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

My (not so) Perfect Life

9780812998269_p0_v5_s192x300Sophie Kinsella’s books always make me smile and no matter what the heroine endures, I know I am guaranteed a happy ending with the tall handsome – most of the time rich – hero. Her latest book – My (not so) Perfect Life – met my expectations -a frothy romance with a hint of wisdom.

Katie, a country English girl leaves the farm for a career in the big city, but London life is not as easy or glamorous as she envisioned. She lives in a small apartment with a web designer roommate who stores boxes of whey in the living room for a side business. Although she has a degree in design, her job at a marketing firm is confined to low level data input. After she gets fired, she returns to the farm to help her father and step- mother start a glamping business with glamorous yurts and homemade scones.

When her former Cruella-like boss arrives to vacation with her “perfect” family, Katie takes her revenge in a hilarious series of bespoke activities. Of course, the handsome hero arrives later and the action turns into an office politics nightmare.

Katie saves the day, reforms her boss, and, of course, gets the guy. Despite the antics and ridiculous plot twists, the book has a message – no one’s life is as good it may seem. An enjoyable and fast read, My (not so) Perfect Life will have you laughing and reaffirming life as an unending tale of possibilities – Bridget Jones style.

A List of Fluff to Feel Better

Although heavy tomes can be thought provoking and force analytic thinking in our dusty brains, sometimes a book needs to be a mindless diversion.  When we need an escape from reality, award winning books forcing us to acknowledge the dire consequences of the greenhouse effect or the misery of our fellow man can only drop us deeper into the abyss.  Every now and then, a happy, fluffy, even ridiculous, book is the needed antidote.

images   In the spirit of the list giving season, here are a few authors I turn to for solace, smiles, and silliness:

  • Maria Semple (Today Will Be Different)
  • Sophie Kinsella (Remember Me?)
  • Alan Bradley (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie)
  • Sarah Addison Allen (Garden Spells)
  • Jojo Moyes (One Plus One)
  • Mitch Albom (The Time Keeper)
  • Louise Miller (A City Baker’s Guide to Country Living)

What books can you recommend to brighten a day?

 

Stacked By My Bed…

Reading myself to sleep with:

  • 9780812993868_p0_v1_s260x420Sophie Kinsella’s newest British escapade with Becky Brandon (this is the seventh) – Shopaholic to the Stars
  • The latest installment of the Maggie Hope mystery series by Susan Elia MacNeal – The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent9780345536747_p0_v4_s260x420

9780805095159_p0_v3_s260x420And when I feel serious, I thumb through Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, as sobering as promised in his interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show – a book about the inevitability of death.  Despite modern medicine, we all die.   Just as Stewart balanced the interview with humor, I counter the heaviness by alternating with the escapades and adventures of Becky and Maggie.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

9781400069620_p0_v3_s260x420Having laughed through Ruth Reichl’s adventures as the food critic for the New York Times in Garlic and Sapphires and empathized with her Not Becoming My Mother and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way, I looked forward to this foodie’s first book of fiction. With the taste of Italy still fresh on my palate, Reichl’s Delicious ! was the perfect combination of food, mystery, and romance – topped off with a recipe at the end of the book.

Using her experiences as editor of Gourmet magazine, including the sad demise of that publication, Reichl created a story around Billie, who quits Berkeley in her senior year to take a job as assistant to the editor of Delicious magazine in New York City, with hopes of becoming a writer. Surrounded by a crew of Reichl’s food-loving characters, including “Mr. Complainer,” the handsome regular customer at the Italian deli where Billie moonlights on weekends, Billie explores a mystery involving letters from James Beard before he became the famous chef.  Reichl uses the quest, with secret passages and coded letters, and Billie’s aversion to cooking, to add purpose to the rambling adventure.

Reichl includes the recipe for Billie’s mother’s gingerbread cake at the end of the book. Like my own mother, Billie’s mother refused to reveal the secrets of her baking. Billie and her sister guess at the ingredients and the cake is the catalyst to their successful Cake Sisters bakery. The recipe works; I tried it, changing it a little “to make it my own,” as James Beard suggests.

Like a Sophie Kinsella book for food-lovers, Delicious! is a delight and the perfect digestif after my week of sumptuous Italian eating. Bon appetit!

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