Tag Archives: fiction

Food Books That Aren’t Really About Food

Cookbooks, memoirs and novels are my most checked-out items, and as I’ve recently discovered, there’s a sort of magical thing that happens when those worlds collide. You don’t have to be a hardcore gourmand to appreciate the fact that food plays a central role in all our lives, making it a vibrant and relatable conduit for storytelling, exploring memories, making analogies and creating a sort of shorthand between the author and food-savvy readers.  Cooking and baking can be the hook that gets you interested or a thread that ties the story together, but it’s never the whole story.   Here’s a look at some of the recent selections I’ve enjoyed in the subgenre I’m calling food-books-that-aren’t-really-about-food, both fiction and nonfiction.

Julie and Julia

“Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be part of something that was not easy, just simple.”

Julie & Julia – Julie Powell

The movie adaptation of this memoir was released few years ago, when I first started being interested in cooking. I thought it was sweet movie with nice performances, but it was all-and-all pretty forgettable to me. As is so often the case, the book is so much better! I loved Powell’s sharp, foul-mouthed humor. The story isn’t so much a treatise on the wonders of Julia Child as it is about about finding meaning and purpose when you are feeling adrift. After finishing this, I added Powell’s more recent memoir, Cleaving, to my to-read list.

Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds has been praised time-and-time again by CLP staffers, so I’ll keep my synopsis short: The author of Scott Pilgrim is back with a faced-paced story featuring magic mushrooms, mistakes and second chances, and a house fairy in a graphic novel set in the restaurant world. It takes about one sitting to read, and it’s definitely worth your time.

Heartburn – Nora Ephron

For my first experience with a Nora Ephron book, I went for this short novel about a cookbook author grappling with her husband’s affair. While it doesn’t sound like a setup ripe for hilarity, Ephron manages to pull it off with trademark wryness. A book about cooking-as-caretaking, relationships and Rich People Problems, I have to admit, I don’t know that I would have enjoyed it half as much if I hadn’t listened to the audiobook which is narrated brilliantly (of course) by Meryl Streep.

Excerpt from Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. Online source: http://comicsalliance.com/lucy-knisley-relish-review/

Relish:  My Life in the Kitchen – Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley was born and raised surrounded by an eclectic collection of restaurant critics, artists, chefs, home cooks, farmers and gardeners, and she has the stories to prove it. I quickly devoured (heh, see what I did there?) this adorable graphic novel filled with food-centric memories, stories about growing up, and reflections on the value of friends, family and food. Comic-style recipes, like this one for huevos rancheros, punctuate the book.

Maman’s Homesick Pie – Donia Bijan

I picked this up with a few other Middle Eastern cookbooks for my monthly themed potluck, and was happily surprised to find it wasn’t really a cookbook, but a memoir with recipes (written by an award-winning chef) interspersed throughout the chapters.  Maman’s Homesick Pie chronicles the life of author Donia Bijan and her family members as they adjust from a happy, well-to-do life in Iran, to living as immigrants in America as a result of Islamic revolution, to Bijan’s training as a professional chef in Paris.  All of her memories are woven together with stories about food: how food was used as a bridge to the family’s Persian heritage, and how adapting to American food rituals is a big part of the enculturation process. The story is engrossing, as is the rich, descriptive food writing. Even if you aren’t interested in that, I say it’s worth a checkout for the recipes alone.

Some related selections from my to-read list:

The Language of Baklava: A Memoir – Diana Abu-Jaber
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
Shark’s fin and Sichuan pepper: a sweet- sour memoir of eating in China – Fuchsia Dunlop
Food: A Love Story – Jim Gaffigan
Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India – Madhur Jaffrey
The Sweet Life in Paris – David Lebovitz
The Baker’s Daughter: A Novel – Sarah McCoy
Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses – Meredith Mileti
Cakewalk: A Memoir – Kate Moses
Baking Cakes in Kigali – Gaile Parkin
Yes, Chef – Marcus Samuelsson
Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family – Patricia Volk
The Truth about Twinkie Pie – Kat Yeh

-Ginny

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The First Great YA Fantasy Book of 2015

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly BlackA new year means new books! The genre of books that is my favorite is YA, particularly fantasy. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of YA fantasy books coming out this year that have the potential to be good. Well, I’ve found the first great YA fantasy book of 2015. The book is called The Darkest Part of the Forest and it’s by Holly Black.

