Male Family Dysfunction in Maine (Even the Narrator is a Boy): The Miracle on Monhegan Island by Elizabeth Kelly

cover imageThe publisher of The Miracle on Monhegan Island calls it “another rollicking, summertime family saga” from author Elizabeth Kelly, but I think “rollicking” is a slightly misleading description, unless you’d also call the stories of the dark dysfunctional family summers in We Were Liars by E. Lockhart or Maine by Courtney Sullivan “rollicking.”

Although The Miracle on Monhegan Island overflows with humor and is narrated in its entirety by Ned, a purebred Shih Tzu who is wise beyond his years on the subjects of both human nature and dog breeds, the humor is mostly dark. The Monahan family is still recovering from events related to mental illness that broke up the family in the past.

I am a big fan of author Elizabeth Kelly, although you might not know it from my blog. I was so impressed with her two previous novels – Apologize, Apologize! and The Last Summer of the Camperdowns –  that I was afraid my reviews wouldn’t do them justice. But after reading an advance copy of The Miracle on Monhegan Island, which is coming out on May 10th and is written in the same understanding, unsentimental tone – a blend of light and dark, heavy on the dark– as her earlier books, I want to make sure my blog readers don’t miss hearing from me any longer about author Elizabeth Kelly (not to be confused with Canadian romance author Elizabeth Kelly, or Catholic inspirational author Elizabeth Kelly.)

Monhegan Island is a real island in Maine with cliffs overlooking the ocean, miles of walking trails, unspoiled natural vistas, and no cars.

photo of Monhegan Island
Photo from

Before Spark, the prodigal adult son, returns after an absence of many years to the family home, he steals a dog as a gift for his young teenaged son Hally on impulse from the backseat of a car, thus changing Ned’s life completely, as Spark’s return to Monhegan Island also changes the life of his son Hally, who has lived alone with his artist uncle and stern preacher grandfather since the death of his mother when he was little. Pastor Ragnar is either a crackpot or inspired by God, but his faithful following grows exponentially when Hally reports seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary, igniting a firestorm of media attention and obsessed visitors to the isolated island.

Ned muses frequently on how different and more meaningful his life turned out to be from the petted and pampered life he had believed was his lot; his witty observations of the behavior of the members of the human family he now belongs to and the other humans (and dogs) on the island are equally keen and thoughtful.

You don’t have to be either a dog person or a God person to appreciate the dark humor of this story of the fine line between religious fervor and psychosis and the strength of blood lines and family ties. Add this one to your summer reading list, if you don’t mind a few loose ends and unanswered questions to ponder over after you close the book!

The Miracle on Monhegan Island
Kelly, Elizabeth (@ElizabethKelly8)
Norton, May 10, 2016
9781631491795 (hard.)

Disclosure: I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.


Advocate for Libraries: Virtual Library Legislative Day 2016 @ALALibrary @TheHPAlliance

National Legislative Day, May 2-3

All this week, you can support the work being done at National Library Legislative Day (May 2–3) by participating in Virtual Library Legislative Day. It’s easy to advocate for libraries with your senator and representative in D.C. by sending a quick email, making a phone call, and/or tweeting any time this week!

ALA logo

Join thousands of other library advocates in telling Members of Congress and their staffs about the legislative priorities of libraries.

You and your fellow library supporters in Washington will be supporting federal library funding, the right to privacy, global electronic access to information for the blind, and the confirmation of library leader Dr. Carla Hayden as the next Librarian of Congress.  

Together, we can make the Capitol echo with the voices and messages of library advocates in Washington and online.

ALA’s Legislative Action Center

Plug in your zip code and send a preformatted email

Authorize the Engage app and send a preformatted tweet

Put in your contact info and get a script for your call

Or visit the Legislation Action Center to see all the options:

Take Action for Libraries

Accio Books!

Accio Books! badgeI like to think that the American Library Association is full of fun people, but if advocating alongside the wizards from Hogwarts sounds like more fun, you can join forces with the Harry Potter Alliance, an activist group working for equality, human rights, and literacy through the power of story. The HPA is challenging the ALA library advocates on Twitter this week to see who gets the most calls, tweets, and emails to Washington.

Whether you’re with the ALA or HPA, contact your Members of Congress for Virtual Legislative Day this week! Every voice in support of libraries helps!

Want to take action for libraries in your state, too? Find your state’s chapter and send a message to your state legislators!

Weekend Cooking: Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101 #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

cover image of Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101 is the new cookbook by Sara Moulton, the host of PBS’s Sara’s Weeknight Meals.

I wasn’t familiar with Sara Moulton before seeing Home Cooking 101 on NetGalley, but the cookbook’s cheery cover design appealed to me, along with the idea of learning from an expert home cook how to kick the flavor of everyday meals up a notch without elaborate, all-day bouts in the kitchen.

And…I loved this one! I’d been thinking of requesting it as a Mother’s Day present, but just found out I might be getting a new iPhone, so I may just have to buy it for myself, instead. (Unless any of my kids are reading this…hint, hint.)

As user-friendly and approachable as Sara herself, HOME COOKING 101 embodies a lifetime of experience. Sara was schooled in the French classical tradition, worked for years as a restaurant chef, and tested and developed recipes for Gourmet magazine. She spent a decade as the Food Editor for ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” and was the host of several popular shows during the first ten years of Food Network. Sara, like her mentor, Julia Child, has devoted the bulk of her career to teaching, and specifically to helping the home cook put dinner on the table on a weeknight…a task that too often seems daunting.

From the publisher of Home Cooking 101

Home Cooking 101 is the author’s fourth cookbook, with over 150 new recipes. In it, she shares tidbits from her career, such as when Julia Child refused to hire an experienced chef to assist her because she cut an onion the wrong way, and she also includes guest recipes from some of her favorite, well-known cooks such as Rick Bayless.

If you’re not familiar with Sara Moulton and her cooking methods, visit her Web site for a wide selection of her recipes to see what they’re like:

In Home Cooking 101, you’ll learn the correct way to cut an onion; what to stock in your pantry; the best method for hard-boiling eggs (Step aside, Julia!); how to make your own butter; how to steam and shell lobster to make Summer Shack Lobster Rolls; and much more.

As I went through the cookbook, I easily bookmarked at least a dozen recipes I wanted to try, but I realized later that I was staying within my known likes and comfort zone with the recipes I was choosing. If you’re a good home cook who wants to develop your skills and expand your repertoire, you might end up bookmarking recipes like these, instead:

  • Warm Grilled Octopus Salad (with a note on how to buy octopus and a section titled “Dave’s Tips for Preparing Octopus”)
  • Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs of Beef (with Cook’s Notes on skimming off fat, cutting parchment paper to fit your pan, and on Wondra flour)
  • Rack of Lamb for Two with Rosemary Crumb Crust (with a detailed section titled “How to Trim and French a Rack of Lamb”)

There are many recipes like these, that would make spectacular entrees for special dinners and which have step-by-step photos in all of the tip sections to make trying the recipes less daunting, but there are plenty of others more suitable for weeknight dinners. (Although none that I would say are really quick and easy, I think this author assumes you already know how to throw a quick meal together and that you’re using this cookbook for times when you have an hour or more for dinner prep.)

I bookmarked less complicated (OK, easy) recipes (of which there are many) to try. Although I only planned to make a few for this review, I ended up trying seven, and they were all winners that I would definitely make again.

Indian Cauliflower with Crispy Chickpeas
Green Chile Rice and Chicken Skillet Dinner

Green Chile Rice and Chicken

Stir-Fried Tofu in Chile-Orange Sauce

Sauteed Hungarian Pork Chops

Crispy Pork Fried Rice with Pickled Radishes

Warm Shrimp Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing

I also made Lemony Carrot “Fettucine” with Toasted Pistachios to go with Easter Sunday dinner from the cookbook’s “On the Side” section. It’s a great side dish for spring, and you can find the recipe online. (Use your spiralizer or food processor to make the carrots into “noodles”, if you can; that part was more time-consuming than I thought it would be.)

There’s a Vegan/Vegetarian section and a Meal in a Pan section, as well as Soups and Salads for Supper, DIY Dinner, Quick and Quicker Entrees, On the Side, Cooking When You Have More Time, and Something Sweet.

Some of recipes that I bookmarked but didn’t get to try:

  • Baked Chicken Thighs with Pancetta, Olives, and Cherry Tomatoes
  • Thai Chicken Salad
  • Indian Eggs with Spicy Tomato Pepper Sauce
  • Vegetable Fritters with Green Chile-Coconut Chutney

Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101
Moulton, Sara
Oxmoor, Mar. 8, 2016
368 pp.$35.00, US

Disclosure: I received a free e-ARC of this book from the publisher for review through NetGalley.

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking badgeLinked to Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click/tap image for Weekend Cooking posts from other bloggers.


Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian


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