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?

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Sourdough: A Novel

51lUUj3WwAL._AC_US218_    Robin Sloan’s Sourdough had me craving for bread as I read the adventurous tale of a young computer geek turned baker.

Although the dough itself is the main character in the novel, Lois Clary expedites its coming of age.  The dough grows from a lump in a crock owned by two undocumented cooks with a take-out business who leave town quickly, to a starring role in a futuristic farmer’s market of experimental foods.  Along the way, Computer Lois finds her calling and is able to use her expertise programming industrial robot arms to streamline the process of baking loaves of bread.

Most of the story is tantalizingly fun, but some conflict is created by the challenge between eating for pleasure and feeding the masses.  It’s Alice Waters vs the scientists, home-grown tomatoes vs nutritious Slurry.  The ending gets a little wild – as yeasty dough can get if left unattended, as Sloan tries to accommodate old world with new age in a strange marriage of breadcrumbs.

This is a book for all the senses: the yeasty smell of the starter dough percolating in its crock; the sounds of the background music motivating the sourdough starter as it whistles and pops through the night; the taste of soft bread in a crispy crust smothered in butter with a sprinkling of salt; the sight of the strange markings on the baked crust, possibly channeling the Madonna on a potato chip; and, finally the squeeze of the dough kneaded into the final heft of a crusty loaf.  You will need some good bread nearby to eat as you read, preferably one with character.

My favorite scene was Lois teaching the robot arm to crack an egg.  Cracking an egg, one-handed, is no easy feat.  Julia Child made it look simple, but have you ever tried it?  One of my favorite elements of satire is the idea of losing weight eating only bread (Oprah, take note – no bad carbs here).  The story spoofs the modern and the conventional – a Lois Club for women named Lois, the nutritive gel replacing real food, the strangely isolating workplace environment, the identify of the mysterious benefactor.

Sourdough, like the bread, has more heft than first appears.  Sloan has filled it with mysterious and satisfying ingredients; let your senses fill up while you read and enjoy.  I plan to bake some bread today.

Related:

A friend was listening to the book on Audible while I was reading it on my iPhone.  When she described how the author incorporated the sounds of the starter dough as it morphed as well as the baker’s music into the reading of the book, it made me want to listen to it.  We also started sharing bread recipes.  I’ve included one of my favorites – here.

Seven Books Under Two Hundred Pages to Read While the Turkey is Roasting

My mother roasted her Thanksgiving turkey overnight on such a low setting it’s a wonder we all survived, but it was deliciously moist. I always rose at the crack of dawn to start my feast, but today cooks know how to plan.  Articles from Bon Appetit and Real Simple magazines urge making the sides ahead and uncomplicated.  If pumpkin pie is too scary for its crust or soggy middle, I found a recipe for cookies to replace it – click here to see it.

Perhaps you will find yourself with time as you wait for the big bird to finish roasting this Thanksgiving.  Let the others watch football; you can read a short book to put you in the mood to feast.

Click on the titles to find my reviews for seven books under two hundred pages – maybe you’ll finish more than one:

  1. Girl in the Green Raincoat  by Laura Lippman (158 pages)
  2. Mrs. Dalloway  by Virginia Woolf ( 108 pages)
  3. The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (192 pages)
  4. The Uncommon Reader  by Alan Bennett (128 pages)
  5. The Sense of an Ending  by Julian Barnes  (150 pages)
  6. Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (144 pages)
  7. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

happy-thanksgiving-2

 

In the Midst of Winter

51lKIT-x2jL._SY346_     In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende is a wild ride in the middle of a snowstorm to dispose of a dead body in the trunk of a Lexus. The life stories of Lucia, Evelyn, and Richard as they tell each other about their past are more compelling than their adventure.

At the end of the ebook on my iPhone, I found  a summary for the reading group guide  – I could not have said it any better.

“A blizzard in New York City brings together three strikingly different people, each burdened with a difficult past. Lucia, an aging Chilean writer who has survived political exile, disease, and betrayal, is marooned with her dog in a basement apartment in Brooklyn. Richard, an academic chairman at NYU, is a broken man haunted by guilt for his fatal failures as a husband and father. And Evelyn, a brave young Guatemalan woman, is an undocumented home health aide who fled her native country due to gang violence, which claimed the lives of her two brothers and very nearly destroyed her own.

Over the course of several days, these three—each a misfit in a different way—are forced by circumstances into a rare level of intimacy. As the result of a shocking crime, they depart on a precarious epic journey that reveals their painful inner demons and ultimately enables them to forge a tentative peace with their pasts.”

My favorite quotes from the book:

  • {Despite the} “atrocious weather, fleas, food poisoning, his ulcer, and his own and the moose’s shit,” Richard falls in love with Lucia.

  • From Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer. ”

And, I found Lucia’s recipe for  comforting Chilean cazuela – homemade stew made with beef, potato, pumpkin and corn on the cob – click here to see it.

Allende cleverly connects immigration, political turmoil and history, family loyalty, and cultural divides, through a murder mystery.  The murder with the disposal of the dead body in the trunk of a car in the middle of a snowstorm and the revelation of whodunit at the end is almost an aside to the harrowing backstories of the three who become friends under strained circumstances.   Despite the confusing jumps back and forth through lives and times,  the journey of the three disparate lives, as they reveal their backgrounds, is the real story, providing important history and information; the murder plot and the final reveal of whodunit is secondary.

Sweet

9780399581311_p0_v1_s192x300  Although I can talk myself into healthy eating, dabbling in macrobiotics and vegan fare, when it comes to dessert, nothing tastes as good as sugar and butter.  Perhaps with the latest health initiative advising eaters to avoid all sugar – under penalty of death, Yotan Ottalenghi’s latest cookbook Sweet may be better to look through rather than put into practice.

I do like reading cookbooks, whether or not I use the recipes, and Ottolenghi’s Sweet offers a feast for the eyes with oversized pages full of chocolate tarts and meringue cheesecakes  so realistic you’ll want to lick the page.  Soft gingerbread tiles with rum butter glaze has only a half a cup of brown sugar; when I saw the double page picture of these little gems, I thought I could smell the rum.  Norah O’Donnell, interviewing Ottolenghi on CBS This Morning promised to go home that night to bake the lemon cake.  I wonder which one she made – Ottolenghi has five lemon cake recipes, all sounding delicious.  I wish someone would bake one for me.

The cover has a picture of fresh figs with a meringue base, and Ottolenghi and his fellow writer/chef Helen Goh open the book with a “Sugar Manifesto,” a disclaimer about using sugar in their recipes.  “There’s nothing wrong with treats, as long as we know what they are and enjoy them as such.”   No hidden sugars or fats – what you see is what you get.

A little goes a long way, and you don’t have to eat the whole cake – or do you?

  • Read Reviews of Other Ottolenghi cookbooks – here
  • Ottolenghi’s lemon and blackcurrant stripe cake Recipe