The book centers on brother and sister, Ben and Hazel Evans, who live in a small town called Fairfold.  Fairfold is unlike any other town because humans and faeries co-exist there. Ben and Hazel always had a dream to save the sleeping prince, Severin, from his glass coffin that is kept in the woods. One day, people discover that the coffin is empty and that Severin is not only awake, but gone. It becomes Hazel and Ben’s mission to find the prince. Many other problems arise to ruin their mission.

There were some things about this book that I really enjoyed. One was the fact that Black set this book during modern times. She could’ve set it back 200 years ago but she didn’t. There were a lot of unconventional ideas that Black used in this book that I really enjoyed. For one she had Severin, the prince, in love with Ben and not Hazel. It would’ve been predictable to have the prince in love with Hazel and then that would’ve created the stereotypical love triangle that we encounter in a ton of YA books. It would’ve been a love triangle because Ben’s best friend, Jack, was in love with Hazel. This option was also unconventional because in a lot of fairy tale princes are in love with a woman so they can marry a princess.

Second, I liked that Hazel was the knight instead of Ben. Even though Hazel had her issues, she still ended up being a strong female character. She had her emotional breakdown, but this was good because it proved that she could show emotion instead of making her into the stereotypical stoic female character incapable of expressing herself emotionally and can only kick butt. Third, I like that Jack wasn’t human, yet Hazel still loved him. She didn’t think of him as a faerie until she saw him in his element with his people. Although, at times she was afraid of him, she still loved him in spite of everything.

I like the writing style of this book. It had the right amount of description and I was able to get a good idea of each character’s personality. This was the first book of Holly Black’s that I have read, and I was impressed. The book was at some points dark, but at the same time there was an element of comedy that I liked. Ms. Black’s book features complex, fully fleshed out characters. As their stories play out, they each find their own happy ending. The Darkest Part Of The Forest will serve as a great introduction to this brand of YA lit, and will also likely please adult fantasy fans as well.

–Kayla

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Take a Book on a Blind Date

We’re librarians. We like nothing more than introducing you to your next crush. Book crush that is. This Valentine’s Day we on the First Floor at the Main Library are poised to introduce you to your next blind date.

blinddate2blinddate1

Each book is putting its best face forward with attractive decorations and an enticing description. The barcode that is needed to check the book out is on the outside of the covering, so you can wait until you get your date to the privacy of your own home to unwrap it.

Maybe it’ll be true love and maybe the book will be over before it even begins. But you’ll never know until you try. C’mon, be adventurous. Let us pick out your perfect match. You can trust us!

-Melissa M.

P.S. See something you like?  Visit the Main Library to check it out. If you do take out one of our books, please tell us how the date went in the comments below!

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The Night Gardener

Working in a library can sometimes be a little bit like going into a bakery while you are on a diet. There are so many cool titles that come across my desk every day and not nearly enough time to read everything I see. One of my (many) 2015 new year’s resolutions is to try and catch up on reading all of the cool books I saw on the shelves and put on my “must read” list in 2014.

One of those titles was a children’s book that came out back in March. Every time I saw it, it was either being checked out or put on hold. Last week it finally came back and I was able to grab it… boy am I glad I did.

bookcoverThe Night Gardener is a little bit dark, pretty scary and asks the question, ‘what is the difference between a lie and a story?’. How great is that? Molly and Kip are a brother and sister who have seemingly been orphaned. Down on their luck and hoping to find a new home Molly finds work in a place called the Sour Woods but as they approach their destinations birds stop singing and no one wants to help them find their way. What mysteries await them at Windsor estates? Is it their refuge or their undoing?

