did for Irish-Catholic Easterners, Jami does for Midwest and food." The book also publishes in October.

Jennifer Hart from Harper Collins shared an historical fiction book that caught my attention- Lois Leveen's The Secrets of Mary Bowser, about an educated female freed slave who ends up spying for the Union inside the Davis White House in Richmond during the Civil War. I love books that are based in truth, and this story came out of a tale of a real-life female Union spy. This book is available now.

Carla Gray from Houghton Mifflin raved about Frances & Bernard by Carlene Bauer, a book based on the letters that Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell wrote to each other. Carla said that "This one had me sobbing on the subway, it got me in the gut. It's just a treasure." We'll have to wait until February 2013 for this gem.

Harlequin is not a publisher I usually read, but they are not just romances as I discovered. J.T. Ellison writes suspense novels, and her newest is Edge of Black, about a female medical examiner who is called to investigate what is believed to be a terrorist attack on the Metro subway in Washington DC. When she discovers that the victims all had something in common, it's game on. Ellison has previously been chosen as a PW Pick and Indie Next book, so she is worth a read in December when the book is released.

Carol Fitzgerald will have all of the books discussed here on ReadingGroupGuides.com.

It's well worth a look, I hope you find as many great books as I did.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

BEA12 Wrap-Up- Is Speed Dating Wrong When You're Already Married? Part 1

Books from the authors I met at speed dating

Two of the events I enjoyed most at this year's BEA were speed dating. The Book Bloggers Conference opened up with Author Speed Dating.

Each table was numbered and we got to choose where to sit; I chose table 9 because of I was looking forward to meeting Lee Woodruff and Justin Cronin. Lee Woodruff is a reporter on my favorite morning show, CBS This Morning, with Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill.

One of the stories she did on the show was about the uber-popular book, Fifty Shades of Grey. She visited with housewives, including her sister, to find out what all the fuss was, and this story was one of the earliest in the mainstream media to report on the phenomenon.

When she sat down at the table, the reporter in her came out as she asked us all who we were. Then she discussed her upcoming book, her first novel, Those We Love Most, a story about a family whose lives change tragically in an instant. It is told from the perspective of four people, and it's about marriage, the secrets we keep from the ones we love, and the consequences of those secrets. I'm really looking forward to reading this one.

Amy Sohn, author of Motherland, joined us next. Her novel is a sequel to Prospect Park West, and both are about that trendy section of Brooklyn and the inhabitants who live there. It's like the next step for the Sex & the City characters. Her time with us seemed short, all she could do was describe her new novel to us and then the bell rang.

I was very excited to meet Justin Cronin, whom most people know as the man who wrote The Passage, but I know him for his lovely book Mary and O'Neill.  I was so happy to be able to tell him how much I loved that book, and I think he was pleased to hear it. (I fear I was slightly schoolgirlish in my devotion.) His upcoming book is a sequel to The Passage titled The Twelve.

Our last author was unfamiliar to me; Will Schwalbe wrote a memoir about the death of his mother, The End of Your Life Book Club. He was so genuine and his description of the book had our entire table under his spell. He accompanied his mother to her chemo treatments, and they decided to read and discuss books together to pass the time.

His love and admiration for his mother, who founded a women's and children's refugee organization in Afghanistan, had all us teary-eyed. I think our table all fell a little in love with Will. His mom must have been remarkable to have raised such a wonderful son. I can't wait to read his tribute to her.

All in all, I have to say that my first speed dating try was very successful; of the four authors I met, I am excited about "dating" three of them. (And by "dating", I mean reading their books and following them on social media.)

My next post will be about speed dating at the Book Club Buzz Panel.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Weekend Cooking- Things Were Cooking at BEA

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food!

Things were cooking this year at the annual Book Expo of America, held at the Javits Center in NYC June 4-7.

I managed to pick up a few food-related items this time around, as you can see in the photo:

I got a blad of The Barefoot Contessa's new book, Foolproof, scheduled to publish on October 30th. On the back is a recipe for raspberry crumble bars. I make many of Ina Garten's recipes, and her Chicken with Shallots from how easy is that? is in our current rotation.

David Venable from QVC has his first cookbook coming out on October 9th, Comfort Foods That Take You Home, and he was signing blads and handing out aprons, which was nice. He took the time to talk to everyone in line, and spoke of the fact that the first time Paula Deen was on TV was on his QVC show, in the kitchen with David. There are five recipes in his blad, including one for Southern BBQ Chicken that looks good.
Not a flattering picture of David Venable

Bravo TV's Top Chef had three alumni there, including Carla Hall, who now co-hosts ABC's daytime show The Chew. She had a very long line, and I didn't wait to get her signed blad of her upcoming cookbook, Cooking With Love, as I have seen her a few times at tapings of The Chew. She is a hoot!
Carla Hall
Mike Isabella had champagne and rainbow cookies at his signing at the Perseus Books booth, a welcome diversion. He signed blads of his upcoming Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian and chatted with people.
Mike Isabella

The last Top Chef alumnus there was Angelo Sosa, who was promoting his book, Flavor Exposed. I did not get to see him as I was waiting in a loooong line to get Chris Colfer's (Kurt from GLEE) book.

