Pantry and Palate Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food by Simon Thibault

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“I like to think that all reasons to cook are of equal value and are equally important to transmit. 

That’s why this book is in your hands.”

I don’t often review cookbooks, but this one grabbed my attention. Mind you, I own plenty of cookbooks and family recipes, having lived overseas and being a shameless gourmand, many of my memories of each place begins with a favorite meal. I think this cookbook is fabulous. I learned about Acadian food but more importantly, I enjoyed recipes from Thibault’s own family and friends. I think fondly of recipes in my own family that has exchanged hands over the years, (mine is Hungarian) but it’s as important to our history as anything else. My husband’s family is of French-Canadian descent, and the Meat Pie recipe in this cookbook is similar to the one my father-in-law passed down to me. Potato Pancakes always makes my mouth water, my family has their version too, just made some last month. Did I mention the photos in this cookbook are beautiful? I’m starving right now, never review a cookbook when you’re hungry.

His stories are lovely, particularly the one about how he called his mom with cooking questions. I consider myself a decent cook, and I still asks my mother questions too. Mothers are the source, I guess. The recipes are written so that anyone can give it a go. Certainly comfort food, my favorite! I’ve started a garden this past year, so the canning section is a plus for me. Though I received this as an ARC, I intend on buying the book for my cookbook collection. The section about rendering pork fat takes me back to discussions with my own grandmother about lard and it’s importance in many recipes. Trust me, I’ve heard how our flour in America is just terrible compared to the flour she cooked with in Europe and how much of a difference in makes in the lightness of her pastries (cooking with our flour it’s too heavy for her liking).

Old recipes sometimes seem simple, but I have cooked complicated meals as much as the ‘easy ones’. Fancy doesn’t always win.

I enjoyed the stories Simon Thibault shared, food is an important bond in most cultures, and it’s funny to think you can get misty eyed over a cook book but there you go. Folklore, family history, delicious dishes from the Arcadian pantry. Darn I am craving meat pies now.

Available Now

Nimbus Publishing

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In the Fall They Come Back: A Novel by Robert Bausch

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When the thing that ultimately ruins you has begun, you don’t necessarily recognize it at the outset. In fact, you might not notice it at all.

Ben Jameson has begun teaching at a small private school in Northern Virginia, and he notices many things about his students, unlike seasoned teachers that have learned to look past these very alarming realities, he knows he must step in. Most people are familiar with the aphorisms about good intentions, so I’ll spare you. Three students have drawn the intense focus of his ‘calling’, for what sort of teacher would he be if lessons remained only in the schools classroom and corridors? How can a teacher guide their students if they’re distracted by abuses at home, too precocious and vain in their beauty or choosing to remain mute? It won’t be easy, but missions of salvation rarely are.

Over time he reaches each student with a quiet wisdom, drawing them out in lessons and writing , one involving  about Hitler and the holocaust, hoping to inspire a particular student to see abuse for what it is. The trouble with young minds, as much as old, is you can guide them where you will but you cannot predict the turns thoughts will take, you can’t control what lessons they will absorb. Not even the most straight forward approach can predict the weather of the mind.

Just when he starts to make progress with one student, another demands his attention, a precious ‘dangerous’, beautiful young woman. What is on the surface doesn’t always belie what lies beneath, as with Leslie. A young idealistic teacher of 25 should tread lightly with a young girl, as much as he is learning that his teaching methods draw too much attention. Why not stick to the formulaic old ideas, the safe lessons. While it isn’t so much about subjects being taught, it’s disheartening how chained teachers are in instructing students in 1980’s (when this story takes place) and more so now. It’s as if the world prefers to prevent any ‘awakening’ minds.

Immediately with George I thought, this can’t be such an easy fix. Violence and anger have a mighty reach, abuse cannot be stopped by a few words- if only… It’s not necessarily about salvation, more a lessening? A hand reached out to a drowning boy, someone to say “you’re not a failure”. I must point out though, abuse is not a liberal nor conservative act- like most rotten things under the sun, it’s unbiased. The world is full of young men like George, but teachers put themselves at such a risk to appear human and they learn early in their careers not get too close. What a loss for the world.

Leslie got to me, girls aren’t wild and ‘dangerous’ without reason. There is a smug pride as Ben scratches the surface of this troubled young woman, but as with all things he learns never to gloat or call victory too soon. Too, he gets Suzanne to release her voice through writing poetry. He tries so hard to breathe life and strength into the lost students, to see past their retreating or abrasive manner and reach the core of their being to lift them. There are wins and losses, and one can’t know if having remained unmoved and distant might have been better. We can never know what never was, only the outcome of the actions we do chose.

School is an ever evolving experiment, private or public. Just How much are teachers allowed to get involved?  Equally punished for showing humanity and for ignoring the obvious- it’s a never-ending tug of war. A teacher is never one thing. It’s curious comparing a veteran teacher to the fresh hope of a newbie. Ben learns the hard way how getting involved is a double edged sword. It’s a quiet novel, until the end.

Publication Date: December 12, 2017

Bloomsbury USA

Melinda Camber Porter in Conversation with Joyce Carol Oates 1987 Princeton University ISSN Volume 1, Number 6: Melinda Camber Porter Archive of Creative Works by Melinda Camber Porter and Joyce Carol Oates Blake Press

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“Certainly feminism in the past decades has been very idealistic and has definitely modified the culture, not as much and perhaps not as permanently as we would like, but it has had some alteration of consciousness.”

I snapped this up on Netgalley because Joyce Carol Oates writing is wonderful. She has a way of disturbing me, always provoking the reader to question their morality, and the world. This is an intelligent conversation, focusing on boxing (the sport) at the beginning, it’s interesting to see Carol draw parallels between boxing and smoking. The violence of a sport, the violence we do to ourselves that doesn’t even inspire a mention. I chewed on the topic of poverty, prostitution, the under-privileged and the violence that arises, such as boxing. Yet she doesn’t claim to want to abolish it, is it even possible?

There is a section, where they are discussing celebrity and the weight of their opinions. in the sense that authors aren’t really listened to here in America. Celebrity though, I wonder how much that has changed since this interview with different platforms now, outlets for their thoughts to be spread. I still don’t imagine writer’s opinions are followed as much as say… a singer or actor. I would hope we would’t vote a certain way now, based on any celebrity, sadly I am guessing some people will sway their opinion based on a celebrity, which is sad to me. Should we ever align our thoughts with a celebrity,  Donald Duck or otherwise? (Read the interview) Lord I hope not.

“America has this long tradition of anti-intellectualism.” I wonder if it’s changing now, as more praise is heaped upon our trailblazers, but it does seem people are suspicious still of intelligence. We weren’t taught to ‘think for ourselves’, mostly to just memorize, regurgitate. I agree with Oates too about putting writers, or celebrities, in the spotlight of politics then as now, because it really is about dedicating to understanding politics, it’s not just ‘opinions’ and it’s a heavy burden to ‘thrust the microphone’ at them when their understanding isn’t as strong as those in politics. How many have ‘put their foot in their mouth’, maybe meaning one thing and not seeing the bigger picture?

The topics discussed resonate today, interesting as this conversation took place in 1987. I am always curious about the writers whose work I devour, what they think about certain subjects, how it relates into the creation of their characters, what they’re trying to say about the world through fiction. Not because I have to agree with them or disagree, simply I enjoy feasting on the food of their thoughts.

Publication Date: November 15, 2017

Blake Press

Found Life Poems, Stories, Comics, a Play, and an Interview by Linor Goralik

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…the wife comes home and the cat smells like someone else’s perfume.

The thing about this collection is the style is different from the norm. There are snippets of thoughts and conversations, and they’re heavy, so much that a sentence standing alone packs a punch and condenses an entire story but it can also be the problem for some readers. You feel a bit all over the place, like your stuck in a big city with a thousand voices coming at you. It can be dizzying and yet Linor Goralik has a keen eye for life and people’s many emotions. Her micro-prose is solid but I truly wonder how much more I would prefer a full length novel by this author. This line ticked me, “and Mashenka woke up (“Oh look, Mashenka’s hatched!).”   

Some of the sentences simply set a scene in your head. “An eight year old deaf girl chatting to herself , using all ten fingers, on the steps of an escalator.” It’s talking pictures and scenes, and it’s moving fast. The reader is just an eye in the crowd, left to wonder about the strangers and stolen moments. “A cheap thirty-year old barrette in the elegant grey chignon of an expensively dressed lady.” Observations, and the thought ‘there is a story there.’  Just as we pass strangers wherever we go, tourists or not, all those strangers whose stories we will never know, it leads to a hunger, a curiosity of lives going on outside ourselves.

I liked it, but I’m the type of reader that wants more involvement. There is a distance I never bridged because everything flashes by. Dissecting the writing though, it certainly takes talent to move through so many souls, characters. There are great lines, and the writing really is beautiful but I think I have a hard time with this style personally. The author is said to be one of the first Russian writers that built her name through the internet, I find that interesting. It is a moody, light, heavy, cynical, hopeful, sad and humorous collection. It’s scattered humanity, in a sense.

There may be people out there that like the fast whip of many mini stories,  it’s just too much for me. I know I repeat myself, but I wonder if she could tell a strong story and stick with just a few characters.  I sometimes felt like there is  a loss of focus. I’m curious what other readers will come away with. I want more solid stories in my reading, particularly about Russia.

Publication Date: November 28, 2017

Columbia University Press

 

To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts: Stories by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

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Some things cannot last; some things last too long.

I wish this collection lasted longer, because the stories in this collection are some of the most beautifully written I’ve ever read. Not every author has the gift of reaching into human beings, pulling out all the parts that make us whole and then creating characters that you swear are real. These are flawed beings, struggling with different memories, fighting fears, curious, questioning, broken, dying and every emotion is raw, genuine. Every thought and feeling is intrinsically characteristic of human behavior. They have misplaced anger, are sometimes selfish, lonely, some are broken having only a ghost of a memory of their loved one, others are furious with their family and the many ways they’ve failed them. There have been accidents that altered the course of lives, one wheelchair bound and determined to run from the noise of it all, in the middle of nature not kind to wheelchairs. Another is dying in bed, cared for by his adult granddaughter in the story Fish Eyes In Moonlight, a title I absolutely adore. “My mind was the same, my soul was the same soul, but my body was a body I did not know.” I felt I was dying with him, slowly crawling to a final farewell, as this thing will one day happen to us all, the curling in, dissipating and yet the mind still violently alive, not quite ready to go and yet too tired to cling. He, for a while, becomes the child they wanted, in a strange sad way. It was a tender story, powerful.

In Geographies of the Heart, two sisters experience the withering away of their loved one  that puts a strain on their bond. As Sarah fumes, Glennie inexplicable absents herself and all she can see is her fury merged with grief. All the ‘should have beens’, all the expectation Sarah feels, but the things waiting to be said on her tongue have their hooks in the past. One wonders just what really bothers Sarah about Glennie’s abandonment. The angrier she gets, understanding dawns.

The first story, Tags is about children whose fathers are lost to war one way or another. From the moment I tucked into the book, I was catching my breath and aching. Jimmy has his dad’s dog tags and a habit of rubbing them back and forth. “That’s how I remember those days; Jimmy and me sitting on the curb, tired of marbles, tired of tin, him with that sound of his father, and me with nothing of mine but his name.”  There went my heart, this author plays with your emotions, because it seems so real. Because, I know, somewhere it is real for someone.

This is a collection that will reel you in.On the surface, it doesn’t seem as if anything enormous is happening, but it’s the quiet moments that murdered me. It’s the characters confronting their pain, struggles, hopes that had me enraptured. For a while, I lived in the emotional state of these characters, I think we all do at some point, if we’re alive to the crawl and claw of life. Each story moved me for different reasons, in many short story collections not every story resonates with me, but in To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts, they all did. I truly hope that Caitlin Hamilton Summie is already working on something new, because she has made a fan of me! Read it- beautiful!

Available Now!

Published August 2017  Fomite

 

October Buzz Books Monthly: Your Best Guide to Top Titles Appearing This Month by Publishers Lunch

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I just wanted to mention 2 books from this launch I am excited about. One I am currently reading, the Tan memoir I have to wait to buy at the end of this month.

I am currently reading and reviewing Phil Harrison’s The First Day. So far, it is not quite what I expected, it is much more than a forbidden affair. It spirals and manages to be a quiet disaster. The writing is wonderful, Anna is living ‘in the aftermath of love’. It’s painful and brutal, and a complex love affair. I go from hating Samuel to feeling empathy, because he struggles! So for that alone, I enjoyed this Buzz Books Monthly, I chose The First Day because of it. Also, I am seriously looking forward to Amy Tan’s Memoir ‘Where the Past Begins’.

As a an aside, a novel about a pastor ‘family man’ having an affair seems worn out, but it isn’t in Harrison’s hands. I am spending my evenings immersed in the mess the character Samuel has made and this quiet story simmers.

I will share my review soon.

Little Broken Things: A Novel by Nicole Bart

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She knew that their lives were far from perfect, that things shimmered just beneath the surface of their shiny facade.

Just who are ‘the little broken things’? Is it the scared little girl, ‘the something’ her sister Nora seems to be lending her? Just whose child is she and what sort of mess is her older sister Nora wrapped up in? How is Quin supposed to keep a little girl secret, especially from their uptight mother? Lucy is a mystery, and Nora is gone leaving nothing to fill the holes of the child’s mysterious existence. How dare she do this, but is it so surprising? Quin always comes when she beckons, almost like a slave. How does Nora seem to always call the shots?  Though the two have a strained relationship, Quin knows she must help her sister, whatever it is she is involved in is bigger than their damaged bond.

The things that make families drift apart are sometimes small, insidious things that eat away at them over time. Secrets we keep from ourselves and each other, though, have a way of coming out. This is the case with the characters in this novel. The matriarch watches over her daughters, but is also removed. Maybe once she was bold, but marriage to Jack Sr. turned her into the model wife, never saying no, keeping the kingdom running smoothly and comfortable for it’s master. Her girls are stronger, bolder- as she once had been too. Liz is order, and her children are chaos. Her Nora, the one to always ask “why”, Liz ‘ the secret keeper’, the one who doesn’t need her, and Jack Jr ‘JJ’ the same as his father, in control. Now with Jack Sr gone, she is free to watch over the lake and spy on her daughter- making hiding a child that much more impossible. Liz doesn’t approve of her daughter’s husband, she knows it won’t last, and watching them from Jack’s telescope, now hers, only proves she is right. Misunderstandings and the distance between mother and daughter paint a picture of a family that desperately needs one another, but are in their own way. Watching the struggle Liz has in showing her love is painful, how do people get to that point? Why do her children leave? She must prove how good home is! Why can’t she accept Walker, Quin’s husband?

Quin soon knows who Lucy really is, or does she? She is furious with Nora, because Lucy’s existence will ‘change everything.’ The reader begins to understand why Nora isdesperate to hide the child, it’s disturbing and at times confusing. We meet Tiffany through Nora’s chapters. Tiffany is a key player in the novel, and one has to wonder why Jack Sr hated her, judged the young girl so harshly. JJ isn’t close to his sisters, and he sort of floats on the edges of the story. You think you know where you’re going, but it flips on you.

I slowly began to figure things out before the end, which wasn’t quite the explosive ending I expected yet it works for this novel. The beauty of the novel for me wasn’t so much the danger, but the damage we do with our expectations. The blindness we suffer when our own emotions are at the forefront, the pain it causes those we want to protect. Families are a strange experiment, and seem composed of everything that tests who we are. They are all little broken things, in their own strange way. But the question is, can they be patched up? Can a mysterious child be a bridge, or will she be the final blow that fractures the family beyond repair.

I enjoyed some of the characters and others didn’t seem fully formed. I do think it will be a popular read though. I think it’s hard to accept Quin sort of going along, I imagine most of us would be demanding answers before taking any child in, but maybe that is to express just how much Quin follows her big sister’s lead, even against her will.  JJ never felt real to me, he just wasn’t in the novel enough for my liking. I felt frustrated and I am not sure how I feel about Tiffany and everything that happens, the ending left me with a few questions but I leave it to other readers.

Publication Date: November 21, 2017

Atria Books