Pittsburgh’s very own Jonathan Auxier has written a wonderful little book that gives the reader the chance to consider the difference between our wants and our needs. The thing that we hope and long for, the answer to all of our problems… what if it isn’t really the answer after all? What if it is part of the problem to begin with.

When Kip and Molly first arrive, they are immediately turned away. Molly is told by the lady of the house that she doesn’t want any servants. Auxier has immediately set us up: we know that there is something wrong at Windsor, something evil even, but we also know that casting these two children out into the world alone and uncared for will put them in danger’s way. Cheering for Molly when she convinces Constance Windsor to take them in means that we have saved them from their fate as orphans only to throw them into the lion’s den. A great deal of the book does this, causing you to double back and realize that the thing you wanted for the characters has caused them even more trouble. When Molly gets her wishes fulfilled you are grateful until you realize that she has been immobilized and is too afraid to act. It is Kip, her younger brother, who realizes that getting the thing you want handed to you might be dangerous.

While it is a children’s book, this was a great creepy little read that kept me up late as I tried to finish it. Thought provoking in its use of villains and heroes The Night Gardener is a great book for kids and adults who need to learn a lesson about wants and needs.

–Natalie

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How I Spent My Winter Vacation

Every year I take a little time off around the new year; not quite as long as a full vacation, but a mini-staycation to recharge for the new year ahead. I’m used to working in a building with books and music and movies at my disposal, so before I spend a few days away I go into panic-mode and start trying to think of everything I might possibly need to read while I’m away. Here are a few things that I was into this vacation:

The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy: I’ve been on a big YA literature kick lately. Between the fast-paced plots, elements of fantasy and magic, and strong female characters, lots of young adult novels just do it for me. This trilogy, in particular, is one worth reading. I’ve been recommending it to friends by saying that although it’s nothing like The Hunger Games, if they liked that series they will like this one. In this series, the princess Elisa has a heavy birthright to live up to, despite the fact that she feels anything but special. Her growth throughout the trilogy and the richly drawn world in which she lives, combined with excellent writing, really won me over.

Gertie Sews Vintage Casual: I’m having a real love affair with our sewing book collection these days. Did you know we have a whole collection of books that have sewing patterns and instructions? I like checking out a pattern book, visiting the Center for Creative Reuse, and seeing what types of clothing I can come up with. This is a fun vintage-inspired book with easy to follow instructions, but I also really like the Japanese pattern books we have in our collection for more modern/bohemian clothing (such as Simple Modern Sewing or I Am Cute Dresses).

Frozen (movie and soundtrack!): I’m not sure why so many kids in the preschool set are so in love with Elsa (I’m an Anna fan myself!), but this movie and soundtrack are just magical for children of that age. They get to sing Let It Go; I get to sew…it’s a win-win situation.

Comfort Knitting and Crochet Afghans: Just before the holidays I came into a huge supply of lovely, soft yarn- enough for an afghan! Because it was all the same color I was on the lookout for a pattern with some texture. I really fell in love with some of the afghans and throws in this book; you get a nice mix of knit and crochet and colorwork, texture, or lace patterns.

The Art of Hungarian Cooking: New Year’s day always makes me think of my (Hungarian, by way of Slovenia) grandmother, who was insistent that you always had to eat pork and cabbage (preferably sauerkraut) on New Year’s Day. She also had this crazy tradition of going outside and finding a green stick and hitting (gently) anyone who came into her house. (I’ve never been able to find out anything about that superstition, nor have I ever met anyone else who’s heard of it!) This year I hosted a New Year’s dinner, and in homage I made sure to cook up some pork and cabbage. I brought this book home for some inspiration.

-Irene

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On Reading 100 Books (Actually, more like 50)

On January 21, 2014, I shared this picture on social media with the accompanying caption positing that I would attempt to read one hundred books during the year.

mw&c

I’m so artsty it makes me sick.

Almost as soon as my fingers pounded out the goal, I realized that reading one hundred books was out of the question; it was already practically February.  So instead I said that reading fifty would be more likely.  I don’t have a calculator in front of me, but that’s like one every week or something.

As of writing this, I’ve read fifty-one books and am on my way toward finishing number fifty-two.

