Monday, August 31, 2020

Beach House Dinners by Lei Shishak and Always an Immigrant by Mohammad Yadegari on Mailbox Monday


I've been MIA on Mailbox Monday lately. Something about coronatime has caused blogging to slip through my fingers, along with my gym membership, clean laundry, and 40 other things I could list if I remembered how to make lists.

Meanwhile, new books continue to drift into the house. A couple of them are: 

cover of book Beach House Dinners: Simple, Summer-Inspired Meals for Entertaining Year-Round by Lei Shishak

Beach House Dinners: Simple, Summer-Inspired Meals for Entertaining Year-Round by Lei Shishak. This pretty cookbook offers 80 recipes for the kind of food everyone loves to eat, focusing on dishes made to share. Whether you are making dinner for family or a dinner party for friends, this new book is a nice cookbook for easy, yummy recipes. The pictures are beautiful. A nice touch is lined space for notes after many of the recipes. 

Lei Shishak is a chef, baker, and cookbook author in Southern California. She is the founder of the Sugar Blossom Bake Shop in San Clemente, California. Beach House Dinners is her fourth cookbook.

I am happy to add Beach House Dinners to my Cookbook Library.

Always an Immigrant: A Cultural Memoir by Mohammad Yadegari with Pricilla Yadegari. This is a memoir in the form of personal stories and anecdotes about growing up in the Middle East in the the 1940 to early 1960s. 

Yadegari was born in Iraq in an Iranian family. At 18, he mover to Iran to finish high school in Tehran. He came to the United States for college and graduate school and has lived here for the last 55 years. He's a good storyteller and the book is full of humor and real life wisdom. 


Join other book lovers on Mailbox Monday to share the books that came into your house last week. Or, if you haven't played along in a while, like me, share the books that you have acquired recently. 

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Leslie of Under My Apple Tree, Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, and Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf. Visit the Mailbox Monday website to find links to all the participants' posts and read more about Books that Caught our Eye.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Impersonation by Heidi Pitlor and The Town Crazy by Suzzy Roche on Book Beginnings


logo button for Book Beginnings on Fridays blog event on Rose City Reader


It's hard to believe this is the last Friday in August! Autumn is around the corner. Who is ready for the change of seasons? 

Let's see what this final August Book Beginnings on Fridays has in store. Are you still trying to squeeze in a few summer books or heading straight for sweater weather reads? Please share the first sentence or so of the book you want to highlight this week. Leave a link to your post below. Or just leave the opening lines and name of the book in a comment. 

If you share on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings so we can find each other. 


I have a two-fer this week because I got two new books that offer some end of summer fun reading. 

I once saw a woman in a library pick up a biography of Mother Teresa.

-- Impersonation by Heidi Pitlor. This is the story of a ghostwriter hired by a powerful lawyer to write her memoir. Both are single moms. Things go a bit haywire. The back cover describes it as "a timely, bitingly funny, and insightful story of ambition, motherhood, and class."

Impersonation came out last week from Algonquin Books.

On a muggy Sunday morning in late August, parishioners knelt in the pews of Immaculate Conception, fidgeting and fanning themselves with church leaflets, while Father Bruno lifted the host toward heaven and droned on in quiet prayer, “Domine, non sum dignus": Lord, I am not worthy.

-- The Town Crazy by singer/songwriter Suzzy Roche. I prefer long, shaggy opening sentences like this one to short, enigmatic first lines. 

The Town Crazy is set in a suburban Catholic community in Pennsylvania in 1961, when a single father moves to town. It comes out next week from Gibson House Press.


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Please join The Friday 56 participants on Freda's Voice to share a yw-sentence teaser from the book you are reading this week. Find details on Freda's blog. 


From Impersonation:

I would have loved to hear more about Lana's childhood, those dark days in Bucharest and her move to New York. This sort of material was gold for a memoir.

From The Town Crazy:

Jim could just hear Lil making fun of something like this, but he felt like erecting a statue to the author. Whatever happened to respect for your husband?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan on Book Beginnings



Time is so elastic during coronatime. Days drag and weeks fly. Or is it the other way around? Who has abandoned their sourdough starter? What hobbies have you taken up instead? These five months are a blur of Tiger King, walking around my neighborhood, and looking out the window at my back yard while I type at this computer, usually for work, sometimes for this blog. 

But now it is time for Book Beginnings on Fridays, an event that always stands out from the blur. Please share the first sentence (or so) of the book you want to highlight this week. Share a link to your post below and follow the links to find the other participants. 

