Mini Bloggiesta badgeIt’s Mini Summer Bloggiesta this weekend, July 19–20! I don’t have a lot of time for blogging these days, with other ongoing book-related projects hanging over my head that I really need to work on, but I missed the spring Bloggiesta because of them and didn’t get much done on those other projects, anyway, so I’ll join in and see what I can get done on everything at once.

Bloggiesta started as a twice-yearly event when book bloggers around the world devote even more time than usual to sprucing their blogs, especially to doing the techy things that would never get done otherwise. But two Bloggiestas a year was not enough! So by popular demand, the talented organizers – Suey from It’s All About Books and Danielle from There’s A Book – set up two Mini Bloggiestas, and regular Twitter chats throughout the year. Follow @Bloggiesta on Twitter, and join the Mini Bloggiesta Twitter chat on Sunday at 1 p.m. EST, using hashtag #Bloggiesta.

Are you a book blogger new to Bloggiesta? Check out the About page on the Bloggiesta blog.

Mini Bloggiesta To-Do List
Delete plug-ins and remove widgets that are no longer in use
Delete revisions taking up unnecessary space
Update blogroll to include only active blogs
Add a book list to Book List page
Set up a giveaway for Giveaways page
Write and schedule two reviews and/or reader’s advisory-related posts
Join the Twitter chat on Sunday

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Weekend Cooking buttonWeekend Cooking is a weekly feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads, linking up food-related posts. Click here for links to other Weekend Cooking posts on Beth Fish Reads and other blogs.

cover image It’s finally salad season, and lately we’ve been having at least a salad a day, sometimes more. We never have just a salad for a meal, though; it’s always a “nice” salad. (At this time of year, though, with good produce coming in from the garden and at the farmer’s market, the salads actually are nice, and don’t require any adjectival propping up.)

You don’t really need recipes to make basic salad meals, of course, but sometimes you want something different. I found the perfect cookbook for experimenting with salads in all seasons — Salad of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year by Georgeanne Brennan.

It is laid out by the calendar – starting with Fennel Salad with Blood Oranges & Arugula for January 1st, and ending with Arugula Salad with Quince Paste & Serrano Ham on December 31. These recipes both happen to have arugula in the name, but arugula is not listed in the Salads by Ingredient index at the end, so I can’t tell you what the odds are of that. However, I can tell you that this book doesn’t have a great index. In case any other indexing nerds are reading this, there is also a Salads by Type index (e.g. Seafood Salads, Bean & Grain Salads, etc.) at the very end of the book.

Salad of the Day has a page of two recipes, a full-page color photo of one of the salads, and then a two-page spread of four recipes, so you never go more than six recipes without a gorgeous, mouthwatering photo. It’s easy and pleasant to flip through the book and find recipes suitable to the time of year. (If you share seasons with the U.S., that is.) Some of the recipes are for side dishes, but many are a meal in themselves. The print is small, in order to fit 365 recipes and all those photos into a 304-page book. I kept having to put my reading glasses on to make sure I was reading the fractional measurements correctly and not seeing 2/3 as 1/3, for example, which I usually was. (This may not be an issue for you. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the print was small, myself, a few years ago!)

Each recipe comes with an introductory paragraph, providing serving suggestions or notes on the ingredients. For example, here’s the paragraph introducing July 12th’s recipe for Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad:

Slender, dark green English cucumbers, also called hothouse cucumbers, are a good choice for this classic Asian salad. They have thin peels and fewer and softer seeds than other varieties.

