Books and Donuts

Today, March 19th, is St. Joseph’s Day, noteworthy in Italian families for the fried donuts traditionally made and consumed to celebrate the feast day.  In Hawaii, any day is a good excuse to eat fried donuts, known as malasadas, but on the East Coast, many Italian families eat zeppole.  The ingredients of the dough vary and the small donuts can be cream filled or plain, baked or fried.  But the traditional recipe my grandmother used was fast and easy, resembling a beignet.  Click on the recipe – here.  Good with a glass of milk back in the day but now great with coffee and a good book.  Here are a few books I’ve been reading while munching my donuts:

A Mystery by Jennifer EganManhattan Beach

The first time I tried reading Egan’s Manhattan Beach, I could not get past the first fifty pages, but when I tried again, the story flew by in a day.  Some books you just have to be ready to read, or, in my case, forced to read for a book club discussion, but glad I did.

title.esplanade  The dull windup (which had me stopping in the first read) was Anna’s sad childhood with her disabled sister, and her twelve year old yearnings for a better life as she accompanies her father to a house on Manhattan Beach, where he is obviously making a deal with a rich organized crime crook.  But stay with the story – it gets better.

Set during the Rosie Riveter era of World War II, Anna becomes the first woman diver working on ships in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  After her father mysteriously disappears and her sister dies, Anna’s mother leaves her alone in the big city. But this working girl knows her way around, finding an unlikely girlfriend in Nell who leads her to that same mobster boss in a nightclub, igniting a relationship and a story worthy of a film noir plot.  The murder mystery revolves around Anna’s father, but the resolution is unexpected.

In his review for the New York Times, Amor Towles, author of The Gentleman from Moscow, notes the importance of the beach and the ocean in Egan’s book:

“Turning their backs on the crowded constraints of their urban lives, all three {main characters}look to the ocean as a realm that while inherently dangerous also promises the potential for personal discovery and an almost mystical liberty.”

With her incise language Egan cleverly leads the story to a satisfying ending, and simultaneously informs the reader about an era, a location, and a woman’s vocation based on real events.

35411583  Listening to Sophie – Surprise Me!

A few bystanders may have wondered what I was laughing about as I tried out my new Beatsx earbuds, listening to Sophie Kinsella’a Surprise Me.  Kinsella’s newest addition to the Shopaholic series has heroine Sylvie married to Dan and mother to twin girls. Her job as a development officer at a family museum seems in jeopardy, and a doctor’s prediction of longevity for the couple alerts them to the long years ahead in their relationship. To shake up their ten year marriage, Kinsella has them surprising one another, creating laughable and ridiculous circumstances.  A serious note threatens to reveal a family secret, but with her usual wit and charm, Kinsella leads the reader to the expected happy ending.

81d62354b0e8908efae37b21420cdf5160d125f7Flavia is Back in Alan Bradley’s The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place

My favorite detective is back in Bradley’s newest addition to the Flavia de Luce mysteries – The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place.   Flavia’s father has died; to recover from their grief Dogger, their old family friend, has taken Flavia and her sisters on a fishing excursion.  Flavia hooks a dead body instead of a fish, and the mystery begins.

If you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of this perspicuous young woman with an extensive knowledge of chemical poisons and a flair for solving crimes, you are missing a good time.  This is the ninth in this series, from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, but you can start anywhere.

Related ReviewA Red Herring Without Mustard

Listen to This Book – Only Child

51l+GCnsXVL._SL500_  Although the news after a school shooting is devastating and continuous, the distressed lives of the child survivors can only be imagined, but in Rhiannon Navin’s Only Child, a six year old first grader tells you how it is.  Some books need to be read, but Only Child on audible in the voice of Zach, the young hero who hides in the closet with his class while his ten year old brother becomes one of the victims, is one to be heard.  The disconnect between the innocent young voice and this tale of senseless killing will bring you to the experience like reading alone could not.  So, listen…

From the pop, pop, pop of the gun outside the classroom to the surprising identity of the shooter, Only Child reveals the crushing events, so often in the news lately.  As Zach tries to understand what has happened, where his dead brother has gone, his mother’s erratic behavior and his father’s disconnect, he also remembers his brother, diagnosed with O.D.D. (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), as the hyperactive and bright older boy who bullied him, and more often ignored him.  When he checks his brother’s bed daily to be sure he is really not there, and rebelliously moves into a corner of his brother’s walk-in closet, his quiet assertiveness and need for a return to order and peace is a counter to his family’s constant stress.

