Sunday, December 28, 2014

Provence, 1970

Having been born in 1966, most of my childhood memories are from the 1970's. I recall seeing episodes of Julia Child's program on our local PBS channel on a few occasions. I grew up in a family of women who cooked, mostly out of the necessity to make the weekly paycheck stretch as far as possible. My parent's tilled up half of our urban Iowa back yard and grew gorgeous and plentiful vegetable gardens each summer. Eating out was a luxury few in my neighborhood could indulge in.

I have an idea that people like me and my family were a part of the revolution in food that some of those giants in the food scene who gathered in Provence in 1970 had in mind. The shift from French cuisine and technique being the "be all and end all" of the food world to a more open and inclusive (not to mention casual and local) approach to cooking paved the way for things like the Food Network--one of the "go to" channels at my house.

Barr's memoir is written in a very easy, approachable style. Although I only knew some of the food writers/celebrities mentioned on the cover of the book, I felt it was easy to become not only acquainted, but somewhat intimate with each of them by the end of the book. (I had not heard of Richard Olney--despite his being from the same state in which I reside--until this book.) Barr underwent thorough and extensive research through personal letters and archived materials on each of the chefs and gourmands in putting together the events which transpired during that time when there was a shift in thinking in the world of food. It is a very well written book!

I found it interesting to see what sorts of food these "giants" put together when they gathered for social affairs. Menus and wine lists were fascinating, even though I have virtually no knowledge of wine. (Because I do watch a lot of cooking shows and have read a lot of cookbooks, I found the talk about food choices and preparations much easier to follow!)

If you enjoy food, history, celebrity chefs, France, travel, or will enjoy Provence, 1970. I would like to thank Blogging For Books for the free copy of Provence, 1970 in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today’s tastes and culture, the way we eat now. The conversations among this group were chronicled by M.F.K. Fisher in journals and letters—some of which were later discovered by Luke Barr, her great-nephew. In Provence, 1970, he captures this seminal season, set against a stunning backdrop in cinematic scope—complete with gossip, drama, and contemporary relevance.

About the Author . . .
Luke Barr is an editor at Travel + Leisure magazine. A great-nephew of M.F.K. Fisher, he was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Switzerland, and graduated from Harvard. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their two daughters.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Bowl of Olives

This evocative little book lead me down a fragrant memory lane even as Midda shares her own journey of food-induced memories. What a pleasant stroll! Each page a feast for the eye, A Bowl of Olives by Sara Midda is a cornucopia of lovely little watercolor illustrations, photos, quotes, prose, and recipes.

Food, for many people, is the currency of relationships--the thing around which we gather with family and friends to make memories, celebrate milestones, or dive deeply into the present moment. Simply smelling the fragrance of a remembered dish can unleash an avalanche of images, feelings, tastes, and more from a time long past. Cookies or bread baking in the oven trigger memories of my childhood. A whiff of chicken frying will bring to mind summer picnics. Squash recalls me to fall dinners served which gathered a busy household together if only for an all-too-brief moment at the table.

A Bowl of Olives is my first exposure to Sara Midda's work. What a delight all her petite, delicate watercolor illustrations are! I love the feel of the pages. The color, the layouts provide such pleasure!

Because the book centers on the illustrations, it is a very quick read at only 128 pages. Seasoned with a smattering of quotes, Midda's memories, and recipes (some of them are just the bare bones!) . . . readers will find themselves savoring not only Midda's offerings, but the reflections of meals and dishes past too. I highly recommend this book to all who love food, visual arts, great paper, and books in general!

I am so thankful for the opportunity to review Sara Midda's latest offering, A Bowl of Olives, and thankful to Shelf Awareness for the complimentary copy!

From the publisher...

From the author of the international bestseller In and Out of the Garden and the wondrous sketchbook Sara Midda’s South of France comes a long-awaited treasure of a book. Drawn from the artist’s wealth of impressions and memories, it is a book for lovers of food and art and fine gift books—a book for anyone who, upon arriving in a new town, seeks first the local market, or who believes the best thing to do on a given night is to share a table with friends.

