Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday Review

Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday  by Christine Reilly (Touchstone, April 5, 2016) 336 pages

First Line: Mathilde’s father, James Spicer, had been the last person she’d known to use a shoehorn and a handkerchief, archaic tools gone the way of arrowheads and telegrams.

Review: The great strength of Christine Reilly’s debut novel is on luminous display right from the start:

Mathilde sparkled, her spectacular mouth making punctuation: a parenthesis, a befuddled backslash. When she drank water, her lips became ellipses. And how did Claudio’s mouth look to her, he conjectured, making all sorts of hideous shapes? Without a doubt like a the qualm of a question mark in discordance with the assured crudity of an exclamation point.

Claudio set the rules for himself: — her mouth reminds me when to stop. — A smile meant continue: they were on the same page. A frown meant the same: he had to justify himself, explain, maybe allow her to retort. A period, lips closed and ineffable, meant she was interested anymore.

Reilly’s love of language is palpable — she embraces words, challenges conventions, and creates authentic characters out of letters.  And New York City is the perfect setting for this tale of searing pain and immeasurable beauty: solipsistic, gritty, relentless, yet captivating.

However, my greatest challenge with Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday is reflected in the very last line:

…life is finally beginning to leave us alone.

This was the perfect ending to a novel that was so beautifully written, yet whose characters I struggled to embrace and who truly seemed to want to be left alone by life — often figuratively, but sometimes literally.

However, based on Reilly’s writing alone, a recommendation is easy, especially for readers who revel in angst and embrace a “New York state of mind.”

 

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Deliciously Ella Every Day: Quick and Easy Recipes for Gluten-Free Snacks, Packed Lunches, and Simple Meals Review

Deliciously Ella Every Day: Quick and Easy Recipes for Gluten-Free Snacks, Packed Lunches, and Simple Meals by Ella Woodward (Scribner, April 5, 2016)

Deliciously Ella Every Day opens with hope: “Healthy living has totally transformed my life and I think it will transform yours, too” (7).  Ella Woodward (Deliciously Ella) gave up gluten, dairy, refined sugar, processed food, and meat to heal chronic postural tachycardia syndrome; eighteen months later, medication-free, Woodward had become happy and healthy, and her new habits were a lifestyle.  Instead of approaching a plant-based diet as restrictive, Woodward believes “it opens up a whole new world of delicious ingredients, amazing tastes and unique textures and truly makes you feel fabulous from the inside out” (8).

Woodward admits she is a “lazy cook” who prefers quick preparation and clean up, so, in her world, staying healthy is “all about organization.”  Breakfast is Ella’s favorite meal — recipes like Sweet Beet Overnight Oats and Chili-Avocado Toast set a healthy tone for the entire day, providing steady energy and a positive attitude.  Ella hopes to reinvent how we approach salads, celebrating texture and flavor with recipes like Chickpea and Squash, and Wilted Spinach and Black Bean Salads.  Easy Weekday Dinners are intended to “soothe and energize… so you feel like a whole new person by the time you finish your plate” (123) — Honey and Mushroom Lentil, and Comforting Mashed Potato Bowl satisfy this goal.  And Simple Sweets like Coconut and Raspberry Mousse, and Summery Strawberry-Banana Crumble replace refined sugar with raw honey, date syrup, dried fruit, and maple syrup, which are actually nutritious!  Deliciously Ella proves every day can be a healthy celebration of flavor.

Thank you to Shelf Awareness for helping me find this book!

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My Mother’s Kitchen: Review

My Mother’s Kitchen: A Novel with Recipes by Meera Ekkanath Klein (Homebound Publications, November 17, 2014) 266 pages

First Line: Kashi’s day follows the rhythm of the sun.

Review: For book clubs that like to pair refreshments with the text, for readers who love to cook as well as read, and for those of us who love to be immersed in faraway cultures and lands, My Mother’s Kitchen will be a welcome find.

