06 May 2021

What I Read in April, Part 2

Welcome back! As I said on Tuesday, I finished 16 books last month. I shared my thoughts about the first 8 books in that post; today I talk about the rest. I present them here in the order that I finished them.

Note that the following thoughts are also available on Goodreads. Thanks to the publishers and to Libro.fm for the print, digital, and audiobook review copies. "AFM" means you can find my thoughts about the audiobook production over on the AudioFile Magazine website.

Review of Empire of Ants by Susanne Foitzik and Olaf FritscheEmpire of Ants: The Hidden World and Extraordinary Lives of Earth's Tiny Conquerors by Susanne Foitzik (The Exmperiment, April): This is a very accessible and fascinating look at everything ants. Foitzik and Fritsche take us around the world and into the lab to tell us about that pesky bug that invades our homes and gets into our picnic food.

The book is full of interesting and eye-opening facts about ant behavior and biology and ants' interaction with the world around us. The tone is conversational and sometimes funny. If you're interested in the natural world, you should give this book a shot.

As I often do with nonfiction, I both read and listened to the book. The audiobook was really well performed by Cat Gould, who did a super job conveying the authors' tone. If you listen instead of read, you'll miss the fabulous photographs in the digital/print edition.

Review of Summer on the Bluffs by Sunny HostinSummer on the Bluffs by Sunny Hostin (William Morrow, May 4): Bring on the summer reads! I really liked the concept behind this beach book set on Martha's Vineyard. The story revolves around Ama Vaux Tanner, her late husband, and their three god-daughters, who are are now in their twenties.

What makes this book a little different from other beach reads is that uber-wealthy Ama is Black, as are her daughters. The book includes themes of systemic racism and colorism along with the expected plot lines concerning family drama, romance, life on the island, past secrets, and finding one's way in the world. The plot could have been a bit tighter, but overall an enjoyable read. I'll likely look for the next book in the series. (AFM)

Review of Kisses and Croissants by Anne-Sophie JouhanneauKisses and Croissants by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau (Delacorte, April): Because I danced in my youth, I always like a good ballet story. Mia, an American teen, has had only one dream since she was a very young child: to be a professional dancer. Fortunately, she has the talent and focus to make that dream come true. Her summer internship in Paris is a crucial step in her career. Female friendships and frenemies, lots of ballet, and a complicated summer crush add to the story. Yes, mostly predictable and a few plot tangents, but still a fun rom-com for escape reading.

The audiobook was delightfully read by Imani Jade Powers, who captured the ups and downs of Mia's summer in Paris.

Review of The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahonThe Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon (Gallery, April): I like McMahon's ability to layer on the creep factors, and this Gothic story about a Vermont resort turned private estate doesn't disappoint in that regard. Set in two time periods, 1929 and modern times, the story focuses on a spring that is fabled to cure ailments and grant wishes. Of course, nothing is given for free or without consequences.

In the past, Ethel Monroe and her doctor husband visit the springs during its inaugural year as a luxury resort. While there Ethel caves to the rumors and asks the waters to cure her infertility. After the resort burns to the ground at the start of the Depression, the couple buys the property, builds a home, and turns the springs into a kind of natural swimming pool. In modern times, two sisters who spent their summers at the house with their grandmother have their own interactions with the waters.

I loved the creepy atmosphere of this book and the complex, fragile characters. McMahon did a good job weaving local tales about the spring's miracles with the personal interactions of the characters, whether they swam in or drank the water. The two time periods worked well and most of the surprises hit the mark.

The audiobook was read alternately by Joy Osmanski and Imani Jade Powers, who added to the Gothic elements and brought the characters (and the spring) alive.

Review of Gut Feelings by Alessio FasanoGut Feelings: The Microbiome and Our Health by Alessio Fasano (MIT Press, March): A well-researched and well-presented summary of current research on the human microbiome and its relationship to many aspects of our overall health and well-being.

Fasano's account is non-prescriptive and straightforward. We learn about the microbiome throughout human evolution, in traditional cultures, and in today's world. If you don't have a basic understanding of human (or mammalian) physiology, this could be hard going. For those of us with a solid background in biology, this presents a nice overview and good starting point for further investigation through the medical literature.

Review of Golden Girl by Elin HilderbrandGolden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown, June 1): I'm a Hiderbrand fan and look forward to her Nantucket novels every summer. Her latest doesn't disappoint.

