Friday, July 25, 2014

Charmian Charms

The Messy Baker: More Than 75 Delicious Recipes from a Real KitchenThe Messy Baker: More Than 75 Delicious Recipes from a Real Kitchen by Charmian Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Messy Baker title gave me hope, so I asked for a review galley of this cookbook, which Rodale was kind enough to grant through netgalley. My hope was justified; The Messy Baker delights the heart of someone intimidated by the "weigh-it-for-precision" philosophy of baking that's been in vogue. The Messy Baker does not refer to flinging flour around the kitchen with abandon (although, why not, if you clean it up?); it's for those of us that like a little wiggle room, room for flair. For those of us who think of recipes as guidelines, not commandments; for those of us without a kitchen scale. And possibly more experienced bakers will find inspiration here, as well.

Charmian Christie has the perfect tone of "Come on, let's try this!" The recipes themselves are clear--and most fit on one page, which is great. There's a lot for beginners, here. There's a kitchen supply list; there are tips for "when" things go wrong and tips for "making do;" there's encouragement, and a lot of celebration of the fun that can be had in the kitchen. Charmian celebrates the sensuality of cooking; the chapters are arranged by sensory experience: crumbly, sloppy, drippy, etc., and she describes the way the dish is supposed to taste. Her stories are interesting, too. Also, lots of savory stuff! For those of us who don't bake because they don't crave sweets, the book is a treasure trove--and the sweet recipes have some layers: Blueberry-Lime Cornmeal Muffins. Yum. Piglet Biscuits--with cheese and bacon!  And I really like the aioli and gremolata variations.

Charmian has a blog also (messy and The Messy Baker book will go on my foodie shelf! I'm betting if she wrote a memoir or novel with recipes, I'd give it five stars. Recommended for both cooks and foodie readers.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Luscious Livre

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with RecipesLunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is truly a book for foodies! The recipes alone are worth the journey of Lunch in Paris. Interwoven with the recipes--three or four at each chapter's end--is the story of how Elizabeth Bard became an ex-pat.

The tone attempted in this memoir is Sex-in-the-City meets Three Coins in the Fountain, substitute Paris for Rome.  New Yorker Elizabeth is working in London when she meets Gwendal (Celtic Frenchman, who could resist?). They fall in love and she moves into his tiny, unheated Paris apartment. Culture shock and marriage ensue, whilst Elizabeth wonders what she should "do" with her life. You may or may not end up liking the author, this thirty-something those around her love to take care of, but it’s the recipes that really bring the book to life.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes was the recipient of the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best First Cookbook (USA).  So think of it as a cookbook instead of a memoir, with rather long stories before the recipes. There's some depth lacking throughout, but who can blame the author for being lucky and cute? Just concentrate on the food—advice for any uncertain situation, as the author demonstrates.

Chocolate souffl├ęs, ratatouille, asparagus with ham and poached egg. Eggplants galore. Noodle pudding and matzoh ball soup, too. The recipes are so well-written, everyone in the bookclub wants to try at least one. There are descriptions of memorable meals with family and friends, and enough inspiration to make you want to try to recreate them. Have a wonderful time in the kitchen and get ready for book two, Picnic in Provence, due spring 2015.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Man Called Love

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Man Called Ove is the name of the book, but what you see above is not a typo. The book is, at heart, a love story. Fredrick Backman has created a small masterpiece in this gem of a tale about a not-so-charming man. A man of a certain age and type. The curmudgeonly type.

Ove is the grumpiest man on the block, until a young family moves in next door and calls him back to life and love. People aren't following the rules, and God is the worst offender in this matter, having taken Ove's wife, the only color in his life, and by gum, Ove is determined to join her. But the neighbors keep interrupting every time he has his method and timing picked, and Ove must save the day.

The book has been compared with The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, but I love it even more. It's funnier and wiser than either, and neither one of those books had my grandpa in it. Or the cat. Backman can sure write a cat. He can also write the story of a man who speaks his heart with his hands, his harsh and brittle life, and the tenderness at its core. This is my favorite general fiction book of the year so far, and I could see an Oscar-winning movie come from it, with the right team. It is sure to be a book club favorite for years to come.

I laughed out loud and cried good tears. Thank you Simon and Schuster for retaining the British translation; it would not be nearly as funny in American English. The translator is gifted! Colloquialisms have been left in, and they make the book more charming: "Her laughter catches him on the back foot. As if it's carbonated and someone has poured it too fast and it's bubbling over in all directions. It doesn't fit at all with the grey cement and right-angled garden paving stones. It's an untidy, mischievous laugh that refuses to go along with rules and proscriptions."

Parvaneh is the young mother who has moved in next door, whose name means butterfly. That laugh has a butterfly effect on Ove's life, and he is caught by the back foot indeed, captivated like a stray and charmed back to the land of the living. And he smiling. You, too, will be captivated and smiling even through tears, as Backman celebrates the beauty and transformative power of everyday love, all kinds.

I received an EARC of this book for review from the publisher and netgalley, and it's cost me 20 bucks, because I have to buy a hardback for my "favorites" shelf. :)

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Half a King Is a Whole Lot of Story

Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read it straight through. Immediately wanted more. Abercrombie has a distinctive storytelling voice here, cultural mores woven seamlessly into narrative, like listening to a saga that reveals reality instead of romance. The blood, guts, and gore are here, but they are not gratuitous. One is at the same time living the story but grateful to be in a modern world with running water and machines.

The culture of Half a King is analogous to the old Norse, or older. The story is like all old stories, with men clashing, thrones lost and won, heirs lost and found.  In this story, the prince is a reluctant king, being an introvert and trained from youth for the Ministry--meaning Administration. He'd rather be beside the throne than in it. But he is a man of his culture, and attempts to step up to the job--but others do want the kingship, and thusly the story starts.

Kudos for the strong, well-written women characters--there are a few. There is adventure, deception, merchantry, and personal growth. Stories are how we learn to live in the world, and there are some fine lessons here, lessons for heart and mind. This would make a great compare and contrast with Goblin Emperor; two young men with thrones unsought, two different but similar worlds, two different takes on duty and right behavior. Two different books marketed as YA and yet achieving far more range and power than typical coming-of-age stories. Highly recommended for mature teens and adults.

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The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just got this review copy from Crown, and I read it straight through. People are comparing it to Castaway and Apollo 13, and it's because it reads like a movie. At 55 pages in, I wasn't sure I would be able to finish, the suspense was so enervating. Luckily, the book and I achieved equilibrium. It is good. It is good at depicting the character and culture of scientists and astronauts, and the people who complain about the humor and swearing must not know any Air Force personnel or nerds.

I can't comment on the science, but it reads like a string of thought experiments--a giant, well-written, story problem, but you're not the one who has to figure it out, you're along for the wild and crazy ride. Whether you think Crusoe or MacGyver, it's an homage to human ingenuity and engineering and the will to survive, and all the people seem true, if not deep. Recommended!

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