Sara Midda is a watercolorist whose delicate and beautiful paintings shine like jewels, evoking the sweet purple taste of a summer raspberry or the silvery greens and gnarled burnt umber of an olive grove. And she is also a collagist, weaving together photographs, line drawings, her personal swatches—all the hues of a spice cabinet, or the sensations of a picnic, the colors of the breeze, sunshine, laughter, the cooling grass. And a poet, in love with words that sing, like podding and wicker, nettle and snug.

By turns reverent and playful, A Bowl of Olives is a work of pure enchantment, celebrating food—of the seasons, of family, of travel and memory. It is as richly layered as a favorite meal.

The book is cloth-bound, jacketed, and printed on uncoated stock to convey the feeling of an artist’s sketchbook.

About the author...

Sara Midda is an artist who lives in West Sussex, England, and previously lived in the south of France. Her most recent book is Artisan’s children’s activity book How to Build an A.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Life-Changing Magic

Thanks to Blogging For Books who provided me with a free copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Konda for this review.

I suspect that Japanese norms for housekeeping and interior design may be regarded as spartan by American standards. Nonetheless, this reader was drawn to Marie Kondo's book because my living space is in need of some serious help as the "stuff" of my 48 years threatens to overwhelm my home.

Kondo's advice for tidying your living space, and subsequently your life is this: forget finding the right storage system. What you really need to do is get rid of most of your stuff.

Perhaps I have oversimplified and slightly exaggerated my summation, however that was my first impression of Kondo's words. (And I will admit I was at once horrified and convinced she had hit the nail on the head.)

The book is uncluttered and neat, streamlined in its advice. As I read Kondo's precise and methodical account of her own discovery of her KonMari method for keeping her living spaces tidy, I frequently looked around at my own living room only to realize I was, in fact, in possession of many items that held little, if any real meaning to me.

According to the book, the standard for deciding what to keep (and thus what you will need to have room for) are those things which bring you joy. Kondo advises actually handling each and every possession, from clothing to books to mementos and asking yourself, "Does this give me joy?" If you hesitate or the answer is "no," get rid of it.

I suspect that many of us are guilty of collecting items for the sake of acquisition only and that many of the items in our homes and lives do not serve to bring us joy. I know that is the case for myself. I suspect that is why so many people have tidied their living spaces only to find themselves surrounded again by clutter within a few weeks or months.

If you find yourself in that position, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up may be the solution you are looking for. You may find it inspiring to hear Kondo say that once you tidy, truly tidy according to her method, you will never have to do it again. (Be warned, it may take up to six months of dedicated effort if your possessions are overwhelming your space!)

I find this succinct little book to offer a promising solution to the clutter accumulating in my home. I am going to re-read Kondo's advice and then I am going to take on the life-changing project of tidying up my home!

From the publisher . . .

This best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

About the author . . .

Marie “KonMari” Kondo runs an acclaimed consulting business in Tokyo helping clients transform their cluttered homes into spaces of serenity and inspiration. With a three-month waiting list, her KonMari Method of decluttering and organizing has become an international phenomenon. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a best seller in Japan, Germany, and the UK, with more than two million copies sold worldwide, and has been turned into a television drama for Japanese TV. She has been featured on more than thirty major Japanese television and radio programs and in the Sunday Times, Red magazine, You magazine, and the Times, who has deemed her “Japan’s preeminent guru of tidiness, a warrior princess in the war on clutter.”

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Knockout Knits Packs a Punch!

I was very excited to receive a review copy for Larua Nelkin's Knockout Knits from Blogging For Books. As an avid knitter, I am always on the lookout for new accessory items which knit up quickly, especially as the gift giving season approaches. Knockout Knits not only provides knitters with a wide variety of accessories to knit, it also challenges readers to experiment with new techniques to add an extra element of interest to the experience of knitting and to the final piece.

The book is broken into three main areas of emphasis: wrapped stitches, lace, and knitting with beads. Within each section, Nelkin arranges projects from small and easy at the beginning to larger or more complicated projects at the end. With an introduction to each technique leading off the section, knitters will get a sense of the variety of effects each technique can offer. Even though I had done some basic knit stitches using the wrap/drop technique, Knockout Knits was the first time I saw the variety of ways this technique could be switched up to such different effects for some stunning end results. (Folly Cloche, I'm talking about you!)