When 50-something Nantucket novelist Vivian Howe is hit by a car when out for her daily morning run, her death and the search for the hit-and-run driver sets off a far-reaching chain of events. We hear from Vivian in heaven limbo and from those she left behind. There are fun literary references, not only to Hilderbrand's own books but also to other writers and the book world in general. The drama, the food, the relationships, the satisfactory ending -- put this on your summer reading list.

Audiobook fans will be relieved that Erin Bennett was available to narrate. She and Hilderbrand make a perfect audiobook marriage.

Review of Under the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson HarveyUnder the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey (Gallery, April): I picked this up because of the cover; I've been in beach-reading kind of mood. In her latest, Harvey tackles cancer, love, loss, infertility, infidelity, friendship, families, and second chances. Despite the tougher issues at the core of this book, it was only okay for me, probably because the ultimate outcome was so clear from the start and I wasn't invested in the characters enough to be all caught up in how they got to the last page. Note however, that I'm not much of a romance reader, so your mileage may vary.

The audiobook was alternately read by Cassandra Campbell, Michael Crouch, Rebekkah Ross, and Karissa Vacker. They all put in a good performance, blending well.

Review of Mirrorland by Carole JohnstoneMirrorland by Carole Johnstone (Scribner, April): I have a weakness for stories about twins. When Cat's identical twin, El, is lost at sea in a presumed sailing accident, she leaves her apartment in California to return to her native Scotland to help her brother-in-law deal with the aftermath.

This novel is complex and engrossing, taking us along on several well-developed threads. First is the investigation of El's accident: staged escape? murder? unfortunate accident? Through this, we gain insight into the nature of El's marriage and her husband's personality. El had been living in the girls' childhood home, and being back releases Cat's memories. She remembers her mother reading to them and especially the many hours they spent in "Mirrorland," their make-believe world, in which they pretended to be Caribbean pirates, for example, or characters in a movie, especially Shawshank Redemption.

As the investigation of the accident continues, we learn more and more about the twins, their upbringing, and their lifelong relationship to Ross, El's husband. The tension builds incrementally until we are totally immersed in Cat's world, trying to figure out which of her Mirrorland memories were real and which were those of a child trying to make sense of the really bad things about her childhood.The truth changes as Cat forces herself to brush aside her strong, deep self-defenses.

I was completely captured by Johnstone's debut, with its difficult themes, good plotting, and growing suspense. What is real in Cat's world? Highly recommended.

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04 May 2021

What I Read in April: Part 1

Time for another quick round-up of the books I've read and listened to lately. I finished 16 books in April, most of them audiobooks. Why so many books? I spent the month doing some major paper shredding and cleaning out a storage room. All that gave me hours of good listening time!

Here is part 1 of what I read last month, in the order I finished each book (part 2 will go live on Thursday). Note that the following thoughts are also available on Goodreads. Thanks to the publishers and to Libro.fm for the print, digital, and audiobook review copies. "AFM" means you can find my thoughts about the audiobook production over on the AudioFile Magazine website.

Review of The Babysitter by Liza RodmanThe Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer by Liza Rodman (Atria, March): In the 1960s, author Liza Rodman spent the summers in Provincetown, MA, so her schoolteacher mother could take on seasonal work and party with her friends. Liza and her little sister were left in the care of whomever their mother could find. One of their favorites was Tony Costa, a charming local handyman who would buy the girls ice cream and take them on drives to the nearby woods. When Liza was 10, Tony disappeared from her life, and it wasn't until years later that she learned he had been sent to prison for the gruesome murder and dismemberment of several young women.

The story alternates between Liza's memories of the two or three summers she knew Tony, including her interactions with her neglectful, heavy-drinking mother, and sections based on investigations into Tony's life and crimes. I love true crime, but this book seemed to lack a gripping element. The murders were, of course, horrific, but Liza herself didn't seem to be in any danger. In addition, Tony is described as being well liked, despite the fact that he was into drugs and had a checkered work life. You may have better luck.

The audiobook was read by Andi Arndt and Aida Reluzco, who alternated between the chapters based on Liza's memories and the chapters based on Tony. Their performances were fine; nothing particularly outstanding or problematic.

Review of Lightseekers by Femi KayodeLightseekers by Femi Kayode (Mulholland, March): I like a good mystery and was drawn to this book because it takes place in contemporary Nigeria. The general set up is this: Philip Taiwo and his family return from a long residency in the United States to their native Nigeria. Philip is a criminal psychologist with an interest in hate crimes. He's picked to investigate a brutal murder that took place in a small university town.

The narrative is full of interesting details about life in modern Nigeria, from university life to the courts, the law, and the power of the wealthy. The characters were well wrought and multidimensional. Despite these strengths, the novel, as a mystery, didn't hold up for me. By the middle of the book, I felt lost--partly because the book itself lost focus and partly because I'm not familiar with Nigerian university culture and politics, which played large roles in the story.

Narrator Cary Hite did a fine job with the audiobook. His expressive delivery; varied tempo, cadence, and volume; and good accents strengthened the setting and enlivened the characters.

Review of Anna K by Jenny LeeAnna K: A Love Story by Jenny Lee (Flatiron, 2020): I'm not sure how I missed this contemporary retelling of Anna Karenina when it first came out. Set in Manhattan, this novel includes the familiar characters (like Count Vronsky) of the original but adds in pop and social media references and places most of the upper-class diverse cast in high school. The story follows Anna K and her brother and friends over the course of a party- and drama-filled school year and veers from Anna Karenina in a couple of significant ways.

Despite the multiple brand name references (it got a little tiring), it was easy to get drawn into the YA story, and you don't need to be familiar with Tolstoy to like Anna K. The author's note at the end explains Lee's choices for her version of the classic. I'm looking forward to reading the just-released follow-up novel, Anna K Away. (library book)

Review of All Girls by Emily LaydenAll Girls by Emily Layden (St. Martin's, Feb.): Set in 2015 over the course of a school year in a prestigious private all-girls high school in Connecticut, this story is told from a variety of perspectives. From the opening pages we learn about a 20-year-old rape accusation, which the school has buried and for which the male teacher has suffered no consequences. The over-arching thread of the novel is the mystery of the rape: Did it happen? Who did it? Was it a one-time event?

Each female voice has something to say about the case and its affect on the school. The students also reveal their inner life and the personal issues they face, from their own #MeToo moments to bullying, eating disorders, family pressures, and feminism. The chapters flow well with each other, and the story gives us lots to think about. A complaint is that it's easy to lose track of who is who among the students and staff (AFM).

Review of Dust Off the Bones by Paul HowarthDust Off the Bones by Paul Howarth (Harper, June 8): One of the best books of the year. Note that this is a sequel to Only Killers and Thieves (2018), which you should read first. (Click the link for my thoughts on book 1.)

Brothers Billy and Tommy McBride were forced into estrangement after their unwitting and complicated involvement in crimes against an Aboriginal community in the 1880s, when the boys were young teenagers. Now adults, Billy has become a wealthy landowner and seemingly has moved on from the tragedies of his youth. Tommy has changed his name, has rarely settled in one place, and has struggled all his life to come to terms with the events of his childhood.

Now almost 20 years later, a two-bit lawyer is hired to prosecute Noone, the brutal Native Police Inspector who was responsible for the crimes and for involving the boys. Noone, now a powerful and still cruel-man who is able to control a wide network of evil men, sets out to murder all witnesses to his earlier offenses. The McBride brothers are principal targets.

As in the first book, Howarth pulls no punches: there are no fairy tales in real life, and cold, calculating men don't soften with old age. Billy, Tommy, Noone, and others are vividly drawn and evoke strong and true emotions. The pace and tension are so tightly constructed it's almost impossible to put the book (or in my case, audiobook) down. Australia itself--the land, the people--plays a central role. This duology should be on your must-read list. Please try to avoid spoilers.

The unabridged audiobook was brilliantly read by David Linski, who also performed book 1. Linski portrays the characters perfectly and matches his tempo and volume with Howarth's style.

Review of One Two Three by Laurie FrankelOne Two Three by Laurie Frankel (Henry Holt, Feb.): This is the story of triplets, born in a town that has been scarred after a chemical plant contaminated their drinking water. Nearly everyone in the community has been affected, especially the children, most of whom are disabled in some way. Everyone who had any kind of money long since left the area; the ones who remain suffer in some way.

The Mitchell girls refer to themselves as One, Two, and Three (based on birth order). Mab, seems to be a typical teen, and Monday, the middle triplet, is on the autism spectrum. Mirabel is severely physically disabled, unable to speak or control her body, except one arm and hand. She is, however, intellectually brilliant and communicates through an app, which vocalizes what she types. Their father died from the poisoning and their mother has spent 16 years trying to get a class-action suit off the ground.