I made the June 29th recipe, Black Bean & White Corn Salad, to take to a Fourth of July cookout. I have made similar salads before, but this was the first one I’ve tried that called for cooking the onions and red pepper, and I liked it.

photo of Black Bean & White Corn Salad prepared and with page of cookbook showing

Black Bean & White Corn Salad
serves 4

2 tsp. canola oil
2/3 cup (4 oz./125 g) chopped red bell pepper
2/3 cup (3 oz./90 g) chopped red onion
1/2 can (8 oz./250 g) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup (6 oz./185 g) fresh or frozen corn kernels (from about 1 ear of corn)
1 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Romaine lettuce leaves for serving (optional)
1/3 cup (1/2 oz./15 g) chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and onion and saute until the juices from the bell pepper moisten the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the beans, corn, and chili powder. Cook until the beans and corn are heated through, about 3 minutes. The beans and corn will be just crisp-tender. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lime juice. Toss well and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Line a platter with lettuce leaves, if using [I didn't], and spoon the beans and corn on top. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.

Having peaches on hand the same week, I also made the balsamic peaches from the June 18th recipe, Peach, Arugula & Goat Cheese Salad. (There’s arugula again!) I didn’t have arugula or goat cheese, so we just had the peaches (sprinkled with brown sugar and balsamic vinegar and then grilled and drizzled with the balsamic vinegar reduction) as a side dish. Delicious!

Salad of the Day is published for Williams-Sonoma, so the author’s personality doesn’t really come through here, but as author Georgeanne Brennan divides her time between northern California and Provence, she presumably has access to exceptional produce year-round. She has a sporadically updated blog and is also the author of A Pig in Provence, a memoir about moving to Provence in the 70s.

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Salad of the Day
Brennan, Georgeanne
Weldon Owen, 2012
9781616282127
304 pp.
$34.95, US

(Not really a) Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my public library, but I might buy it!

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Choosing books for book club isn’t part of my job anymore, but I know how hard it can be. Unless the members of your book discussion group share similar reading tastes, have the same reasons for joining a book group, and are willing to leave their reading comfort zones occasionally, the selection process is difficult and subject to criticism. It’s even harder when having to depend on the availability of library copies in regular print and large print. The book that everyone is currently raving about and wants to read is always out of the question.

These mini reviews are of books I read for various book clubs that engendered lively discussion or evoked differing opinions among the group members.

cover imageFamiliar by J. Robert Lennon
This is a work of literary fiction that starts with a crazy what-if premise – in this case, what if you were a woman driving home from an out-of-state visit and experienced a sudden, subtle change in what your body was like, what car you drove, etc. and realized you were either going crazy or something in space-time had shifted and you were living a very different version of your own life – and is completely realistic from that point on, making it more of a psychological study than science fiction, or is it? Not for every book group, Familiar could work in a group that enjoys ambiguity, going off the beaten book-club path, and reading books that have multiple interpretations.

Flight Behaviorcover image by Barbara Kingsolver
I guess this novel (the author’s seventh, but the first one I’ve read) would fall into the genre or subgenre I only just heard about  — cli-fi, or fiction that deals with climate change – although apparently the term has been around since 2008. Flight Behavior is an excellent book club choice, with plenty of issues to discuss and metaphors to mull over. The main character with the unlikely name of Dellarobia Turnbow, is a smart, dissatisfied woman – always a hit with most book groups – and the book is about her awakening from her half-life as a wife and mother into a new one when she stumbles on a vast number of monarch butterflies that seem to have gotten lost on the mountainside behind her house in Tennessee.

cover imageMrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker portrays pre- and post-Civil War history through the eyes of Elizabeth Keckley, an African-American former slave who bought her own freedom and became a successful independent dressmaker in Washington, D.C. When she eventually gains the new First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, as a client, she shares in many intimate family moments as she sits and sews in the White House parlor, as well as having an insider’s view of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his decisions leading up to and during the Civil War. The basic facts of Elizabeth Keckley’s life come from her own memoir, Behind the Scenes. This would make a good book club choice for groups that like straightforward historical fiction from a woman’s perspective. The author follows up on her success with one that focuses on Kate Chase Sprague, who is mentioned a few times here, called Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival, and The Spymistress, based on the life of Elizabeth Van Lew.

