Great New Book for Foodies!

Title: As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis Devoto

Author: Joan Reardon

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Pages: 448

Genre: Non-Fiction- Biography

Julia Child- her very name conjures visions of Coq au Vin, Beef Bourguignon, and butter. As a confirmed foodie and Julia fan, I was fascinated by As Always, Julia. The book is made up almost entirely of the letters exchanged by Julia Child and friend Avis Devoto during the years 1952-1989, with a bit of explanatory filler by the author, Joan Reardon. Their correspondence and friendship began when Mrs. Child wrote a letter of appreciation to Mrs. Devoto’s husband regarding a magazine article he had written on kitchen knives. Mrs. Devoto answered the letter on her husband’s behalf and the two women became pen pals, with Mrs. Devoto becoming the champion of Mrs. Child’s book in the publishing world.

A great deal of the letters focus on the developing and publishing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the cookbook that made Julia Child a household name. But there is so much more of interest to be found in the correspondence. Much is said of the McCarthy era, when so many people were unjustly accused of being Communist sympathizers. The many references to little-known intellectuals and politicians of the period made for hard reading sometimes- the author had to make a number of footnotes to explain who was who and what was what, which was both helpful and distracting. It was worth soldiering through, however, as I gained so much insight into both of these captivating ladies and the society they lived in.

I highly recommend this book to any Julia Child afficionado or food-lover. If you are not immersed in the world of food, you might not enjoy this book, as there are so many food references. That being said, the glimpse into the world of the fifties and early sixties may be interesting enough to hold anyone’s attention.

Note: I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher for reviewing purposes. It was released on 12/01/2010.

Published in: on December 14, 2010 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

New Review- Believe It, Be It

Title: Believe It, Be It

Author: Ali Vincent

Publisher: Rodale Books

Pages: 192

Genre: Nonfiction, Self-help

I must admit that I am usually skeptical of self-help and personal-empowerment books. They are usually either filled with common sense that everyone should already know or psycho-babble that means nothing. But sometimes you need to see something put into writing for it to make an impact on you. Ali Vincent’s Believe It, Be It struck a chord with me, not just because I am a fan of The Biggest Loser, but also because I have weight issues myself. For those of you not familiar with The Biggest Loser universe, Ali was the first female to win the Biggest Loser, winning the season five contest.

The first part of the book contains lots of inside information about the process of becoming a TBL contestant and life on the ranch. This is followed by a section on what Ali’s life has been like in the time since the show’s finale. In the final chapters, Ali provides practical advice, both on losing weight and, more importantly, on the mental and emotional changes that go along with the weight loss.

Ali is plain-spoken and presents the details of her journey without being preachy or resorting to trite platitudes. Instead, she shares her personal truths in a conversational style. For example, she writes, “In order to have any chance of success, I’ve learned that you have to accept yourself and let go of past failures or weaknesses that have been holding you back… Once you know what you want your life to look like, you can figure out how to make it happen.”

More than once, Ali speaks of the importance of setting goals and working to achieve them. She mentions her goal of creating a Believe It, Be It Foundation, geared towards educating children, especially girls, about exercise, nutrition, and the basics of good health. In the meantime, she is a public speaker, sharing her story with women across the country.

I found this book an interesting, light read with a positive message and a few motivational concepts. I personally was inspired by the two lists that Ali mentions toward the end of the book. When she first arrived at the ranch, Jillian Michaels had the contestants make two lists- Why I Am Here and What I Want. Making my own version of these lists helped me realize some things about myself that I had never known before. If you are a Biggest Loser fan, or are looking for some weight-loss inspiration, pick up Believe It, Be It. I think you’ll find it helpful and entertaining.

Note: I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher to be reviewed. It was published on 10/12/2010.

Published in: on December 5, 2010 at 2:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Grilled Cheese, Please

Title: Grilled Cheese, Please

Author: Laura Werlin

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC

Pages: 158

Genre: Cookbook

Mmmm, grilled cheese. What could be more homey and comforting? In this new cookbook by Laura Werlin, the humble grilled cheese sandwich is taken far beyond it’s Wonder-bread-and-American-cheese roots. From breakfast (Monte Cristo Sandwich) to dessert (The Sweetest Thing), from North (Philly Cheese Steak) to South (Pimento Grilled Cheese), from East Coast (The Vermonter) to West Coast (The Californian), all manner of grilled cheese is covered here.

The first section of the book could have been labeled Grilled Cheese 101. The basics of the sandwich are covered here, including choosing the right bread and maintaining the right temperature. Who knew that you should grate your cheese for maximum meltage? Werlin encourages the use of a sandwich maker for many of the recipes, so if you have one in your kitchen, this book is for you.

There are so many tasty recipes in this book to talk about, but my favorites are the Sweet-Tart Cheddar and Chorizo, with yummy Braeburn apples; the Creamy, Cheesy, and Smoky Croissant, made with, mmmm, Brie (notice I keep saying “Mmmm”); and above all, the Cuban, complete with recipe for Cuban roast pork. And, while I could never eat one because my doctor would have a cow, the Cheesus Burger intrigues me. It’s a 1/3 pound hamburger between two grilled cheese sandwiches. That is both delicious and disturbing.

This is a specialty cookbook, so it probably won’t see daily use. But if you enjoy grilled cheese and want to get a little creative with it, this book is worth investing in.

Note: I received an electronic galley of this book for reviewing purposes. The book will be published on 03/08/2011.

Published in: on November 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Distant Hours

Title: The Distant Hours

Author: Kate Morton

Publisher: Macmillan Publishers Limited

Pages: 673

Genre: Fiction

The Distant Hours is really two stories that intertwine. The first story is that of Edie, a single girl with a great job, living on her own in London. Her father is recently retired and at loose ends. Edie is not close to her mother, who is somewhat aloof and formal. One day, the mother, Meredith, receives a letter mailed to her in 1941. The letter upsets Meredith and she begins to cry, but will not tell Edie what the letter was about. Edie decides to investigate and so their story begins.

The second part of the story is of the Blythe sisters, Percy, Saffy, and Juniper, who live together in the decaying Milderhurst Castle. Their father, Raymond Blythe, wrote a famous children’s book, The True Story of the Mud Man. These sisters hold their own secrets, including the true story behind writing of the Mud Man, a mystery that scholars and fans have wondered about since it was written. Edie visits the castle to meet the Blythe sisters and answer the questions she has about her mother. But she begins to discover more than she bargained for.

I have to say I didn’t really connect to any of the characters on a personal level, as I had little in common with any of them, but the story was so engrossing that it didn’t matter. I did, however, find myself caring about Edie, Meredith, and the Blythe sisters and what happened to them, especially Edie. The characters were well developed, as if Morton had gotten to know each one personally before writing about them.

Despite the book being just a bit too long, I felt that Morton maintained a high level of suspense throughout the narrative. Each time I thought I was about to solve a piece of the puzzle, a whole new mystery popped up. I found the two storylines, that of Edie and her mother and that of the Blythe sisters, to be well executed, one never impeding the other. All of Morton’s books contain shifts in time, going from the present to the past and back, but she seems to have mastered the use of that plot device, and no confusion arose as I read.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I do all Kate Morton books. It is definitely worth the time you invest in it. Don’t be intimidated by the size of this book: you will get caught up in it and breeze right through. It may even be one you lose sleep over!

For an interesting article on Kate Morton herself, read this:

Published in: on November 27, 2010 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment