A Deadly Grind

A Deadly Grind (Vintage Kitchen Mystery, #1)A Deadly Grind by Victoria Hamilton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A decent start for a cozy mystery series. This one involves cooking and includes a recipe. I was drawn to it because of the historical (vintage) angle. In this case, I ended up looking for pictures of Hoosier cabinets online. I always enjoy learning something in the books I read. The setting is Queensville, Michigan – a made up town on the Canadian border – named for Queen Victoria. The action centers around an annual event – The Queen Victoria tea – where locals act the parts of Queen Victoria, Albert, and Princess Beatrice. The servers wear historical maids costumes. In addition to serving at the Tea, Jaymie also does odd jobs at the next door B&B and at the Queensville Inn, which gives her access to snoop on suspicious visitors. Jaymie is single and in her 30s, so there are a couple of potential love interests that may develop in the series. Lots of local characters that also promise to be recurring. I took a few notes at the beginning, but on the whole there were not so many characters that I risked losing track of them. The plot kept me guessing with a number of potential suspects to sort out, and the ending was satisfactory. I could have given it 4 stars, but I like to give a series room to grow….

Book description: When vintage cookware and cookbook collector Jaymie Leighton spies an original 1920s Hoosier brand kitchen cabinet at an estate auction, it’s love at first sight. Despite the protests of her sister that the 19th-century yellow-brick house they share in Michigan is already too cluttered with Jaymie’s “junk,” she successfully outbids the other buyers and triumphantly takes home her Hoosier. But that night on the summer porch where they’ve left the Hoosier to be cleaned up, a man is murdered, struck on the head with the steel meat grinder that is part of the cabinet. Who is this stranger—and what was he doing on their porch? Does his death have anything to do with the Hoosier? As the police struggle to determine the man’s identity, Jaymie can’t help doing a little digging on her own, accompanied by her three-legged Yorkie Poo, Hopalong. But in her bid to uncover the truth about the hidden secrets of the Hoosier, Jaymie may be the one who ends up going, going…gone.

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Funny, moving, uplifting, with a bit of romance and mystery thrown in. This is a tribute to books, the people who write them, the people who sell them, and the people who read them. My book club (elderly women) loved it. We have read many of the titles that happen to be mentioned in the text. While A.J. and Maya and their relationship is certainly at the center of this book, the side-characters of A.J.’s sister-in-law, Ismay, and his cop friend, Lambiase, almost took on main-character status for me. Even more so with the twist at the end of the book, which I won’t give away. Yes, this borders on being a cozy sort-of chick lit novel rather than being literary fiction. Nothing wrong with that! There are readers of crime fiction (Lambiase), readers of romance and chick lit, and readers of prize winners and literary fiction. And maybe that ends up being the whole point of this book. We are all unique, but we are all connected by a love of books and reading.

Book description: From Booklist
In this sweet, uplifting homage to bookstores, Zevin perfectly captures the joy of connecting people and books. A. J. Fikry, the cantankerous owner of Island Books, is despondent after losing his beloved wife and witnessing the ever-declining number of sales at his small, quirky bookstore. In short order, he loses all patience with the new Knightly Press sales rep, his prized rare edition of Tamerlane is stolen, and someone leaves a baby at his store. That baby immediately steals A. J.’s heart and unleashes a dramatic transformation. Suddenly, the picture-book section is overflowing with new titles, and the bookstore becomes home to a burgeoning number of book clubs. With business on the uptick and love in his heart, A. J. finds himself becoming an essential new part of his longtime community, going so far as to woo the aforementioned sales rep (who loves drinking Queequeg cocktails at the Pequod Restaurant). Filled with interesting characters, a deep knowledge of bookselling, wonderful critiques of classic titles, and very funny depictions of book clubs and author events, this will prove irresistible to book lovers everywhere. –Joanne Wilkinson

The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Robinson Crusoe in space. Set a few years into the future, when the U.S. is sending manned missions to Mars. Mark is a likeable character, and I found his ingenuity and inventiveness kept me interested – for about half of the book. Then it just got too predictable as it went from one event that should have killed him to another. It was very heavy on the science, which didn’t go over too well with my women’s bookclub. On the whole, it’s a decent story, and an uplifting one as nations work together to bring Mark home, and his story captures hearts the world over. The movie left out a lot, which is probably a good thing. It got very repetitive stretched out into a full-length novel.