cover imageThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Even though this story borrowed from the fairy tale about a child made from snow that came to life, it seemed to appeal to readers who normally eschew fantasy as well as those who enjoy it, and to male readers as well as women, making it an ideal book club selection for a mixed group. In the story, a grieving, childless couple has moved to the Alaskan wilderness in the early 20th century and is trying to make a life there, just the two of them, on an isolated farm in the uncleared woods, far away from family and their former lives. (So, at the beginning of the book, things aren’t going so well, as you can probably guess, but then a child enters the picture.)

cover imageSunset Park by Paul Auster
The first novel by this author that I’ve read, Sunset Park reminded me a bit of Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon and The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel, with its interconnected stories and focus on young people screwing up their lives as they enter adulthood. But Sunset Park wasn’t as gripping as either of those novels, maybe because the tone of the book was muted and the atmosphere less heavily freighted with doom. Set mostly in New York City, the main character, Miles, suffers from guilt over a long-held secret, and has been estranged from family and friends for years before moving back to Brooklyn where he grew up. Miles’ parents’ and housemates’ perspectives are included, resulting in the reader’s knowing a little about everybody but not a lot about anyone. Read a summary of the book club discussion by one of the members here.

cover imageThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
With many references to Jane Eyre throughout and two reclusive writers as main characters, this Gothic tale generated a good amount of discussion about ghostly happenings, twins, truth-telling, unreliable narrators, and biography. I felt the lack of never having read Jane Eyre, but got by fine just knowing the plot outline, as most readers probably do. This was my second reading of The Thirteenth Tale (published in 2006) and I really didn’t remember the story from the first time around, which was good, because following the twists and turns of the plot (which jumps back and forth from past to present) is half the fun of the book. The other half is soaking up the Gothic atmosphere of mystery. Read about the book club discussion written by a member of the group here, and add a comment if you want!

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cover image of audiobookIn case you’ve missed me, I’m trying to recover from an unexpected blogging slump. I had actually hoped to post more audiobook reviews than usual during June to celebrate National Audiobook Month, but instead, June got away from me almost completely.

Put The Troop by Nick Cutter on your audiobook listening list if you’re looking for a good scare from a book that’s firmly in the traditional horror genre but has enough character development and Lord of the Flies overtones that fans of literary horror might like it too. Did you notice Stephen King’s blurb featured prominently on the cover?

The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. This is old-school horror at its best. Not for the faint-hearted, but for the rest of us sick people. It’s the perfect gift for a winter night.” — Stephen King

The Troop came out in February, which is still deep winter up in Maine, but the story takes place over a long weekend in the summer, so it would be perfectly suitable for a summer vacation read, as well as in the winter. Unless, of course, you’re camping alone on an island off the coast of Prince Edward Island in Canada – in which case, The Troop might come a little too close for comfort.

OK, when Stephen King says it’s not for the faint-hearted, that’s saying something. The Troop really is a gross-out fest and pretty darn scary, so it would not make a good family road-trip audiobook choice. (I was listening to this on my way in to work one morning and was the first one in the building. A few minutes later, I jumped a mile when I heard the door open, and this was first thing in the morning and broad daylight.) Remember I mentioned Lord of the Flies (as has every other review and publicist’s notice, I’m sure). The Lord of the Flies isn’t a jolly camping story you want to read to the family around the campfire, and neither is The Troop!

Nick Cutter is actually a pseudonym for Canadian literary fiction author Craig Davidson, I found out while writing this review, so that explains the literary overtones that seep into this story of blood, gore, and other bodily fluids coming out instead of staying inside where they belong. The author says in an interview that he was a voracious consumer of horror fiction and movies, growing up, and that’s why he decided to write a horror novel himself.

The audiobook edition is narrated by actor Corey Brill, and is excellent! I highly recommend listening to The Troop if you have a strong stomach and are in the mood for some no-holds-barred horror.

The Troop
Cutter, Nick, author
Brill, Corey, narrator
Simon & Schuster Audio
February 2014

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