The story takes place over the course of a few months when the son of the original factory owner returns to town with his family to try to reopen the factory. Reminiscent of Love Canal or the PG&E case in California, this story is about the battle between big business profits and real people with real lives. The girls and other characters are sensitively and realistically portrayed. Very worth your while.

The unabridged audiobook was read by Emma Galvin, Jesse Vilinsky, and Rebecca Soler, who alternated the chapters told from the perspectives of the sisters. They conveyed the personalities of the girls nicely.

Review of Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah PricePride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price (Harper Teen, April): This was fun. Using the characters from and general time period of Austen's Pride & Prejudice, this first in a cozy mystery series works on a number of levels. While the characters are recognizable from their personalities, this book places them in a completely different context from the original. Longbourn and Pemberley are family law firms, and Bingley's family is in shipping. When Bingley is accused of murdering his brother-in-law, Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy are both determined to solve the case.

Readers familiar with P&P will smile at the reconfigurations of Mr. Collins, Charlotte, Wickham, and others. The mystery itself was less engaging for me than Price's take on Austen. I enjoyed the book, though, and am looking forward to the next in the series.

The audiobook was nicely read by Morag Sims. Some listeners may have trouble with her accent and tone, so I advise giving the audio sample a try before buying.

Review of Lost in Paris by Elizabeth ThompsonLost in Paris by Elizabeth Thompson (Gallery, April): I picked this one up because the summary indicated a Jane Austen tie-in. That link turned out to be a very minor piece of the story, though Thompson includes a number of literary and and art references. The story is set in two time periods. In modern times, Hannah, an American woman living in London is surprised by a visit from her unreliable, alcoholic mother (Marla) who has been settling her own mother's estate back in their native Florida. Marla's showing up unannounced is only part of the surprise: Hannah's grandmother has willed the two women a paid-for apartment in the heart of Paris. In the past, we hear from the grandmother's mother, who lived in Paris in the 1930s, where she met many of the great writers and artists of the time.

This was only okay for me. The story was completely predictable and at the same time fairly unbelievable. I didn't connect enough to the women to root for any of them. Others will likely enjoy the details of Paris, the light romance, and the various mother-daughter themes.

The audiobook was read by Emily Tremaine and Imogen Church, who alternately took on the sections that were set in the present and past. I like both these narrators, but I don't think these were their best performances.

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01 May 2021

Weekend Cooking: Tuesday Nights Mediterranean by Christopher Kimball

Review of Tuesday Nights Mediterranean by Christopher KimballI was introduced to Christopher Kimball decades ago through the magazine Cooks Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen. When he took off on his own a few years ago, he founded the Milk Street media company, which produces television and radio shows as well as a magazine and cookbooks. I've never seen the Milk Street shows, but I have cooked out of several of their cookbooks with good success.

Kimball's newest cookbook is Tuesday Nights Mediterranean, which I received through the Voracious Ambassador program. The idea behind the Tuesday Night cookbook series is to show how easy it is to put together nutritious home-cooked meals, even on busy weeknights; the focus of this book is food from all three coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, from North Africa all the way around to southern Spain.

Here are some things I really like about Tuesday Nights Mediterranean. The first three chapters are titled "Fast," "Faster," and "Fastest," corresponding to main dishes that can be made in 40, 35, and 25 minutes. Though my schedule is fairly open, cooks who have to juggle kids' activities and evening obligations with trying to get dinner on the table will appreciate the heads-up on prep times. I didn't test the timing, but I think the estimates are fairly accurate.

Review of Tuesday Nights Mediterranean by Christopher KimbalThe remaining chapters provide recipes for main-dish salads, which can also be used for satisfying lunches; vegetarian meals (though not necessarily vegan), soups, and filling sandwiches. Every recipe is accompanied by a full-page photo of the finished dish, an informative introduction, and tips. The directions are straightforward, and the ingredients can easily be found at any grocery store.

I made several recipes from Tuesday Nights Mediterranean, including Shrimp and Couscous with Tomatoes and Toasted Almonds; Pork with Kale, Red Wine, and Toasted Garlic; Spicy White Beans with Tahini, Lemon, and Parsley; and Tunisian Chickpeas with Swiss Chard (recipe below). Everything was delicious, and I'd be happy to make any one of these recipes again. I have more recipes marked to try, especially in the salad and vegetarian chapters.