Bon Appetit contributor Jenny Rosenstrach's turned her blog, Dinner- a Love Story into a book from Ecco, a Harper Collins imprint. I'm looking forward to reading this one. Jenny and her husband believe it is important to cook dinner for their family every night, and this book chronicles that story, along with recipes. (I agree wholeheartedly with her; I tried to cook for my family every night, and when my sons went to college, they cooked and ate with their roommates almost every night.)

Moll Anderson handed out samples from her upcoming book, Seductive Tables for Two, but I'm not sure about this one. The photos are beautiful though. 

The book I'm most excited about is Marlene Koch's Eat More of What You Love. Perusing it I found several recipes I'm going to try, including Steak Diane, (how apropo!), which I made tonight and was pronounced delicious by those lucky enough to be served it.  It only had 265 calories per serving, and I love that along with the nutritional information at the end of each recipe, she lists the Food Exchanges too, including Weight Watchers Plus Point Comparison.

I can tell that I will be using this book alot, the recipes are all of food my family would eat, not necessarily 'diet food'. 

If you went to BEA this year, did you get any cookbooks?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Book Expo America starts Monday

Book Expo America kicks off Monday with the Book Blogger Conference, and happily I will be attending. The actual expo, featuring authors, publishers and hundreds of exhibitors runs through Thursday, and this year the BEA has offered live streaming of some  of their most popular events, including the Authors Breakfasts.

If you can't be there, you can follow along with the BEA Streaming Player here:

I'll be posting about my BEA adventures here and on Twitter @bookchickdi. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Slimmer by Harry Papas

Slimmer: The New Mediterranean Way To Lose Weight by Harry Papas
Published by Turner Publishing ISBN 978-1-59652-856-7
Hardcover, $26.95
Harry Papas gained 110 pounds in one year. Knowing how unhealthy that was, he changed his college major from Economics to Diet and Nutrition and created his own program to lose the weight and get healthy.

Slimmer: The New Mediterranean Way To Lose Weight is the result of his knowledge and experience in losing the weight. Papas is from Greece, and he learned that there was study done in the 1960s, entitled The Seven Countries Study, that concluded that Japan and Greece had the lowest rates of coronary artery disease and low levels of serum cholesterol.

Papas discovered that the Greek diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, dairy products (higher protein Greek yogurt has recently become popular in the United States), olive oil and wine and vinegar have contributed to the healthier Greek population.

Most of the above I had already known, but the vinegar one was new to me. Including vinegar and lemon juice at a meal reduces blood glucose levels and helps to burn fat intake. It would be easy to whip up a vinegar/lemon juice and olive oil dressing to add to salads or to marinate a protein in. He suggests using organic vinegars and avoiding those with added sugar.

Walking outside in the sunshine for 30 minutes every day is preferable to walking a treadmill in the gym. Shutting off the cellphone and just meditating and relaxing for a few minutes daily will help your health, according to Papas.

There are lots of recipes in this book, with Papas giving the reader three-21 day cycles of menus. I like that he gives such a long-range menu cycle, and you get free days when you can choose what to eat; you feel less deprived.

Breakfast is important, and he recommends fruit, bran or whole grain cereal, reduced fat milk, whole grain bread, a protein like turkey sausage or turkey bacon, and coffee or tea every morning. You get three small snacks, lunch and dinner.

Three recipes that I am going to try first are:

  • Mediterranean Tuna Salad- which you can prepare ahead of time and assemble easily at work
  • Chicken with Orzo
  • Summer Vegetable Risotto with Chicken
The recipe below came from Maria and Eleni's Taverna, a famous restaurant on the Greek isle of Fiscardo, owned by Papas' mother and aunt, and visited by many famous people like Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad
By Harry Papas
Author of Slimmer: The New Mediterranean Way to Lost Weight
Full of fresh flavor with a hint of spice, not to mention a good amount of healthy fiber, this salad will satisfy any size appetite, just as it has at Maria and Eleni's Taverna for years!
One 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed 
1 scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced
½ small cucumber, seeded and diced
2 Tablespoons diced green bell pepper
1 plum tomato, cored, seeded, and diced 
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon capers, drained and rinsed
A dash of cayenne pepper
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar 
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon prepared mustard 
A pinch of dried oregano
1. In a medium bowl toss together the chickpeas, scallion, cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, parsley, capers, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl stir together the remaining ingredients and pour over the chickpea mixture. Toss well to coat and allow to marinate, stirring occasionally, for at least 1 hour before serving.
Makes 1 serving
The above is an excerpt from the book Slimmer: The New Mediterranean Way to Lost Weight by Harry Papas
Papas' own success and his easy-to-follow menu plan should inspire anyone who wants to eat healthier and lose weight. The recipes are simple and full of fresh flavor, and the book is written in a easy to read style.

rating 4 of 5

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food!