If you share on social media, please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag so we can find each other. 


The shovel has to meet certain requirements.

-- Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan. I read this a few years back but had it out for an Instagram post and remembered how much I loved it and the other two books in his brilliant David Loogan trilogy. 

I love the deconstructed simplicity of the title and cover. Every mystery could be called Bad Things Happen!


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The Friday 56, hosted by Freda on her blog, Freda's Voice, is a fun tie-in with Book Beginnings. Share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your book, or 56% of the way through your audio or e-book. Add the link to your post on Freda's blog


"He drank. Moderately. Once in a while he drank immoderately."

Lee Child: Favorite Author

row of Lee Child's Jack Reacher books, mix of paperbacks and hardbacks

Author Lee Child writes the perennially popular Jack Reacher books. His loyal fans -- often known as "Reacher Creatures" -- gobble them up year after year. I've been hooked from the get go and still count Killing Floor as one of the best thrillers ever. If I ever get my act together and make a Top 10 list of favorite thriller books, it would be on it for sure. 

Jack Reacher is the archetype hero. I once saw Lee Child speak at a mystery writers workshop and he said just that -- he wrote Reacher as the hero archetype, like Beowulf or Sir Gawain. He's the outsider who rides into town to save it from the monster. He is big and strong and smart and he drifts around solving unsolvable problems. He can calculate the trajectory of a bullet. He can kill a man with his thumb. He can live on coffee and a catnap. He is cool.

I have read all of Lee Child's Jack Reacher books through Make Me. But I found that one so disturbing that I stopped. The books seemed to me to be getting darker and more violent and that one was pretty awful for me. I have the others on my TBR shelf, but they aren't calling to me. I'll get to them, but not soon. I'm not as enthusiastic as I was about the series.

Are any of you Reacher fans? How do you think the series is holding up? Have you stuck with it from the beginning and will you keep going? Please share these or other thoughts in a comment. If you have Lee Child or Jack Reacher posts, please leave a link in your comment. 

The Lee Child Jack Reacher books in publication order are:

Worth Dying For (my short review here)

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O'Brien on Book Beginnings



It's Friday! What are you reading? Are you looking forward to a weekend of books, or a weekend of summer fun -- or is that one and the same? I plan to read and putter, which is my usual weekend plan.

Please share the first sentence (or so) of your book with us here on Book Beginnings. Add the link to your post below and follow the links to visit other participants. 

If you share on social media, please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag so we can find each other. 

Have a great weekend!


book cover of Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O'Brien

The two dreams could not be more contrasting. In one I am walking up the avenue, toward Drewsboro, the house I was born in, and it is a veritable temple.

-- Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O'Brien. O'Brien is best known for her debut novel, Country Girls, which I haven't read yet. I haven't read any of her fiction yet, so starting with her memoir might be an odd choice. But I've read a fair bit about her and her memoir was calling to me, so I started with it. 

It is one of the books I am reading for the 2020 Mt. TBR Challenge and my corresponding TBR 20 in 20 Challenge.


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Share a two-sentence teaser from the book you are reading on The Friday 56, a fun tie-in event hosted by Freda on her blog, Freda's Voice. Click here or on the button above for details and to link your post. 


Also in that dining room, my mother and I once nearly escaped death. my father had gone in there with a bottle of whiskey and a revolver that had belonged to my mother's brother, Captain Michael. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Irene Butter, Author of Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story - AUTHOR INTERVIEW

headshot of author and Holocaust activist Irene Butter

Irene Butter was Anne Frank's neighbor in Amsterdam before her family was shipped to a concentration camp. In her new memoir, Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story, Butter makes public a story she did not share to a large audience for decades.

Irene Butter talked with Rose City Reader about her book and what we learn from Holocaust stories: 

It was decades after the Holocaust that you first told your story. Why did you not talk about your experience earlier and how did you begin to talk about it?

Several reasons:  First of all for quite a few years people were not willing/able to listen to Holocaust survivors. I focused on building a new life which was very demanding;

Education, career and family.  I was unaware of the importance of telling stories about the Holocaust until I listened to Elie Wiesel: “ If you were in the camps, if you smelled the air and heard the silence of the dead, it is  your duty to provide testimony to be a witness so that the victims do not die twice.”

How did you come to write Shores Beyond Shores?

After telling my story to students in Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges and other for more than 35 years, and received such remarkably insightful feedback I decided to write my memoir which students can read after I am no longer able to visit schools.

Your memoir is an intensely personal account of your family’s survival of the Holocaust. Was it difficult to tell such an intimate story in a book?