If I have any issue with Tuesday Nights Mediterranean, it's this: experienced cooks may find themselves more inspired by the recipes than inclined to make the exact recipes presented. For example, when I made the spicy white bean recipe, I used the vegetables and beans I had on hand; it was the dressing I was most interested in and will definitely make it again for future bean salads. The Sardinian herb soup was terrific, but by the time I swapped ingredients to match what was in my kitchen, I likely had a different soup altogether.

Review of Tuesday Nights Mediterranean by Christopher KimbalStill, I know many younger home cooks who are eager to make nutritious, from-scratch, quick dinners and are grateful for reliable recipes that can be followed to the tee. No thinking necessary after a long day at work and parenting.

As for me, I'm a fan of this cookbook because I really like the flavor combinations. Among the recipes I plan to make in some form or another are fish with tomatoes and capers (Italian), carrot and sweet potato frittata (Egyptian), spicy beef-stuffed pitas (Levantine), and shrimp and spinach (Greek). Note too that Christopher Kimball's Tuesday Nights Mediterranean would make a great gift for graduates, mothers, fathers, and newlyweds.

I picked the following recipe to share because it was tasty and because I believe it will fit quite a few food preferences. We ate this as a main dish, but it would also pair nicely, as the recipe introduction notes, with grilled or roasted meats.

Tunisian Chickpeas with Swiss Chard
Review of Tuesday Nights Mediterranean by Christopher KimbalServes 4
35 minutes

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • Two 15½-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 large bunch Swiss chard (about 1 pound), stems finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped, reserved separately
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • Lemon wedges, to serve
In a large Dutch oven over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, tomato paste, coriander and cumin; then cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato paste has browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes with their juice, chard stems, 1½ teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and 1 cup water, scraping up any browned bits.

Bring to a simmer, then cover, reduce to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and chard stems have softened, 10 to 14 minutes. With the pot still on medium-low, use a potato masher or the back of a large spoon to roughly mash the mixture; it's fine if many of the chickpeas remain whole.

Return to a simmer over medium-high, then add the chard leaves. Cook, stirring, until they are wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of oil and lemon wedges on the side.

Note: Recipe and scans shared in the context of review; all rights remain with the original copyright holder.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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24 April 2021

Weekend Cooking: It's Not Complicated by Katie Lee Biegel

Review of It's Not Complicated by Katie Lee BiegelThis week I want to share what is quickly becoming my new favorite cookbook. In 2018, I introduced you to Katie Lee Biegel's earlier cookbook, Easy-Breezy Eats, which still has a place in my cookbook collection. Her new book, It's Not Complicated (which I received from the publisher as part of the Abrams Dinner Party), is even better.

I've already cooked almost a dozen recipes from the book, and each was a hit. The other members of the Abrams Dinner Party agree with me: this may be the winning cookbook of Abrams Books' spring season.

The subtitle of Biegel's book, "Simple Recipes for Every Day," rings true. The recipes call for fresh ingredients and yet few will take you more than about an hour from cutting board to dinner table. Even better, the dishes hit that magic place of being unpretentious yet still perfect for casual company dinners. You can see from the photo below how many recipes I have marked to try.

Review of It's Not Complicated by Katie Lee BiegelMy favorite chapters are the ones for soups, salads, and mains, though I know I'll try a cocktail or two and some of the fruit-forward desserts before summer is over. We loved the Chipotle Carrot Soup and the Cannellini and Escarole Soup, both of which could be made vegan by using vegetable stock and omitting the cheese garnish. Standouts among the entrees we tried are Pork Chops with Fennel, Quick Chicken Saltimbocca, and Mushroom Bolognese. I loved the Kale Slaw (see my photo), which cut the usual mayonnaise with Greek yogurt.

Every recipe was easy to make and full of flavor. Biegel's casual style shines in both the types of dishes she shares and in the introductions to the recipes themselves. I liked learning about the inspiration for her recipes, when and how she serves them, and even some personal stories. All the ingredients are easy to find, and the directions are clear-cut.

Here's another thing I love about It's Not Complicated: although the finished dishes are delicious if you follow the instructions exactly as written, Biegel's recipes make for great starting points for those of us who like to put our own twist on the food we cook. For example, Mr. BFR isn't an eggplant fan (though he'll eat it), so I'll probably tweak her eggplant "meatball" sandwiches into real meatball sandwiches. The Grilled Farmers' Market Paella looks delicious, but I'll likely cut down on the meats, amp up the veggies, and skip some of the multiple grilling steps to turn it into more of a sheet-pan supper.