Meera Ekkanath Klein expertly weaves narrative, lush imagery, fully realized characters, and tempting recipes into a tale of family and friendship set in India.  The story opens with Kashi — a 15-year-old girl promised in marriage to a man she does not love by her father who is bound by traditional ways.  Motherless, Kashi escapes to her neighbor (her father’s employer) and finds solace and freedom.  But Kashi is only one of many strong female characters in Klein’s debut novel and her expert characterization is only one of many strengths as a storyteller.

Throughout the decades-long story, food plays a prominent role and Klein generously shares recipes after tempting her readers with lush descriptions of the dish.

Here is just one example of Klein’s sensuous prose:

My mother’s kitchen is a miracle-working spot, a place of transformation. Here a handful of rice, a punch of turmeric and a splash of fresh lemon juice are magically transformed into mouth-watering lemon rice.  A slice of cucumber and tomato with a sprinkle of salt and pepper becomes a tangy relish. This special place not only brings about change in food but in people too.

A few pages later, a recipe for Mother’s Lemon Rice appears — with an attainable list of ingredients and straightforward directions for preparation.  Any book club could prepare most of the recipes without difficulty, adding the lush aromas and palate of the novel to the discussion.

Book clubs that appreciates beautiful prose, rich culture and tempting treats will love My Mother’s Kitchen!

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How to Love Wine Review

How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto by Eric Asimov (William Morrow, October 16, 2012)

love wine

Eric Asimov, chief wine critic of the New York Times, believes great wine is “a true expression of a terroir… [with] a story to tell about where it came from, both geologically and culturally, and about the people who shepherded the transformation of grapes to wine and that year in history.” How to Love Wine follows this same spirit, exploring the influence of Asimov’s own “terroirs”–New York City, Paris, Chicago and Austin–on his passion for food and wine on the path to his perfect job.

Before beginning the autobiographical aspects of his memoir, Asimov first explores the subject of “wine anxiety,” hoping to replace this fear with a sense of ease and joy. But even when he’s talking about his own story, he includes frequent detours covering why he believes this is the Golden Age of Wine Drinking, and why blind tastings, tasting notes, shelf talkers and scores are limiting conditions that undermine an experience that should be purely pleasurable.

Asimov describes his memoir as “a gathering of impressions through experience,” yet provides so much more, imparting confidence to freshman oenophiles through a concrete plan for learning to love wine. Just as the best wines reflect their roots yet resonate with the drinker, the best memoirs rise above one person’s experiences; How to Love Wine not only fulfills its titular promise, but is an engaging peek into a world so many already love.

Thank you to Shelf Awareness for bringing this book to my attention!

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Sweet and Easy Vegan Review

Sweet & Easy Vegan: Treats Made with Whole Grains and Natural Sweeteners by Robin Asbell, photography by Joseph De Leo (Chronicle Books, September 19, 2012)

sweet and easy

In Sweet & Easy Vegan, Robin Asbell presents a cornucopia of healthy, guilt-free vegan treats, taste-tested and approved by omnivores, with nutrient-dense calories sure to please every palate.

In Asbell’s kitchen, eggs are replaced with flax seeds and butter with coconut oil; she spends 40 pages explaining why replacing artificial and refined sweeteners with anti-oxidant-rich alternatives like maple syrup (with 54 beneficial compounds), is easy and nourishing.  Natural sweeteners, when combined with whole grains and healthful fats, nuts, seeds, and fruit, help to stabilize blood sugar and reduce stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease as well as lower blood pressure and reduce gum and inflammatory diseases, including colon cancer and asthma.

Asbell also explains how to adjust traditional recipes and includes resources for where to find common vegan ingredients like flaxseed, palm sugar, and egg replacers.  Even traditionalists will embrace Asbell’s healthy alternatives to past favorites.

Thank you to Shelf Awareness for bringing this book to my attention!

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