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I had this great plan to explore the cuisines of the world with you last summer. Yet, that fall I started school again and fast food and takeout dominated my meals. Here are dishes I made last semester before midterms and finals hit:

Pati's Mexican Table book jacketMexican green rice with beans from Pati’s Mexican Table by Pati Jinich: Rice is simmered in a delicious blend of garlic, onions, poblanos, and cilantro. The addition of a side of beans completes a meal, so simple but good you’ll feel self-congratulatory. Great as a bowl or in a burrito!

Pad kee mao from Simple Thai Food by Leela Punyaratabandhu: Finally! This is the first Thai cookbook I’ve checked out with recipes that look both carefully edited and approachable. You can now enjoy the best drunken noodles at home. This also contains the author’s new-to-you childhood favorites and familiar dishes.

Curry rice from Let’s Cook Japanese Food! by Amy Kaneko: I’ve been making this downhome, savory curry since college. This is the perfect dish to make when it’s cold outside and you feel extra lazy.

Kale and white beans in cilantro pesto from Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul by Aarti Sequeira: You seem Aarti Paarti book jacketskeptical… Trust me though: this is a rich and garlicky meal you won’t regret. Extra points for being one of the prettiest cookbooks I’ve ever seen.

Crispy salmon cakes from Cook’s Illustrated: There are a lot of great recipes in here, but these salmon cakes were my stand-out for 2014. Crispy on the outside and bursting with flavors on the inside. Ingredients include scallions, shallots, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and spices.

Even if you get too busy to cook like me, try to carve out some time for yourself and make one of these recipes this year! You will feel accomplished and your tummy will thank you.

 

I’ve said this before, but for me, cooking in winter-- after the holidays and too many cookies-- is all about vivid flavors, about food that both tastes good and will make me and my family feel good when we eat it. So I was delighted when my hold on Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More came in.

The first Ottolenghi cookbook I read was Plenty, which came out a few years ago. My husband and I both like to cook, and we look at a lot of recipes, which can make us kind of blasé about a new cookbook, but Plenty was exciting. We filled it up with post-its and started cooking from it, and eventually we just bought the book. We’re omnivores, but Ottolenghi has such an original way of celebrating vegetables that it was a while before we even paid attention to the fact that the recipes in the book are meatless.

Unlike Plenty, which focuses on Mediterranean recipes, Ottolenghi’s new cookbook widens its scope to include a range of world cuisines. I had some friends over for dinner recently and made a cheesy, quiche-like cauliflower cake inspired by an English dish and a delicious Thai lentil soup that knocked our socks off with its combination of star anise, ginger, lime juice, coconut milk and Kaffir lime leaves, along with a pretty topping of finely sliced sugar snap peas. If you love your vegetables, you must take a look at this cookbook, which offers delights like an arugula salad with caramelized figs and feta, pea and mint croquettes, bell peppers stuffed with buttery rutabaga and goat cheese, and smoky polenta fries. Yum. The hold list is still kind of long, so you might want to check out this list of other excellent international cookbooks while you wait.

Ninety Percent of Everything book jacketWe’ve just finished a season filled with consumer spending. Did you know that 90% of everything you bought or were given was transported on a ship? I didn’t until I read Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George. It tells the story of how stuff gets from where it was found, grown or made to a store near you. It is a story about the ships and sailors of the merchant marine who not only make this possible, but are essentially invisible to us.  Rose George sails from Rotterdam through the Suez Canal to Singapore on a Maersk container ship. You’ll find out about this particular voyage as well as the modern merchant marine in general. She covers ship ownership and flags of convenience, pirates and the conditions that sailors have to deal with while on board a ship. This is a world where ownership of a vessel is masked through shell companies and sailors are at the mercy of the laws of the country where their ship is registered. This book will change how you see the products you use.

Other books about ships and sailors that you may also like are: 

The Voyage of the Rose City: An Adventure at Sea by John Moynihan. John, the son of Senator Patrick Moynihan, dropped out of school and got a job as an Ordinary Seaman on the supertanker Rose City. The story and illustrations are from his journal of the trip.

Looking For a Ship by  John McPhee follows a sailor through the process of finding a job on an American flagged ship and then it’s voyage to South America. You will find out about the challenges of getting work in the shrinking American merchant marine.

Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea by Richard Henry Dana. Written in the 1830’s, this classic book tells of Dana’s experience as a sailor on a sailing ship. He sailed from Massachusetts to California by way of Cape Horn and back. Much has changed since then, but the life of a sailor has always been a difficult one.

Book Jacket: The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan DaumWhen a loved one receives bad news at the doctor’s office, you should squeeze their hand and give them a steely glance that says, “I’m here with you.  We’ll beat this thing.”

Throughout this life, you’re supposed to push yourself outside of your comfort zone to achieve real growth and we all want to grow, right?

If you survive a life-threatening event, you’re expected to live each day thereafter with gratitude and heightened perspective.  

It’s these preassigned responses to human experiences that Meghan Daum challenges in her latest collection of personal essays, The Unspeakable: and Other Subjects of Discussion.  

Covering topics that range from cream of mushroom soup casserole to waking up from a medically induced coma,  Daum’s writing is funny, but not frivolous. I loved her keen recognition of the absurd and her unapologetic honesty. As a fellow Gen Xer, I also relished her many 1970s-80s pop culture references. What I loved most about these essays however, is how moving they were. How they started off so specific and individual and ended with broader truths that left me considering the emotional expectations we have of ourselves.

It’s true that the topics covered in The Unspeakable, aren't the type of thing that people readily talk about.  But they are precisely the type of subjects that lead to the best conversations you have with your closest friend. The kind where you can confess to dreading what you're supposed to be looking forward to; Where you can laugh inappropriately and be completely yourself. Maybe not your most becoming self, but your most human self.

 

What's your favorite book? When you only get to pick one, which one do you say? I work among and with library people, and most of them look anguished when asked this question. "Unfair!" they cry. "There are so many good stories!"

Great Expectations book jacketWell, I agree with them, but I have had a favorite for many years now, and considering my love of science fiction, comics, teen dystopias and such, even I can't explain why it is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. 
 
Have you read it? It's the story of Pip, orphaned at a young age and "raised by hand" thanks to his shrewish sister. One day, when he is in the cemetery sadly looking at his parents' graves, out of the fog comes an escaped convict who grabs him and demands that he bring him some 'wittles' to eat. Frightened, Pip honors this request, and this act of kindness (and fear) starts a plot that wanders up and down the social scale of early 1800s London and environs. 
 
Why do I love it so much? Perhaps the first-person perspective helps; my second favorite of his works is David Copperfield which is also told that way. It might be Dickens' wonderful language, always a thing I need to hear in my head... sometimes I read bits aloud, just for full enjoyment (not usually in public). But I think it is mostly about the characters - each has their own voice, so clearly distinguishable that I'm pretty sure I could tell you who is speaking just by hearing the quote. And I love Mr. Wemmick. He's a minor character, but watching him relax the further he gets from "the office", his whimsy and good cheer returning with proximity to home is delightful and reminds me of one of my pre-library jobs.  
 
There's so much more! A well-drawn picture of the era, commentary on pride and loneliness and love, incarceration and revenge, a look at the social scale and what it takes to climb it (or descend it)... I could go on for longer than I am allowed. Have a look, and then let us know.... what's your favorite book?
 

 

Do you make new year’s resolutions? Or do you eschew the practice?
I admit I can get carried away by dreams of a Shiny New All Improved Me, one that you’d be happy to hang out with. That optimistic me looks at books like Learn Something New Every Day and starts using words like “eschew.”
Optimistic Me looks at books that promise big changes over one year, books like One Year to An Organized Life With Baby. Tired Me thinks that I haven’t really been organized since I became a parent. Tired Me thinks a book like The Sh!t No One Tells You: A 52-week Guide to Surviving your Baby's First Year might have been more helpful.

So I have given up on big resolutions; instead I choose one word to guide me through the year. This year my word is gratitude and I plan to use seven books to help me.  And if I write just three thank you cards to my relatives and remember to be kind to myself when I can’t find the car keys again, I’m going to feel gratitude and maybe a little shiny new and all improved.
 

 

For me, January usually means new beginnings.  How about you?  Does the new year have significance?

I like to declutter the house. I like to decorate. What does that mean? For me it means hanging a few pictures.There’s no lack of framed pictures, but I get nervous about putting them up. So with the new year I like to urge myself to be brave and hang a few up. First I want to hang up my sister’s Neil Armstrong portrait this week and a few others.

I always like to try new recipes too. This year is no different. I tried the Homesick Texan’s carnitas recipe with great success this weekend. My family and friends loved how good the carnitas tasted! While dabbling with these activities books help me dream. Here is a list that might help you dream too.

The Life-changing magic of tidying up bookjacketI am susceptible to the idea of 'organize your home = organize your mind', so with all the buzz around The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I had to try it. Though the author, Marie Kondo, had me at "life-changing", the subtitle is equally intriguing: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I was thinking about the path to beauty through study and simplicity - bonsai, sushi, ikebana. Would there be an equally methodical approach to tidying?

The verdict? There are some eye-opening and sustainable tips here, including storing everything, including clothes, vertically (don't worry, she'll tell you how.) In light of our consumer culture and the rise of movements like Buy Nothing Day, the author's advice about keeping or buying 'only those things that spark joy' makes sense; um...well, except for underpants...and insurance...and, oh, never mind. 

But the bits about the crushed and defeated clothes on the bottom of the pile and the sadness and despair of socks that have been tied in knots? Well, sorry, I'm not buying the sentient clothing argument. But, if you're interested in a peaceful and organized home, this book is well worth a read. If you adopt Kondo's methods, you'll probably enjoy a more restful space - that is, if you can convince the rest of your family to play by the same rules!

I love a good romance and I recently discovered a fun romance series written for adult learners. It led me to explore the world of books for adults learning to read.

Are you looking for books for teens or adults who need simpler texts? If you search the catalog using the phrase “readers for new literates,you’ll get a long list of books at different reading levels.  If you’re looking for levels, choose a title. For instance, when I clicked on the title Water for Life, I looked for “Series that include this title” and then I could link to all the books in the Penguin active reading series or just the Penguin active reading level 2.

You can find  versions of English and American classics or modern fiction. You can find biographies, true crime, and a book written in both Somali and EnglishWe have horror stories as well as romance. 

Back to that romance series. All of the books in the series feature photographs which add a lot of meaning to the stories about long time love and new love. My personal favorite is The Big Goof:  Jan loves Bill. Will Bill love Jan? It makes me laugh every time I read it. Everyone I’ve shared it with has noticed different things in the photos which deepened the story. 

If you’d like a customized list of books, you can ask us at My LibrarianWe’re happy to help you find good reading. Here’s a list I made that features books and poetry for a romance fan. Let’s champion reading together! Thanks.


 


 

I solemnly swear on a stack of unopened self-help books I’ll do something reflective, meditate, or whatever such a thing suggests. In the meantime, they can keep my bookshelf looking thoughtful…

nerdist book coverHowever, when things got rough a while back, the right book appeared at the right time. Speaking to my inner skeptic, pop culture loving self, and former Dungeons and Dragons(D&D) player,  Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist Way offered the advice I was looking for in my time of rediscovery. Unlike other books promising personal growth, the nerdist way takes a humorous look at discovering one’s strengths and weaknesses, improving on both through, well, nerdy excercises (literally and figuratively).

Whether it’s identifying who you are, improving your physical prowess, or finding the motivation to seeing  projects through, there’s something for everyone’s inner nerd. Me? I Made a character sheet ala D&D with Hardwick’s advice and found myself in a coffee shop filling in experience points of my goals with colored pencils.


Being nerdy never felt so good.

Congo Refugee Finds Refuge in North Portland Library

by Donna Childs

First, a bit of background, from Medical Teams International:Picture of Volunteer Elise Ekombele

Congo’s long-standing conflict has been called the world’s deadliest dispute since World War II. Aid organizations estimate that nearly 5.4 million people have died in this decade-long conflict, nearly half of them children. An additional one million people have been displaced by the ongoing violence in the Congo.

One of those displaced by these brutal wars is North Portland Library volunteer Elise Ekombele. Born and raised in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Elise was forced to flee from her home to a Senegalese refugee camp with her son. Through a US refugee resettlement program, they were sent far away to Portland, Oregon, speaking no English and knowing nothing about American culture. Despite the difficulty of learning another language and culture, Elise likes it here because it is so much safer and more peaceful.

As she has learned English, Elise has had several jobs in Portland. A French speaker (the official language of Congo), she first worked at the Portland French School. She has also held positions at various organizations that assist immigrants, such as IRCO and Catholic Charities, and is currently looking for work. Although Elise has made much progress learning English and adapting to her new life in America, she says it is her son who “has become a real American.” He graduated from the University of Montana where he was an accomplished athlete scouted by the NFL.

Elise has been volunteering at North Portland every Thursday for the past year. According to staff, she is very conscientious about her volunteer duties as a Branch Assistant. She also volunteers with her church, helping to distribute food boxes to those in need.