It was far from easy. It took five years with a number of breaks and if it were not for my co-writers and dear friends, Kris Holloway and John Bidwell, the book might never have been completed.

Who is your intended audience and what do you hope your readers will gain from your memoir?

My main target audience is young people , who are still trying to find their identity, what kind of a person they want to be and what they want to accomplish in their lives. I encourage them to help build a better world,  to fight for equality, equity and justice for all.  My hope is that these young people will help to stamp out hatred and refuse to be enemies.

Can you recommend any other books about the Holocaust?  Are there personal accounts like yours?

There are numerous Holocaust memoirs, many different perspectives, and each one is unique.

What do you think people today can learn from the stories of Holocaust survivors?

People should become aware that we are all human beings, regardless of race, color, religion, ethnicity, sexuality etc. and that all of us deserve the same basic human rights, and that when we open ourselves to "the other" we discover that our differences are far less significant than all we have in common. We need to respect and protect each other.

Do you think it is important to keep Holocaust memory alive and, if so, why?

Yes I do. The Holocaust was an era of the most massive, most brutal, most comprehensive assault on humanity, encompassing a whole continent. Unfortunately the world has not learned the lessons offered by the Holocaust.

By focusing on young people we hope that History will stop repeating itself.

In addition to writing your memoir, are you otherwise involved in other work with Holocaust survivors?

I have been a member of several survivor groups.  Sadly the numbers are dwindling.

It means a lot to  me to be  part of a group of children of survivors who tell their stories at a Temple I belong to, this group is often known as Second Generation.

What’s next? What are you working on now?

I continue to tell my story (now on Zoom) to classes, libraries, museums, and aspire to have my memoir translated into other languages to make it more accessible to more people. It has just been translated into Dutch and launched in The Netherlands in June of this year. The Portuguese edition launched this past month. It will be out in the Czech Republic by the end of the year and in German at the end of 2021. Prior to these foreign language editions it was published in the UK in November of 2019.

I would hope that teachers, librarians, and members of bookclubs will be interested to invite me for a talk with middle grade or high school students or anyone interested in the Holocaust and World War II. Links to past talks can be found on my website.



Monday, August 10, 2020

Billy (the Kid) by Peter Meech - Book Review

What if Sheriff Pat Garrett hadn't shot and killed William Bonney in 1881? What if Billy the Kid survived, escaped, and rode off into the sunset? Well, then he might have become a dentist and retired in Pueblo, Colorado in 1932. That's the beguiling premise of Peter Meech's new novel Billy (the Kid). Meech's alternate history finds an older, contemplative Billy living in a boarding house in the sleepy backwater of Pueblo. Sleepy that is until rival bootleggers move in to open a second speakeasy, threatening the livelihood – and lives – of Billy's friends. 

The book has the loping pace and recognizable icons of a classic western – saloons, dusty streets, good guys and bad guys, guns, and horseback riding. And of course there's a pretty lady that Billy has his eye on. But 1932 is the twilight of the Wild West. The New West has arrived. Instead of outlaws on horses robbing banks, young gangsters drive cars and run rum. Billy is a part of but out of place in this New West, so a feeling of nostalgia hovers over the story. 

This feeling plays out through Billy's interactions with the other characters. There is a lot of reminiscing with former Rough Riders, delivering life lessons to a young protégé, and jawboning with buddies at the Spit 'n' Argue club. Some of these scenes move the plot, others are set pieces. All of them make the story a delight. The main relationship that develops is Billy's with Grace O'Bannion, the widow of the former sheriff. Her character and the bond that grows between them adds dimension to the story and gives it a satisfying arc. 

The story is told in the third person, from Billy's point of view, augmented by lots of dialog. Even in the third person, Billy is an unreliable narrator. It is never clear whether he is Billy the Kid, writing his memoirs and avoiding trouble, or a fantasist and historian, writing a biography of the famous gunslinger and collecting memorabilia. The ambiguity enhances the charm of the story. 

Billy (the Kid) was my favorite summer read of 2020. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an imaginative story to get lost in.


Read my Rose City Reader interview of author Peter Meech here

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley on Book Beginnings


Good grief! It's Friday afternoon and I just remembered to post Book Beginnings. This week has been crazy busy and I'm playing nurse to my husband who had minor surgery (nothing serious). The week went by in a blur. I am looking forward to the weekend! How about you?

Time to post the first sentence or so of the book you are enjoying. Please share your post with a link below. If you post on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnnings. 