Review of It's Not Complicated by Katie Lee BiegelRecommendation: Whether you follow Katie Lee Biegel's recipes to the letter or use them to create meals with your own signature, I think you'll find plenty of dishes to try in It's Not Complicated. The majority of the recipes can be made in under an hour; those that take longer (roasted turkey, for example) can be saved for holidays or weekends.

Vegetarians will find a number of suitable or adaptable recipes, though vegans will have more trouble. If you have other dietary concerns (gluten-free, keto, etc.), you'll want to be sure to look through the cookbook before buying. If you know someone who loves to cook but is running out of easy ideas, It's Not Complicated would make a good gift.

The recipe I'm sharing is one I have marked to try because I'm always looking for traditional summer salads that omit the usual mayonnaise. In addition, I'm pretty sure this is appropriate for a wide range of diets.

Oil and Vinegar Herbed Potato Salad

Review of It's Not Complicated by Katie Lee BiegelServes 4–6
45 minutes

  • 3 pounds (1.4 kg) red new potatoes, cut into 1–1½-inch (2.5 to 4 cm) pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ cup (120 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
In a large saucepan, cover the potatoes with 1 inch (2.5 cm) of cold water. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 35 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender. Drain well.

In a large bowl, mix the oil, vinegar, mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, the pepper, and shallot. Toss the hot potatoes in the dressing. Let cool slightly, 5 to 10 minutes, then sprinkle with the herbs and toss to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

BFR's Notes: I'd check the potatoes at 10 minutes or so; the cooking time seems way too long to me. Recipe and scans shared in the context of review; all rights remain with the original copyright holder.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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10 April 2021

Weekend Cooking: Sparkling Wine Anytime by Katherine Cole

Review of Sparkling Wine Anytime by Katherine ColeI have a super-fun and informative book to share today. Katherine Cole's newest wine book is called Sparkling Wine Anytime: The Best Bottles to Pop for Every Occasion. It was published by Abrams last month, and I received a review copy because I'm a member of the Abrams Dinner Party.

What's a wedding, New Year's Eve, or a red-carpet event without a few bottles of the bubbly? When we hear the word bubbly, most of us immediately think of Champagne, but did you know sparkling wine is made all over the world and has been drunk for almost 9000 years? I didn't know that, but now that I've begun to explore this book, I've been learning how effervescence is achieved, how bubbling wine is made and stored, and how Champagne has benefited from centuries of good marketing.

The bulk of Sparkling Wine Anytime takes us around the world by vineyard and type of sparkling wine. Once we leave the Champagne region of France, the wine has to take on a different name; thus we have Prosecco, Cava, and Sekt, for example. Cole describes each growing region and the types of sparkling wine produced there and recommends and describes specific wines.

Warning: this is no dry (pun intended) treatise for wine experts. Cole's sense of humor and fun personality are evident on every page. I found myself laughing often and wishing she were my new BFF. Here she is writing about a Vouvray Brute:

An easy-peasy bang-for-the-buck crowd-pleaser. . . . This is a wine not to think too hard about; just buy half a case to throw in an ice bucket the next time you have a party.
I also love the design of the book, with its purple and tan color scheme, fun minimalist graphics, and maps.

Although Sparkling Wine Anytime is primarily a guide to buying and learning about bubbly wines, Cole includes a few cocktail recipes. You won't be surprised to learn that I had to give some of them a try. While I've ordered my fair share of French 75s and Kir Royales in my time (hey, it was the 80s!), I had never heard of a B2C2. It may be my new favorite Champagne cocktail . . . and, yeah, you can make fun of me, but I'm hooked.

Review of Sparkling Wine Anytime by Katherine ColePut Katherine Cole's Sparkling Wine Anytime on your wish list for yourself or for the sparkling wine lover in your life. This book is a joy to read and I learned a lot about the quintessential celebratory wine. Disclaimer: I'm not in fact a Champagne fan, but I do like other sparkling wines, particularly Prosecco.

I cheated a bit with the following recipe. I used Prosecco and 1 ounce of B&B, which I almost always have on hand. It was yummy.

B2C2
1 cocktail
  • ½ ounce brandy
  • ½ ounce Benedictine
  • ½ ounce Cointreau (or Triple Sec)
  • 2½ ounces Cremant (French sparkling wine)
Combine the brandy, Benedictine, and Cointreau in a chilled cocktail glass. Top off with Cremant.

Recipe shared in the context of a review. All rights remain with the original copyright holder.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2020. All rights reserved.

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