To improve her English, Elise participates weekly in two different language programs at North Portland. The Talk Time program provides an opportunity for non-native speakers from around the world to practice English in an informal, conversational environment. She also participates in l’Echange, a French-English language exchange program for native English speakers who want to practice French and native French speakers who want to practice English. Elise has found a perfect balance of helping the library and benefiting from library services and programs.


A Few Facts About Elise

Home library: North Portland Library

Most influential book: A biography of Angela Davis (title unknown)

Favorite book from childhood: A novel written by a French woman about Chinese women (title unknown)

Favorite section of the library: Biographies and self improvement books, new ideas! 

E-reader or paper? Paper

Favorite place to read: In a chair in the bedroom

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

The Art of Asking audio book coverWhen it comes to audiobooks, there are some publications in which the experience of the book is somewhat lost without the visual or tactile experience of a book. There are others that can equally be enjoyed by either the the listener or the reader. And then there are those rare audiobooks that are enriched by the listening experience. Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking, is one of those uniquely luscious listening experiences. Amanda delivers her words from her mouth to your ears. There is something in the authenticity of  listening to an individual tell their story in their own voice that makes the reader (or listener) a believer. The added bonus to The Art of Asking audiobook is the music peppered throughout.

I admit that I knew very little about Amanda Palmer before listening to her audiobook. A couple of years ago, she came to Portland for a small solo show at the Independent Publishing Resource Center (if you don’t know about IPRC, check them out). Some of my friends were so excited for the show, that for weeks beforehand it seemed like that was all they were talking about. I wasn't a fan of her music. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I hadn't really been exposed. After hearing her stories and her experiences as a musician and an artist, she has gained a lifelong fan in me.

The Art of Asking was birthed from Amanda’s popular TED Talk of the same name. The book’s title might lead you to think that this is a self-help book, but really it’s more of a memoir than a how-to. From her life as a living statue, as a punk cabaret musician and artist, a wife, a friend, a community leader and collaborator, and crowdfunding wizard;  Amanda’s magic is in her ability to be vulnerable and to graciously ask for, and receive help. Listening to her audiobook, I felt like she was not just sharing her story, but her secret recipe, her magic.

 

 

 

The Kept bookjacketDuring these cold days of winter, what could be better than finding a book that takes you on a journey through the bleak days of a winter of 1897? The Kept is the perfect book to hunker down with while the wind howls and the threat of snow is upon us.

This is the story of Elspeth Howell, beginning on the day she returns home from her midwifery duties to her isolated farmstead in upstate New York and finds her husband and 5 of her children murdered. Only her 12-year-old son, Caleb, has survived. The book traces their journey to find the men who committed that horrific deed. As the journey progresses, so also do we slowly learn much of what has brought them to this point in their lives.

Scott has written a beautiful, bleak, extraordinary story. It's the kind of book that made me want to rush through my workday, wake up early in the morning, and stay up late to read. On the next blustery day, pick up The Kept and take a journey through the snow to Watersbridge, New York with James Scott.

Rene Denfeld is an internationally bestselling author, journalist, and death penalty investigator. Of her latest novel, Geek Love author Katherine Dunn says, "The Enchanted is unlike anything I’ve ever read...it’s a jubilant celebration that explores human darkness with a profound lyrical tenderness…" Check out Rene's selected favorites. For more reading recommendations with your tastes in mind, try the My Librarian service. 

Local libraries were my sanctuaries growing up, and in each one I left a child version of myself, roaming the aisles, pulling out titles or checking out the books where librarians had left little tags that said read this. The best ones were those little-known gems, the books that may not have hit the bestseller list but still ended up lodged in my heart.

When I was a young child, the North Portland library was my refuge. I will forever associate that beautifully carved wooden ceiling with my favorite books of childhood: Trask by Don Berry, which I must have read a hundred times, or Crazy Weather by Charles McNichols. It was from the wide selection of African-American folktales I discovered my own joy of fable in books like The Cow-Tail Switch by Harold Courlander, with its jubilant stories and unforgettable phrasing: “A man is not truly dead until he is forgotten.”

When I was in middle school my family moved to Sellwood, then a blue-collar neighborhood where fishermen still hung the catch outside the local tavern. I spent endless drowsy afternoons in the local library, and remember the books that tore the sides of the paper grocery bags I carried home: from the astonishing Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter to the gentle yet wise memoir, West With The Night by Beryl Markham.

By fifteen, I was on my own, and like a lot of hardscrabble kids, the downtown library was my safe place. I celebrated my birthday on the second floor of that library while rain howled outside. Just the sight of that brick and stone façade brings back memories of all the books I discovered there, including Yellowfish by John Keeble and The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet—I’m the one who dog-eared all those pages—and who could forget the warmly humorous science fiction by our late and lamented local author Robert Sheckley?

Libraries saved my life. They gave me comfort, solace, and a vision of life as limitless as the shelves. They made me the writer I am today. So when I recommend my secret treasures, what I am really recommending is my own memories, and want to caution: the best way to find your own is to wander the stacks. Feel your hand on the books—reach for them the way we reach for each other, with longing and an open heart. Then you will never be dissatisfied.

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

A magic trick can leave some people slack-jawed with amazement. I can take or leave the sleight of hand; for me, an artist performs the most awe-inspiring of trick of all by conjuring something out of nothing. Watching an artist create gives me the same pleasant and engrossing buzz that many magic fans enjoy.

Maybe I caught this bug as a kid watching a show called The Book Bird. In it, a mustachioed man named John Robbins combined two of my great loves into performance art - he drew a scene from a book as he described the story. I would then rush to my public library to find out how the book ended. Public television has always been a good place for art junkies. Long before the idea of personal affirmation became popular, Bob Ross assured us that we could paint and encouraged us all to embrace "happy little trees".

According to Clarke's third law, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Watching an artist create something out of nothing feels like magic to me. Whether you're looking for inspiration for your own work, or you just like to watch, take a look at this list of artists in motion. And here's some affirmation from Mr. Ross himself.

I read a lot of great books last year, so I had a hard time choosing, but (fanfare, please!) the best book I read in 2014 was Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. It came out in 2010, but I didn't read it for years because the title misled me into thinking it was a different kind of book altogether. The goon in the title is time, and the main theme of this book is how time changes us, turns us into someone we wouldn't have recognized when we were young. This could be a real bummer of a theme, too, but the book is so smart and engaging that the theme just kind of washed over me because I was completely involved with its characters and delighted by its fine writing.

Goon Squad seems like more of a collection of short stories than a novel, at first, but the characters are connected to each other, sometimes very loosely. The narrative bounces around in time from about the 1970s into the 2020s and is mostly about people involved with the music and entertainment industry. There's a very moving PowerPoint presentation, a punk rock show at a club in LA in 1979, a celebrity journalist who tries to rape the starlet subject of his interview, a lion attack in Africa,  and an erotic kiss delivered to the unwilling lips of a Mother Superior. Which is to say that this book is wildly entertaining on top of being incredibly, dazzlingly good.

Beethoven portraitIf you could be magically transported back in time to any concert, what would it be? The Vienna concert of 1808 in which Beethoven premiered not only his fifth and sixth symphonies, but his fourth piano concerto as well? Incredible! The first complete performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Bayreuth, Germany in 1876? Awesome! The world premiere in 1913 of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring that nearly caused a riot at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris? Scary!

Carnegie Hall Concert CD jacketAs amazing as it would be to witness any of those events, I would choose to be in New York City on the evening of January 16, 1938 at Carnegie Hall. My ticket would put me front and center with one of the most extraordinary assemblages of jazz greats of all time. Led by clarinettist and bandleader Benny Goodman, the night was a virtual parade of some of the most talented and popular musicians of the day -- Goodman, Harry James, Lionel Hampton, and “The Liltin' Miss (Martha) Tilton” -- to name just a few. The climax of the evening was the 12-minute performance of Louis Prima’s Sing, Sing, Sing (with a Swing), punctuated by the steady drum beat of Gene Krupa and topped off by the piano solo of  Jess Stacy. Wow -- check it out!

What about you? Is there a concert that you would love to be teleported to? Or maybe you would like to bring together some musicians who never were able to link up -- Bach and Bartók, Bing Crosby and Lady Gaga, Elvis and Caruso? Tell us about it!

http://multcolib.bibliocommons.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&t=smart&search_category=keyword&q=lives in ruins&commit=Search&author=JThe online Free Dictionary defines ‘serendipity’ as, "the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident." I thought about serendipity when I picked up my books on hold and found out that instead of Light in the Ruins  by Chris Bohjalian (featuring an Italian detective who is investigating a gruesome new case by digging into the past of the murder victims as well as her own buried past), I had mistakenly reserved  a similar title: Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson, subtitled Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. Now that involves digging of a whole different kind!

Marilyn Johnson was curious about what drives archaeologists since the work is often hazardous to their health and there is little profit or fame in it. After reading her introduction I was curious too.