Another technique I have always wanted to try but had not had the opportunity is knitting with beads. Nelkin's introduction and step-by-step guidance through the working of patterns with beads has given me the courage to cast on my yarn and go for it!

Patterns in Knockout Knitsare clear and easy to follow. The photographs are eye candy for fiber fanatics and fashionistas. Nelkin provides easy-to-read charts where appropriate. And, as mentioned earlier, the range from easy to progressively more challenging projects provides something that a knitter of any skill level can dive in and accomplish.

If you are a knitter looking for some great holiday gifting ideas, Knockout Knits is a sure hit!

From the Publisher:

An abundance of knitted luxuries--summery lace shawls, warm and wooly hats, a trio of cool knitted bracelets, and stunning beaded gloves--designed to grow your skills.

Who doesn't love to knit accessories? They're fast, often require only a skein or two of yarn, and make amazingly versatile gifts for friends and family. Small knits are also the perfect way to try something new--an unusual stitch pattern, wild multi-colored yarn, or even a touch of sparkle. Laura Nelkin is well-known for designing these fun-to-knit little projects introducing her students and fans to advanced techniques with her signature "You can do it!" enthusiasm. In her first book, she shares her 3 favorite types of knitting using wrapped stitches, lacework, and beads. Each chapter begins with a quick knitted cuff to lay the foundations, then gradually ramps up to more complicated designs. The result is an all-new collection of wearable, feminine knits with a slightly rustic aesthetic. Give them as gifts, stockpile for a chilly day, or dress up a casual outfit--these are knockout projects to enjoy knitting again and again.

About the Author:

Laura Nelkin, a prolific independent knitwear designer, graduated from Cornell with a degree in Apparel Design. A former design director, Laura sells her knit pattern and kit line to yarn stores worldwide and teaches workshops around the country and online with Her patterns have been published through Nelkin Designs, and in The Rhinebeck Sweater, Scarf Style 2, Knitscene, and Knitty. Laura lives near Ithaca, New York. Visit her at

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reading vs. Being Read To

I recently went on a vacation to a destination approximately 1,600 miles from where I live. If you do the math, that's roughly 27 hours of driving, each way. (Somehow it felt twice as long on the way home than it did on the way going!) That's a LOT of time in the car! Between the time I spent as the driver and my inability to read in the car due to motion sickness, audio books have been a godsend to my family for years!

If you find yourself in a position where reading, whether a paper copy of a book or your trusty e-reader, is not an option, why not consider listening to a story or book???

Most book sellers have a variety of books on CD available for purchase. There are also sources for downloading audio books to your i-Pod or smartphone.

One source many people overlook is their public library! Mine (I live in the middle of the country, in a small "city" of 25,000 people) has a superb selection of books on CD! My husband and I went down to peruse the choices together and found several options we thought we would enjoy during our six days of solid driving. We thoroughly enjoyed listening to Neil Gaiman read his novel, Neverwhere, to us!

[If you've never read it, it's a wonderful fantasy story of a man who encounters an injured girl on the streets of London one night and finds his life turned upside-down when he discovers the realm of London Below. If you've never read Neil Gaiman, shame on you! His stories are AMAZING!]

My library stocks not only fiction audiobooks, but a wide selection of non-fiction options as well. Biographies, humor, how-to, spirituality and religion, history.....the choices might surprise you! I always think it's a special treat when you find an audio edition read by the author him or herself. One note: be sure to check whether the audiobook you have in hand is an adaptation or unabridged. This can save disappointment if you're expecting the full story!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The New Art of Capturing Love

Today's post features a guest review by my daughter, Amanda, who is a professional photographer. Thanks for reviewing this book!

This book landed in my lap exactly when I needed it most! Having just booked my first same sex elopement as a photographer, I was hoping to make it the best experience for my couple. The author reassured me of what I was expecting, and brought to light some experiences I hadn't considered. Paired with examples of photographs from same sex weddings by amazing photographers, the posing guidance and considerations were wonderful!

The way this book focused on how lesbian and gay weddings are still just weddings, while also addressing the real differences we will face as photographers (there might not be one dress and one tux!) was super helpful and super considerate of making sure not to focus on same sex weddings as being "Other."

The posing tips were really the big draw to this book for me. Good considerations like the couples' comfort of displaying affection in public really helped me make my couples' experience more enjoyable, and prepared me for steps to take in posing them.

All in all, I am so thankful to have been given the chance to read and review this book! I think it will become a staple for modern photographers as more and more states join in on the push for equality.

From the publisher . . .

The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography by Kathryn Hamm and Thea Dodds Foreword by Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks and Court Yard Hounds

The first guide to posing and thoughtfully capturing same-sex engagements and weddings, THE NEW ART OF CAPTURING LOVE equips all photographers to better serve the LGBTQ client while also providing a wedding-planning vision for couples.

With nearly half of the states in the US (and 13 countries) currently recognizing same-sex marriage or civil unions, the market for LGBTQ weddings is one of the fastest growing segments in the wedding industry, offering great opportunity for today's wedding photographers. These are exciting times for marriage equality—but capturing portraits in this new market requires a new approach to posing, which until now has been almost exclusively oriented toward pairing a larger man in black with a smaller woman in white. What works for Jack and Jill won't necessarily work for Jack and Michael, let alone Jill and Louise.

THE NEW ART OF CAPTURING LOVE shatters the “old standards” of wedding and engagement photography by showing how inappropriate old standards can be for today’s diverse couples, then shares easy-to-implement poses and techniques that can be applied to any couple (and wedding party), no matter their orientation, to create lasting memories.

Featuring a collection of more than 180 same-sex portraits of 72 couples from 48 photographers, this guide is proudly the first—and most comprehensive—of its kind. Whether you are a wedding photographer looking to enter this burgeoning market, or a same-sex couple looking for visual inspiration, these gorgeous images will both instruct and inspire.

This groundbreaking visual guide book is perfect for:
~ Couples planning their weddings and engagement sessions
~ Photographers interested in branching out to a rapidly-growing new market
~ LGBTQ-supportive friends and family, especially those looking for a meaningful shower or wedding gift

AUTHORS ARE GO-TO EXPERTS: Same-sex wedding pioneer Kathryn Hamm and veteran wedding photographer Thea Dodds are the leading experts for same-sex weddings and wedding photography, respectively. Their expertise has been featured in The New York Times, ABC News, CNN, Rangefinder and on NPR.

GROUNDBREAKING IMAGES: This groundbreaking guide features a collection of same-sex portraits that was called "the best I've ever seen" by Professional Photographer senior editor Joan Sherwood.

About the Authors KATHRYN HAMM is president of, the pioneering online wedding boutique and resource for same-sex couples, offering a community forum, planning articles, and a directory of more than 90,000 LGBTQ-friendly wedding pros. She is also an education expert for WeddingWire, the nation’s leading marketplace serving the $70 billion wedding industry, as well as a nationally recognized speaker, workshop leader, and consultant for couples and wedding vendors across the country. She lives with her wife and son in Arlington, Virginia.

THEA DODDS is an award-winning wedding photographer and founder of Authentic Eye Photography. Her work has been featured in Newsweek and New Hampshire Bride, and on ABC News, CNN, and The Huffington Post. Dodds lives with her husbandand two daughters in Rumney, New Hampshire, and can be found online at

Saturday, September 20, 2014

how to be a good wife

From the publisher:

In the tradition of Emma Donoghue's Room and S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman is a haunting literary debut about a woman who begins having visions that make her question everything she knows.

Marta and Hector have been married for a long time. Through the good and bad; through raising a son and sending him off to life after university. So long, in fact, that Marta finds it difficult to remember her life before Hector. He has always taken care of her, and she has always done everything she can to be a good wife—as advised by a dog-eared manual given to her by Hector’s aloof mother on their wedding day.

But now, something is changing. Small things seem off. A flash of movement in the corner of her eye, elapsed moments that she can’t recall. Visions of a blonde girl in the darkness that only Marta can see. Perhaps she is starting to remember—or perhaps her mind is playing tricks on her. As Marta’s visions persist and her reality grows more disjointed, it’s unclear if the danger lies in the world around her, or in Marta herself. The girl is growing more real every day, and she wants something.

I really loved this book!

I received an ARC from the publisher and I am so thankful for the opportunity to read Chapman's debut offering.

