I have always fancied myself a baker, so I couldn’t wait to dig my teeth into Anne Byrn’s American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-loved Cakes from Past to Present. In her latest, Byrn, the best-selling author of Cake Mix Doctor (which has one of my favorite, go to cake recipes — Chocolate Kahlua Cake), not only gives you delicious recipes, but the history behind some of your favorite cakes as well.
The book starts with baking in America in the mid-1600s and continues through the present. Home bakers did not always have modern day appliances, but they still baked wonderful cakes. There were times when some of the ingredients were scarce and people had to improvise, which, according to Byrn, is the mark of a good baker. We learn that early cake baking was done by the wealthy because the ingredients were expensive. Each recipe comes with a brief history. Maryland’s own Smith Island Cake has an entry. There were “war cakes” and “Depression cakes,” which were made without eggs, sugar or butter due to unavailability or rationing. Post-World War II, fictional character Betty Crocker had a large influence on women with her cake mixes and cookbooks.
American Cake tells the story of our nation’s history through my favorite treat, cake. Don’t worry, you don’t have to cook over an open fire — Byrn has updated the recipes for our modern bakers. Many of these recipes will be in my baking rotation. Happy baking and more importantly, happy eating.
Fall down the rabbit hole and into a topsy-turvy world of nonsense, beauty and adventure in Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore, a modern-day tribute to the classic Alice in Wonderland.
Alice Alexis Queensmeadow, about to turn 12 years old, has little to do aside from munching on tulips, watching the sun pour rainlight over her homeland of Ferenwood and practicing for the Surrender — an event where all Ferenwood children in their 12th year demonstrate their magical talents for the town elders and are subsequently assigned a special, secret task. Those things, and, of course, her missing father is on her mind. The last time anyone saw him, he was journeying outside of Ferenwood with nothing but the clothes on his back and a ruler in his pocket. Now two years later, his anguished family has all but given up on his return.
That is until Oliver, a not-so-friendly friend from Alice’s past, suddenly reappears with a proposition for her: If Alice will help him with his task, a dangerous mission that will lead them deep within the realm of Furthermore, he will tell her where her father is.
Desperate to be reunited with her father, Alice follows Oliver into Furthermore, a dangerous land full of rules, riddles and remarkable residents. The only question is: Will they survive it?
Tahereh Mafi, author of the teen romance trilogy Shatter Me, has once again delivered a unique reading experience. An interactive narrator, her beautiful, poetic writing makes for a touching, funny and truly satisfying read.
Fans of Amor Towles first novel, Rules of Civility, have patiently waited for another work, and A Gentleman in Moscow is worth the long wait. Yet again, this gifted writer breathes life into a lavish era long since passed. He introduces a cast of characters that are sure to charm readers, none more so than Count Alexander Rostov.
The story opens shortly after the Russian Revolution. The Count is being tried for writing a popular counter-revolutionary poem, but thanks to some high-ranking friends in the party, his life is spared. Instead, he is declared a “Former Person” — given a life sentence of house arrest. This is interesting, since the Count resides at Moscow’s Hotel Metropol, one of the city’s most elegant hotels, just steps away from the Kremlin. Though he must give up his stately suite and take up residence in a tiny room on the top floor, he is not a man defined by rooms.
From inside his beloved hotel, he observes the upheaval that sweeps through Russia in the years after the revolution. Over the next three decades, the country he loves disappears and is replaced by something unrecognizable.
Despite these changes in society, he never loses sight of who he is. His bygone code of ethics is in large part what makes him so delightful as a character. While this may sound stuffy, Towles infuses the characters, including the Metropol itself, with too much effervescent charm to ever be considered tedious.
A rich cast of intriguing characters pass through the hotel, some of them becoming part of the Count’s life in the most unexpected ways. Despite his imprisonment, his life is no less full than it may have been if he were a gentleman of leisure living freely abroad. In fact, his imprisonment may arguably take him on a more emotionally rewarding journey.
Towles somehow keeps life inside the hotel from ever becoming monotonous for readers. This could be in large part because of the humor provided by the stories narrator, balanced perfectly with moments of insight that will leave readers mulling the words over long after they finish the book. Towles also weaves in history, literature, ballet, architecture, and not least of all the importance of food and wine pairing without ever seeming pedantic.
This work will appeal to fans of Russian classics as well as readers who enjoy the sly wit and charm of Jane Austen or Edith Wharton.