The horror of the killings and the aftermath is somehow increased by Zach’s sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor, sucking on the ear of a stuffed animal.  With his calm voice, he tries to make sense of this new world around him, but it isn’t easy.  His parents marriage falls apart in the collateral damage, as Zach’s mother creates a campaign against the shooter’s parents and Zach’s father’s infidelity is exposed.  Zach escapes to his hideout to talk to his dead brother, but finds it harder and harder to cope.

This heart breaking tale is saved by the resilience of one little boy, who carefully and logically works to save himself and those he loves with hope and persistence.

A Book List from Independent Booksellers

If you are looking for a good book, two local independent booksellers in Carmel, California have some suggestions.  Many titles were new to me (but then I tend to stick to fiction) so I checked out their reviews and summaries, and offered a quick assessment.

Here’s the list:

  • Reactions by Theodore Gray – the third and final installment in the trilogy of The Elements, Molecules, and Reactions – chemistry in pictures and stories. Gray offers molecule quilts too – I may find that more interesting.
  • Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman – based on the popular food blog, this cookbook promises to rival Ina, Nmartha, and Nigella with recipes and food ideas from a recovering vegetarian.  I love cookbooks and am always happy to find a new one.
  • The Undiscovered Islands by Malachy Talkack – National Geographic promises it is “Packed full of intelligent musings on everything from religion to astronomy, alchemy to the occult…an exploration of two dozen islands once believed to exist but no longer on the map.  This one might make it to my to-read list, if I can find it in the library (unlikely).
  • Van Life by Foster Huntington – photos of life on the road.  I’m not a fan.
  • Going Into Town by Roz Chast.  I read it, loved it, highly recommend it.
  • Grant by Ron Chernow – biography of Ulysses S. Grant.  I never made it through his Hamilton, so will probably skip this one.
  • The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey – Police detective Gemma Woodstock works to solve the murder of a former classmate in this debut mystery.  This one has possibilities for my audible wish list.
  • Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan – the author’s memoir.  I’m not big on memoirs, so will probably skip this one too.
  • The Child Finder by Rene Denfield – New York Times calls this “a powerful novel about a search for a missing girl that’s also a search for identity…”  and notes a comparable book would be Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.  A winner – going on my to-read list.
  • The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Happiness by Heather Harpham – NPR says  “…Harpham relives the heartbreak, hope, and terror she experienced as she watched her infant daughter cross the abyss of a life-threatening disease. Into this tension-torqued story of sickness and health, she works in the fraught tale of her own evolving relationship with {her ex-husband}.” Might be good if you liked When Breath Becomes Air, but I think I will skip it.
  • The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas -mixed reviews about a fictional novelist who marries when she would rather write.  I might give it a try.
  • The Kinfolk Entrepreneur: Ideas for Productive Work by Nathan Williams -introduces readers to creative business owners around the globe. … a chocolatier among them.  Has pictures, so might be worth a look.

Have you read any of these?

The Girl Who Saved Christmas

51cf-a9vJjL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_   Listening to the audiobook of Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas had me thinking I was listening to Santa.    Haig’s follow-up book this year is The Girl Who Saved Christmas; I was hooked from the first lines:

“Do you know how magic works?  The kind of magic that gets reindeer to fly in the sky? The kind that helps Father Christmas travel around the world in a single night? The kind that can stop time and make dreams come true?  Hope.  That’s how.  Without hope, there would be no magic.”

Maria Russo in the New York Times says:

” If somewhere in the afterlife Roald Dahl met Charles Dickens and they cooked up a new Christmas tale, it couldn’t have much on this fleet, verbally rambunctious, heart-stealing follow-up to “A Boy Called Christmas,” set in Victorian London (with cameos by Dickens himself). Amelia Wishart, the first child to have gotten a gift from Father Christmas, is orphaned and sent to a workhouse. At the North Pole, magic levels plummet. Christmas is in jeopardy, and Father Christmas is in custody. Amelia to the rescue? We’d all better believe it.”

0511-1009-2806-0628 Santa magically delivered this story to my iPhone this morning. Just what I wanted – a book for Christmas.

Did you get a book for Christmas?

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Listen to David Sedaris – the Christmas Elf

Not long ago I happily listened to David Sedaris in person when he was on stage in Hawaii; listening to Sedaris’ humorous twang is the best Christmas present you can give yourself.

National Public Radio (NPR) often broadcasts one of his short essays in his Santaland Diaries for Christmas on its Morning Edition.

gettyimages-121693538_wide-c0d6eff165889478fc5410961250f07b2259ef6d-s800-c85.jpgThis Christmas Eve, after you read “The Night Before Christmas,” listen to Crumpet, who recounts the true-life tale of an out-of-work writer’s stint as a Macy’s Department Store elf – David Sedaris as an Elf.

 

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