"How To Be A Good Wife" is a gripping, suspenseful read that will leave you clinging to the edge of each page as you find yourself unable to let Marta Bjornstad remain alone with the ghostly images that haunt the periphery of her mind. As her visions come more and more into focus, readers begin to question their own perceptions and reality. There are two possible explanations for what Marta is experiencing--and both options lead readers to chilling places that no one wants to acknowledge.

Chapman has written a brilliant novel!

Emma Chapman was born in 1985 and grew up in Manchester. She studied English Literature at Edinburgh University, followed by a Masters in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. After university, she travelled in Scandinavia, and she currently lives in Perth, Western Australia. How To Be A Good Wife is Emma's first novel.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tantric Coconuts

From the New York Times bestselling author of A Dog Named Christmas!
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance meets Life of Pi in this quirky spiritual journey across the wild highways and byways of America.

Free spirit Angel Two Sparrow—artist and musician extraordinaire—is having trouble making ends meet. On the verge of desperation, she inherits her crazy Aunt Lilly’s bookmobile and half-wolf named No Barks, and dreams up yet another life plan. Painting her business card on the side of the van, Angel and her trusty companion set off on a pilgrimage across America hoping to jump-start her new profession: Native American Spiritual Consultant.

Traveling in the other direction, Ted Day and his trusty Irish Terrier-mix Argo are on a much needed vacation (and in need of spiritual nourishment). When he leaves Kansas, Ted can’t image how far from his sleepy law office that old silver and black Winnebago 32RQ Chieftain will take him.

Two lives (four if you count the canines) collide (literally). Once the dust settles, Ted and Angel find themselves enamored. Sensing that something bigger and more profound has been set in motion, the couple embarks on a wild road trip, detouring into some rarely traveled corridors of the human soul. Very soon, it becomes clear that nothing will ever be the same for these travelers, their dogs, and, heck, the world at large, too.

“Coming from the author of books such as A Dog Named Christmas and Christmas with Tucker,” Kincaid writes, “This new novel might at first blush sound like a de­parture for me. And yet, Angel and Ted’s journey throughout the Southwest reveals the themes at the heart of all my work: the ultimate questions of life and love, of companionship and overcoming the odds.”

GREG KINCAID, when not writing, is a practicing lawyer, specializing in divorce and family law mediation. He lives on a farm in eastern Kansas with his wife, three horses, two dogs, and two cats.

I am thankful to Blogging for Books for providing me with a free copy of Kincaid's novel to review. This is my first experience with any of Greg Kincaid's writing, so I had no preconceived notions of what this book would be like. Being on a spiritual journey or quest myself, the description given above from the publisher was enough to get me interested in reading the book.

Tantric Coconuts reads as a didactic piece on spiritual practice and growth couched in the form of a novel. Some of the passages between Angel and Ted (and the other spiritual gurus Ted is introduced to via Angel) felt a bit like a religious studies lecture in dialogue form. Readers will get a very basic viewpoint of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism from the point of view of someone who is a peace with finding the common themes in each religion. (I happen to fall into this camp myself, and so was not offended by this. Other readers who are fundamentally attached to a specific religion's doctrine may find these discussion hard to swallow.)

Having grown up in the upper Midwest, in Lakota territory, I was trying not to read any racism or stereotyping into the author's decision to make the spiritual guru a young, Lakota woman. I suppose it was simply a choice that set the spiritual guide/teacher outside of the realm of the majority of readers' personal experience/religious system.

I found Tantric Coconuts to be a quick and easy read. I was somewhat jealous of the swiftness of Ted Day's enlightenment journey and found myself wishing it could be that way in the real world. In real life most people spend decades doing the Work and still don't end up where Day and Two Sparrow land at the end. But that is the nature of reading fiction; one must suspend reality and live in the universe as created by the author.

I do highly appreciate Kincaid's inclusion of the background texts and sources used in taking Ted Day on this spiritual quest. There are several books listed in the footnotes that I plan to investigate further on my own.

If you find yourself questioning the meaning of life or whether or not there might be more to things than the conventional teachings from your background have to offer, jump in and enjoy the ride with Angel Two Sparrow and Ted Day aboard Bertha the Bookmobile!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Banh Mi Handbook

I am very thrilled to have received a free review copy of Andrea Nguyen's beautiful new book, The Banh Mi Handbook! It is a feast for the eyes with some of the most gorgeous food photography I have seen.