In her effort to unearth an archaeologist's passion, Ms. Johnson decides to go on digs with them, interview them, listen to, and live with them.  She writes about uncovering hidden battle sites, exhuming secret cemeteries, and excavating on a deserted island.

Here are a couple  of the subjects:

Patrick McGovern, an expert on the archaeology of  ‘extreme beverages’,  his term for beer, wines, ale and mead.

Volunteer archaeologist Erin Coward, who helped sort through the remains, human and otherwise, of the World Trade Center site after 911

Intrigued I sat down with my cup of hot coffee in hand and  began to read. An hour later, I was  still sitting there, my mind buried in in the remants of shipwrecks, Revolutionary War graves and the unoffcial saint of archaeologists, Indiana Jones.  My coffee had gone long since gone cold and my husband was asking,  "Don't you have to go to work today?"

Putting the wrong book on hold  was a ‘fortunate accident’ indeed!  

 

 

 

 

Generation V book jacketThere are a lot of vampire novels out there.  Some are good.  Some are okay.  Some are very, very bad. If you'd enjoy a fresh take on vampires, I've got a series for you. M. L. Brennan has a new trilogy (so far...) of vampire novels that begins with Generation V. At the time of writing this blog entry, I've only finished the first two books.  I've got the third sitting unread on my shelf.  I liked the first two so much I think the third will be a great diversion from my misery the next time I get sick. I find this series has had enough charm and fun that I think I'll be totally distracted from pitying myself.  I'll be almost happy to be unwell!

Fortitude Scott is a young slacker in a dead end job avoiding the family business and trying very, very hard to pretend he's a normal guyIron Night book jacket and not the youngest child of a merciless alpha predator.  Vampires in this universe aren't undead humans.  They're a separate species really, and Fortitude is trying desperately to pretend that he loves vegetarian food and that his roommate's leftover steak doesn't smell really, really good. Raised by humans, Fortitude remembers that his foster parents loved him, that they would do anything to protect him, and that they were brutally murdered in front of him.  Their murder was by his mother's order when his foster parents thought to try to run away with him to protect him from his mother and whatever she had done to traumatize their beloved son so.  So, as the saying goes, Fortitude doesn't have issues - he has entire subscriptions.

Tainted Blood book jacketFortitude's mother is a survivor and remorseless as a shark.  Vampires in this world do age and die - eventually. As vampires age, they become less and less able to eat solid food until blood is the only thing that they can still digest. Thus they are still "vampires" as per the standard mythos.  Vampire reproduction is... interesting and probably the creepiest part of this series.  As vampires tend to have very few young, Fortitude's mother stands out for having three surviving offspring. She has indulged her odd youngest instead of killing him as a weakling. Fortitude's older brother is kind to him in a distant sort of way. He's also kind to his wives as he kills them slowly, eating their life a bit at a time, one after another after another. Fortitude's sister is as brutal as her mother and seems to delight in tormenting Fortitude like a cat with a mouse.

This series is more for the urban fantasy fan than for readers of horror or paranormal romance. Sex and violence are side notes, although still there, in this heavily character-driven story.

Cover image of Ship of MagicPeople have been telling me over and over again that I should read the Patrick O’Brian series of nautical-historical fiction, and they’re probably right. But ... I don’t know. Months and months at sea, with nary a bit of land in sight? Ship’s biscuit? Ship’s medicine? Sounds pretty wet and unpleasant to me. Now, add a sea serpent in, and maybe some swordfights, and perhaps a curse of one sort or another... that's another story.

Case in point: Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb. This is another author that I’ve been told I should read, and I’m glad that I finally did.

The setting for the book is the lands and oceans around Bingtown, populated by pirates and sea-traders, monks and slavers. And sea serpents. The most successful trading families are the ones who own liveships, sentient ships made of wizardwood that are bonded with their owners. Althea Vestrit is the headstrong daughter of a liveship trader, but she has been denied the ship that should be hers. Captain Kennit bitterly wants to capture a liveship and rise above the petty thuggery of pirate life. They and many more characters (including sea serpents and the ships themselves) are swirled into a maelstrom of greed, romance, deception, and brutality. It’s Game of Thrones on the high seas, and the writing, pacing, and character-development are all top-notch.

And, also like Game of Thrones, it is, of course, only the first book in a series. The good news is that the remaining books in this trilogy (Mad Ship and Ship of Destiny) have already been written! Check them all out, and get ready for many nights of staying up past your bedtime to find out what happens next.

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