In Julia Baird’s biography, Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire, she does not shy away from telling both the good and the bad, but being that I am a fan of the queen, I shall not speak ill of her. At the time of her death, Queen Victoria was the longest reigning English monarch. She reigned for just over 63 years — this time has become known to us as the Victorian Era.
When Victoria was born, she was fifth in line to the throne, but her father, the Duke of Kent, stated: “Look at her well, for she will be Queen of England.” Victoria became queen at the age of 18, at a time when most women had no power, and first British monarch to live in Buckingham Palace.
Queen Victoria was popular at the beginning of her reign but went in and out of favor with her people during her time on the throne. She overcame numerous attempts on her life and was key in constructing the British Empire. With her nine children and 42 great grandchildren, Queen Victoria has been dubbed “the grandmother of Europe.” Once you start this book, you will not be able to put it down as it is filled with all the hallmarks of a blockbuster — drama, intrigue and scandal. This book is a great pairing with Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria.
Say “Shakespearean tragedy” and everyone who has attended a high school English class can tell you how the play will end — with blood everywhere and a high body count. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if you could take control of a character’s destiny and alter his or her fate? What if you could be Romeo and/or Juliet in a way that didn’t end in the lovers' suicides?
Enter from stage right: Ryan North, with his retooling of Romeo and Juliet in the style of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. That’s right, Choose Your Own Adventure, with all the multiple endings (over 100 in all, some still ending in death — this is a Choose Your Own Adventure model after all) that implies. Readers initially can play as Juliet or Romeo, choosing to follow the original story to its bitter end. Or they can pick a different path to see where that could lead — marrying other people, leading a life of piracy, owning a body building gym, operating giant robots, even crashing the plots of other Shakespeare plays.
There are plenty of Easter eggs for Shakespeare fans; North populates the book with references and character cameos from Shakespeare’s other works. If you’re not a fan of Shakespeare, though, don’t worry: You don’t have to understand the references to appreciate North’s wacky sense of humor. He’s also enlisted a whole battalion of illustrators to better visualize the end you choose, also to great comedic effect. This isn’t North’s first time around doing this, either; his first Kickstarter novel To Be or Not to Be, or Hamlet as told as a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, was the second-most funded publishing project on Kickstarter as of 2013.
If you’re looking for a good laugh or want to play with a play, Romeo and/or Juliet is an excellent choice, spinning a familiar tale of woe into something infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. Fans of the book may also enjoy Kate Beaton’s Hark, a Vagrant! or Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.
The Gilmore girls are back! Rory and Lorelai make their much-anticipated return to Stars Hollow with a Netflix four-part series premiering later this month and showcasing four memorable chapters from the lives of the girls and countless other Stars Hollow regulars. The new series, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life spans a year in the life of the ladies, their families and friends.
Books were always a centerpiece of this special show. Did you know that there were 339 books referenced by Rory during the span of the series? Want to tackle her reading challenge? Check out this list. While waiting for the series to return catch up on the first seven seasons and get to know these unforgettable characters all over again.
Lauren Graham (Lorelai) has kept herself busy since her first run on Gilmore Girls, starring in Parenthood, another long-running and popular series, and completing two books – Someday, Someday Maybe, a novel, and her new memoir Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (And Everything In Between).
If you love the Gilmore Girls, then you probably love to read. Here are some novels for the Lorelei and Rory reader in each of us.
A young woman’s life is cut short just as she is freed to pursue her own happiness in Tana French’s latest Murder Squad entry, The Trespasser. Aislynn Murray was a good girl, who took care of her mother after her father walked out on the family. After her mother’s death, Aislynn flowered; she lost weight, bought fashionable clothes and went to the salon. Without a normal family life as a guide, she modelled her world around what magazines portrayed. Frequenting trendy clubs, she was soon juggling two boyfriends. Until one night, Aislynn ended up with fist to the jaw and her head bashed in.
Detective Antoinette Conway heads up the investigation into Aislynn’s murder, with Detective Steve Moran as her partner. She’s the only female detective in a male-dominated squad room, and spends a lot of her time looking over her shoulder. As the two newest members of the squad, they’re usually stuck with the open-and-shut domestic investigations. This time they may have caught a hot one that could launch their careers. What looks like a simple fight with a boyfriend isn’t so simple after all.
Tana French knows how to reach the reader viscerally. She explores her characters in their deepest darkest places and exposes their greatest anxieties. She is also adept at describing police procedure and investigation without gratuitous violence. French has won multiple awards for her work, including the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, In the Woods. She has combined great literary writing with the suspenseful plotting of a mystery with enormous success.