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I did have fun this week reading two Lucy Foley's thrillers back to back, The Hunting Party and The Guest List. I read them with my ears when my library holds for the audiobooks both came available at the same time. I don't normally read books by the same author together, but I enjoyed the immersion.

Have you read either of these yet? I loved them both. They are classic "closed room" mysteries with the same twist made popular in Big Little Lies -- not only do we not know who dunnit until the end, we don't know who the dead person is until the end. 

I see a man coming through the falling snow. From a distance, through the curtain of white, he looks hardly human, like a shadow figure.


Every Friday, Freda's Voice hosts another teaser event where you can share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your highlighted book. Visit Freda's blog for details and to link your post.


Miranda, when she wants to, can assert serious charm. Anyone who knows her has been on the receiving end of it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Arzak + Arzak by Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak - BOOK REVIEW

Arzak + Arzak by Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak (2020, Grub Street Cookery)

Restaurante Arzak in San Sebastian is legendary. The family eatery started in the same building over 120 years ago and the restaurant has had three Michelin stars since 1989.

I’ve never been to Spain, San Sebastian, or Arzak. But I am fascinated by San Sebastian and Restaurante Arzak since I watched an episode of Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain when he visits Arzak and tours San Sebastian with Juan Mari. Juan Mari is the third generation of chefs at his family's eponymous restaurant. His daughter Elena joined him 20 years ago and is poised to take over.

Arzak + Arzak is a gorgeous new book celebrating New Basque Cuisine, the Arzak family, and Restaurante Arzak. It tells the story of Juan Mari, who earned his first Michelin star in 1972. Juan Mari has been a cutting-edge chef since then, focusing on fresh, local ingredients in innovative, even avant garde presentations. He put San Sebastian on the map and inspired generations of young chefs. The book also follows Elena Arzak's career from her training in other famous kitchens to co-chef with her father as Restaurante Arzak looks to the future.

The first half of the book is narrative, broken into five chapters, set off by striking, behind-the-scenes, black and white photographs, most of them full page. The first chapter, "Arzak-Enea: A father, a daughter and a Basque restaurant," describes the building that has housed the restaurant since 1897 and describes a day in the life of Restaurante Arzak.

Chapter two, "The Dining Room: Juan Mari and the history or Arzak," describes Juan Mari's typical day at the restaurant and gives a biography of his fascinating career. Juan Mari was one of the founders of the New Basque Cuisine movement, which took root in the 1970s, around the same time Alice Waters pioneered a new "California cuisine" and Nouvelle Cuisine was taking off in France. He has always held onto the familiar flavors of Basque cooking, but with inventive twists.

The third chapter is called "The Laboratory: A recipe for creativity" and takes the readers inside El Laboratorio, the creative center of Arzak.  Part test kitchen, part science lab, it is here where Arzak comes up with more than 50 new dishes every year, to keep its cuisine evolving.

Chapter four, "The Chef's Table: The Extended Family," is my favorite chapter because it describes the beating heart of the restaurant – the big table nearest the open kitchen:

The long marble chef's table is, in effect, the control centre where the daily business of the restaurant is orchestrated and played out.

The staff eats breakfast at this table; family members like Elena's husband and two kids stop by for lunch; old friends, journalists, and visiting chefs linger here in the afternoon. It is also where Elena and Juan Mari hold meetings with purveyors, their sommelier, and staff. But in the evening, the Chef's Table is set for guests because it is the most requested table in the house.

The last of the narrative chapters is "The Kitchen: Elena Arzak and the future." Elena has gradually taken over from her father as she worked with him over the past 20 years. Not yet 50, the future of Arzak is in her talented hands. This chapter gives her culinary biography and vision for the restaurant.

book pages from Arzak + Arzak showing recipe and picture of fancy food

The recipe section is gorgeous and certainly beguiling, even if daunting to all but the most ambitious of home chefs. Each of the 64 recipes is accompanied by a dramatic color photo, most of them full page. While extraordinarily complicated, reading the recipes drives home what Arzak is all about. The laborious effort that goes into each dish is extraordinary, which is why Restaurante Arzak exists and keeps its three stars year in and year out.    

For those diners lucky enough to enjoy Arzak in person, the Arzak + Arzak book would be a perfect keepsake. Even for readers like me who have never been there, the story of Arzak and its father/daughter chefs is absorbing. It is exciting to learn about running a famous restaurant with a history tied so deeply to a particular region.


Arzak + Arzak now has pride of place in my Cookbook Library, even if I will never cook any of the recipes from it. I'll probably display it as a coffee table book instead - it's beautiful enough.

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