Nguyen makes what may be a new food experience to some people accessible and inviting. I enjoyed the opening in which she gives readers a bit of background to her country and this particular culinary delight. (This is a part of cook books that I always appreciate!) She lets readers know from the start the types of ingredients which are typical to these Vietnamese sandwiches, and then breaks the chapters up according to the layers you would normally find included in a banh mi experience.

I love that Nguyen helps readers on each step of the journey toward building a perfect replica of the typical street fair. The photographs, which are all well lit and artistically composed, include pictures of some of the less familiar ingredients readers might be looking for at the store.(For instance the lemon grass used in one of the pickle recipes.)

Another small, but appreciated feature is Nguyen's tips on ways to use parts of the ingredients which might otherwise be overlooked. She suggests using the liquid from your homemade pickled vegetables as part of a dressing for salad--something many of us might not think to do. (What other uses for pickle juice have I been squandering all these years?!)

Because banh mi is an everyday, street vendor type food in Vietnam, the ingredients are fairly easy to come by. I was reassured that it will be possible for me to make the sandwiches in my own kitchen, and without spending a fortune to do so. (I love that she says the bread need only be what is readily available and least expensive at your local store!)

My only criticism of this book is that it left my mouth watering and my tummy grumbling.

If you like trying new cuisine and haven't had the pleasure of experiencing banh mi, you will love this book! If you have had the pleasure of eating the delectable sandwiches, you will love having this recipe collection so you can make your own!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Catch

I'd like to begin by thanking the publisher for the complimentary review copies of Taylor Stevens' series.

I had not read any of Stevens' novels before cracking open her latest novel, The Catch. I love a good thriller and was eager to meet a character who must have staying power with readers for Stevens to have written several in a series. I hoped that jumping in on book four would allow me to have a good experience even though I didn't have the background knowledge that those who've read the previous books would have.

I was not disappointed!

Vanessa Michael Munroe is a fascinating character who likely appeals to both male and female readers. Her ability to change appearance between masculine and feminine, local and foreign, harmless or deadly paired with her gift of picking up languages in short order allow Munroe to operate anywhere in the world. She is a fascinating, strong, woman who knows how to put her skills and attributes to their best use. She is tough. She is a survivor. Her intuition is killer--and so is she.

The Catch is set in Africa, specifically off the coast of Somalia and in and around Mumbasa, Kenya. Munroe is hired on board a ship as part of a security team charged with helping a shipment reach its destination despite its route through Somali pirate infested seas. When the ship is attacked, Munroe is the first to discern that the apparent reason for the hijacking may not be the real motive after all. Having escaped the ship with it's injured captain, she figures out that it is the captain the hijackers were after rather than what lies in the cargo hold.

The book is an espionage type thriller that will keep readers on their toes trying to put the pieces together as quickly as Munroe seems to be doing. I found it nearly impossible to put down!

The exotic setting is made real due to Stevens' time spent in Africa. She paints a picture that readers will experience with all their senses. The lives of the native populations ring true. The poverty and violence along with the family loyalties and treatment of foreign business travelers and tourists. I found it interesting to get a feeling for the normalcy of the petty thefts that occur as well as a view as to how the medical system operates. (I must admit, reading The Catch has made it far less likely that I will ever travel to Africa for fear of needing medical attention alone!)

I found that this book stood on its own quite well. I had enough information about Munroe to get caught up in her situation and to care what happened to her. I am excited that I now have the opportunity to go back and read the first three novels and I wonder if that will make me see what happened in The Catch any differently.

From the publisher:

About Taylor Stevens…

When Stevens published her debut novel, The Informationist, it was celebrated by some of the best writers in the genre, including Lee Child, Vince Flynn, Michael Palmer, and Tess Gerritsen; it was widely covered in the national media; its rights were sold in twenty countries; it was optioned for film by James Cameron; and it became an instant New York Times bestseller. Reviewers and readers alike were drawn to Stevens’s complex characters—particularly her butt-kicking protagonist Vanessa Michael Munroe, who has drawn comparisons to Jason Bourne, Lisbeth Salander, Jack Reacher, and James Bond—and the page-turning plot that transported us from the United States and Germany to Equatorial Guinea and France. Her follow-up novels, The Innocent and The Doll, received critical acclaim and served to solidify her talents.