Now, I realize that this isn’t a great accomplishment by any means.  Still, I was impressed with myself for setting a goal and achieving it.  While I’ve always enjoyed reading–I do work at a public library after all–there was something almost stifling about knowing that I had to finish this goal.  In fact, almost as soon as I posted the picture, one of my friends commented that it’s better to keep the goals that you set to yourself because announcing the goals tricks your mind into thinking they have already been completed.

There were many times when I started reading a book and just couldn’t get into it, and wanted to stop.  For instance, I started reading The King in Yellow after watching True Detective over the summer, but I didn’t finish it until early December.  That’s outrageous! The book is only 256 pages.  I should have been able to knock that out in a weekend.  So I set it aside and read other books.  All the while I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that the time I put into reading those hundred or so pages would be worthless unless I finished the book in its entirety.

So I pressed on toward my goal’s end.  I knew I had to, but it wasn’t just because I’d already put it out there on the Internet. I had to do it because if I don’t finish a book, I feel like I’m disrespecting the author.

When I first take a book in my hands, open the cover and feel the paper, crisp and dry between my fingers, I’m entering into an agreement with that author and into a relationship with that book.  For however many pages, I belong to that book and it belongs to me. When I put it down, even for a few days, I feel like we’ve abandoned each other. By not being interesting or not grabbing my attention, the book has recanted its agreement with me.

A recent study showed that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, such as when you read fiction, improves your ability to show compassion.  Maybe that’s why I have trouble abandoning those books—because I know inside those pages, I’m someone else, maybe even someone better, if only for 300 or so pages.

Please save your psychoanalyses until the end, thankyouverymuch.

I’ve listed the fifty-one books on the next three pages, broken into three categories:  Good, Godawful and Great (because I like alliteration. If I liked assonance, I’d call them All Right, Awful and Amazing).  I briefly thought about ranking them, but then I realized that my rankings would do nothing to sway you if you’d already read a particular book and loved it and vice versa.  All I can say is that I highly recommend all the ones that I’ve put in the Great category.

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By George: Georgian Era Historical Romance

As a student of the works and life of Jane Austen and devotee of historical romance, my favorite time period is the Regency era, which roughly falls between 1811 and 1820, when King George III’s son, the Prince of Wales, took over the throne for a time due to his father’s madness. Dubbed the Prince Regent, he was a flamboyant and gaudy personality, and thus the Regency era was born.

But to be honest, I’ll read almost any historical romance if it’s a good story, is well written, and set in England. Except medieval. I do like the etiquette, civilities, and genteel manners of a polite society.

Read on for some recommended Georgian era romances (1714-1830) that I’ve greatly enjoyed.

Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt

Set in the London neighborhood of St. Giles in the 1730s, this is a gritty, dark, and dangerous series. It’s also breathtakingly romantic. Throughout the series, there is a running thread about the Ghost of St. Giles, a sort of Batman figure who saves the good people of St. Giles from peril. Passionate, raw, and real.

Wylder Sisters series by Isabella Bradford

This is the nice and elegant side of Georgian society. Three aristocratic and very wealthy but very sheltered sisters must marry for duty but are hoping to marry for love instead. This was a period in history when romantic love was just beginning to influence the choice of a marriage partner rather than as a mere business alliance between two families. Isabella Bradford is a pseudonym for historical fiction writer Susan Holloway Scott.

A Gentleman ‘Til Midnight, A Promise by Daylight, A Wedding by Dawn by Alison DeLaine

Though these books do not have an official series name, they are all connected by recurring characters. The series features strong and independent women including a female pirate, a medic, and the female equivalent of a lady’s man; I guess that would be a gentleman’s lady?

Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James

This sparkling and witty series by Shakespearean professor Eloisa James–and also the daughter of poet Robert Bly–is more about social manners and mores in Georgian England rather than true historical romance. The descriptions of the intricacies of ton society, the elaborate headgear and fashions, and the daily life of privilege and wealth in the very upper class is vividly brought to life in a very snappy and snarky way.

-Maria A.

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