Book description: After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark Watney finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kitchens of the Great MidwestKitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Told as a series of short stories, but not as well done as Olive Kitteridge. I couldn’t see where this was going until the last story put it all together. Wasn’t at all sure I liked it until the end. Eva is something of a mysterious character. Except for one story where she is a young teen, we don’t get inside her head at all. We see her through other characters, some of whom are not very likeable. The gaps between stories might have been the most interesting part of the book. I couldn’t help but speculate on what had happened to the characters in those in-between times. And I’m betting that will be the most fodder for book club discussions! Warning – there is still much unresolved at the end. I do think this would make a really good TV movie or mini-series. Each section moves around the midwest, though the focus is always on Minnesota, and it skewers some aspect of foodie culture – everything from gourmet baby food, church suppers, and hunting, to state and county fair competitions, Whole Foods afficionados, and lutefisk. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Amy Ryan and Michael Stuhlbarg. For the most part, they captured the Midwest flavor of the story. Interesting that Faribault (MN) was pronounced correctly, but not Pierre (SD). But that’s a very, very minor quibble.

Book description: When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience. Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.

The Boston Girl

The Boston GirlThe Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review contains spoilers!

I enjoyed listening to this story of a woman growing up and finding a career and love in the 1920s, but I’m struggling to say anything much about it. It is written as an 85-year-old being interviewed by her 22-year-old grand-daughter. You would think she is much younger. Addie keeps it upbeat and optimistic. She never calls her sister’s death a suicide, for example, attributing it to being clumsy in the kitchen, (unless I’m reading more into it than there was). Topics like working in sweatshops, World War I, the Spanish flu, the Depression, and discrimination of Jews and immigrants are minimized. She skips almost completely over World War II and the Holocaust, which must have impacted the Jewish community even in the U.S. She fell into a wonderful career and married a wonderful man, and it’s all a little too good to be true. So consider this an uplifting, even inspirational tale, told by someone who could be your own grandmother, or great-grandmother. My own grandmother wrote short stories about herself and her ancestors for her grandchildren that sound very much like this, just on a much smaller scale.

Book description: Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, the spirited daughter of an immigrant Jewish family, born in 1900 to parents who were unprepared for America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End of Boston, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine—a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, to finding the love of her life, eighty-five-year-old Addie recounts her adventures with humor and compassion for the naïve girl she once was.

The Kitchen House

The Kitchen HouseThe Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 3.5 for me. A notch above average, but not enough to bump it up to 4 stars. The story begins very well. I loved the contrast between the white, indentured servant and the mulatto slave. The audiobook used two narrators for the alternating points of view. Overall, I wish Belle’s story had been fleshed out more. The bulk of the telling belonged to Lavinia, the Irish indentured servant. I cared about the characters, although they bordered on being stereotypical. My book club members liked this book though. By the second half of the book, I began to have problems with Lavinia’s extreme naivete and her life choices. The spirited girl of the first half became so passive that she turned to opium. Really? She didn’t learn anything from caring for the captain’s wife all those years? What could have been a really satisfying coming-of-age and love story just kind of became a tragedy. The historical setting was well researched, although I didn’t have a very good sense of time. It seemed closer to the 1850s than the late 1790s and early 1800s. Quibbles aside, I like this well enough to seek out the sequel.

Book description: Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family. In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves. Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot JourneyThe Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book started out with so much promise. Lovely writing about India, the sights and sounds, the food, the people, his experiences growing up. I enjoyed the travels, their adventures in London, finally arriving in a small French village, where the van happens to break down, and they decide to settle. Then I watched the movie, which I loved, and came back to finish the book. That’s when things started to diverge. I know that movies change things, and in this case, I think they made a better story out of it. The way the book depicts the conflict between the Haji family and Madame Mallory, her change of heart seemed most improbable. And once Hassan went to Paris, I thought the book just lost its focus. He left behind a lover, his family, and his Indian roots. And what did he gain from it? 3 Michelin stars and then what? The book raises that issue through bringing in a new character – a chef who commits suicide after losing his 3-star rating. Hassan has been reunited with Margaret after 20 years, but it leaves unanswered what he will do next.

This was an audio-book, and I found it difficult to understand all the French. Things were not translated, though I was able to guess at the name of his restaurant. Reading instead of listening I might have gotten more of it, since I can read French, but I don’t understand spoken French. I was also somewhat put off (being a vegetarian) by all the descriptions of hunting and slaughtering of animals for food.

Anyway, other reviewers have mentioned not liking the second half of the book as well as the beginning, so perhaps I shouldn’t blame the movie for that! If you want romance and happy endings, then watch the movie. And, of course, Helen Mirren is wonderful as Madame Mallory.

Book description: Born above his grandfather’s modest restaurant in Mumbai, Hassan Haji first experienced life through intoxicating whiffs of spicy fish curry, trips to the local markets, and gourmet outings with his mother. When tragedy pushes the family out of India, they console themselves by eating their way around the world, eventually settling in Lumiere, a small village in the French Alps. They open an inexpensive Indian cafe opposite an esteemed French restaurant – that of the famous chef Madame Mallory – and infuse the sleepy town with the spices of India, transforming the lives of its eccentric villagers and infuriating their celebrated neighbor. Only after Madame Mallory wages culinary war with the immigrant family does she finally agree to mentor young Hassan, leading him to Paris, the launch of his own restaurant, and a slew of new adventures.