While readers quickly fell in love with Stevens’s fearless heroine, they were also fascinated by the author’s own compelling history: born into the Children of God, Stevens was raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond the sixth grade. She escaped the cult in her twenties, leaving everything behind to start over in the United States, and it was there that she taught herself to write. In her riveting new novel, THE CATCH (Crown; July 15, 2014), Stevens draws on her years spent living in Africa to craft the unforgettable scenes, settings, and cultures within the book.

Vanessa Michael Munroe, chameleon and information hunter, has a reputation for getting things done—often dangerous and not quite legal things. The difficult and deadly work has left her with blood on her hands and a soul stained with guilt. Having borne the burden of one death too many, Munroe has fled to Djibouti, Africa. There, where her only responsibility is greasing the wheels of commerce for a small maritime security company, she finds stillness—until her boss pressures her to join his team as an armed transit guard on a ship bound for Kenya. Days into the voyage, Munroe discovers that the security contract is merely cover for a gunrunning operation. The ship is invaded off the Somali coast, and in a moment of impulse while fighting her way out, she drags the unconscious captain with her. But nothing about the hijacking is what it seems. The pirates were never after the ship; they’d come for the captain. In chasing him, they make their one mistake: targeting Munroe raises the killer’s instinct she’s tried so hard to bury. Wounded and on the run, Vanessa Michael Munroe will use the life of her catch as bait and bartering chip to manipulate every player with a stake in the ship’s outcome, and find a way to wash her conscience clean.

An adrenaline-fueled ride of foreign intrigue that is filled with double-crosses and boots-on-the-ground scheming, THE CATCH is sure to be one of this summer’s biggest thrillers.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Knitting Reimagined - Part 2

In the Introduction to her newest knitting book, Nicky Epstein writes, "My goal was to fill this book with chic, wearable, but uniquely atypical garments that will appeal to knitters of all skill levels." This reader would say that she has, for the most part, succeeded in her goal.

The patterns in Epstein's book are very well written and easy to follow. One of the fun aspects of the book is the "Reimagine It" box on the introductory page to each pattern. There Epstein gives knitters ideas for thinking outside the box and for changing up her patterns and designs to add a sense of personal style or design to the garments. As an experienced knitter, this part really strikes a creative chord with me and I appreciate a designer who not only acknowledges that readers may play with the pattern, but encourages them to do so!

As I went through the book more slowly I came to better appreciation of some of the patterns I had first thought no one in my small, rural community would likely ever wear. (I confess to still being fairly certain that no one is going to look good/feel comfortable in the "Glory Rising Circle Cardigan"--it may just be too far in the deep end of "uniquely atypical" to fit a human form.) The Cool Construction section along with the patterns in Stitch Impact provide some of my favorite garments in the collection. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of styles Epstein designed using basic rectangles--a knitting feat even beginning knitters can easily pull off. (I may have to create the Renaissance Castle Tunic before fall and my planned trip to a neighboring state's Renaissance Festival!)

Another thing I really like about Epstein's collection in Knitting Reimagined is the fact that it contains items from casual to classic to elegant/formal. There really is something for everyone! I also like the fact that she includes a time gauge as part of the pattern--letting newer knitters have a realistic idea of which projects are bound to take more time/effort than others.

Thanks to Blogging For Books for allowing me the opportunity to read and review Nicky Epstein's Knitting ReImagined!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Knitting Reimagined

So excited that my review copy of Nicky Epstein's new book, Knitting Reimagined, arrived today! My first look through has shown me that it is gorgeously photographed and laid out. I can't wait to dig in and and read some of the patterns in detail. I am going to try and knit some of the patterns so that I can let you know what the real world "knitability" of the patterns is.

A while back a knitting instructor once warned me about patterns in magazines and books by saying to be wary of those where the person modeling the garment is posed funny or looks uncomfortable. That is a sure sign that the design of the garment or the fit has a problem that will only be made worse on "real" bodies. My first glance at the photos revealed to me a couple of the garments in the collection are likely for serious fashionistas only and not likely to be very flattering on anyone above a size 2. But I will tell you more when I've actually had a chance to read the book, study the patterns, and try my hand at knitting the stitches! Until then, knit on!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Station Eleven

"One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it." (GoodReads)

This book captured my attention and imagination from the outset. I normally don't gravitate to post-apocalyptic scenarios, but this one was different. It was actually filled with characters who had something more than simply surviving motivating them. The concept of the Traveling Symphony, a hodge-podge collection of musicians and thespians determined to enlarge the lives of the people they encounter on their circuit, was novel. Perhaps it was them who made this apocalypse bearable for this reader.

As I devoured the words to discover what would become of my new-found-friends, I found my mind also wondering what I would do if put in their place. How would I adapt to no electricity? Having to hunt/fish/gather? No working plumbing. Most of the niceties I taken for granted simply gone. The only transportation, my own two feet. How long would I last? What sorts of things would I resort to? Would I be able to carve out a place I could call home? With people who became family?

I thoroughly enjoyed Station Eleven. I recommend it highly!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Long, LONG Time Coming!

Phew! Where have I been? Life fell apart for a while there for me with family issues. Sorry about that friends! The reading DID continue, however, despite my absence from the written page. Here's what I read in the interlude:

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman

Hidden Child by Camilla Lackberg

Getting In the Gap by Dr Wayne Dyer

Meditation For the Love of It by Sally Kempton

Secrets of Meditation by davidji

The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann

Two titles by Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now and A New Earth

Shadows In the Sun by Gayathri Ramprasad

The Ultimate Happiness Prescription by Deepak Chopra

The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Miracle of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh

Right now I am completely immersed in Emily St. John Mandel's latest novel, Station Eleven. It is a fascinating story about the end of the world as we know it and one possible future that exists beyond the pandemic that changed the planet. I am half done, and likely to finish quickly as the novel is so compelling that I cannot wait to get home from work and finish it!

If any readers would like to know more about any of the books on my list above, just leave a comment and I will be happy to let you know my thoughts on the books. (I enjoyed them all and I really enjoyed several of them!)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy

Engaging from the get-go is my experience with Wiley Cash's new novel, This Dark Road to Mercy.

A blend of mystery, drama, and coming-of-age, the story has something to connect with for fans of many different genres. Set in 1990's North Carolina, the story centers on Easter and Ruby Quillby, young sisters now in foster care following the death of their mother. Easter resents her father, Wade Chesterfield, for having relinquished his parental rights. Now Wade has come back to reclaim his daughters. Trouble ensues when Wade kidnaps Easter and Ruby from foster care and hits the road with them. What he doesn't know is that a hit-man and the girls' court appointed guardian, an ex cop, are both after them as well. Who will find them first and what they discover about each other on the road make for a suspense-filled page-turner!

I enjoyed the baseball theme connecting the threads of the various stories throughout the novel. Cash does a nice job of weaving together a few sub-plots which add interest and character development to the novel. I was impressed that he was able to make such a variety of characters (six year old Ruby; middle-aged, divorced, ex-cop Brady; elderly Mrs. Chessman; and so many others) believable, especially in such a quickly paced (and not overly long) read. For me, the ending of the novel was perfect.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Unless you have the good fortune to live in a culinary mecca and have the means to indulge in the latest gastronomic trends and adventures, your food experiences are likely fairly standard fare. Hoffman and Wise offer those of us in the latter situation a ticket to experience something new in their cookbook Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors.

Alongside the enticing & titillating recipes, Hoffman and Wise offer readers interesting bits of regional food histories, facts about the ingredients we may take for granted, and vignettes of the people who have helped form the widely varied foods and ethnic traditions that are encompassed by American Cuisine.

I can't wait to try Chicken Breasts in Coffee, Vanilla, Sundried Tomato, and Currant Cream; Shrimp in Lemongrass Coconut Broth; Roasted Pears with Rum Caramel Sauce and Chocolate Sauce; and Date, Feta, and Prosciutto Roll-ups. Many of the flavor combinations are exciting twists on traditional dishes. Most recipes include ingredients readily available even in Fort Dodge, Iowa. I am thrilled with my copy and highly recommend this cookbook for everyone wanting to break out of their dietary rut--try Bold!