Modern Comfort Food: a Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (CBR13 #63)

Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

One of the things I think about when I’m rating and reviewing cookbooks is: are they a good read? I am of course going to worry about the quality of the recipes, but if the writing is not good there is really no reason to pick up the book – these days the internet will generally be able to provide you with a variety of options for whatever it is you’re on the hunt for, but a well written cookbook will help you understand the whys and hows, not just give you an ingredient list and a method.

On that measure, Ina Garten’s Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook passes well. Garten is used to speaking to an audience, to introducing them to food, and making sure they are informed and entertained (I know not everyone will enjoy the namedropping, but I find it fun). This is also a well timed book, when better to write about comfort food than during a global pandemic? This is a Barefoot Contessa book… which means there are fancier ingredients than are perhaps readily available to you or within your budget, but that shouldn’t prevent you from trying the recipes and doing them with what you have to hand. There are also recipes that I can’t imagine using – I’m not going to Ina Garten for enchiladas, for example. But maybe someone will finally get over their prejudices against enchiladas because Ina gave them a recipe with goat cheese… but I am not that person. I also already make some things virtually the same way they are described in this cookbook (sausage and peppers) so I won’t be revisiting them here.

But I’ve had this book out as long as the library will allow me. Honestly the fact that each recipe comes with a photograph is reason enough to keep it hanging around the kitchen. In the time that I’ve had it I’ve tried a variety of recipes. The Cheddar and Chutney Grilled Cheese sandwiches were very, very good and a handy quick change to really enhance a sandwich. I also had my first success with choux, because even though she doesn’t call it as such, that’s exactly what they Cacio e Pepe Cheese Puffs are and the friends I made them for thought they were delicious (and it’s a recipe that worked for lactose intolerant friends and vegetarian friends). I also treated myself to a Pomegranate Gimlet and it was delicious. The only one I’ve tried that I likely won’t revisit is the Giant Crinkled Chocolate Chip cookies, they just didn’t live up to the work that went into them. I’ve got plans to work through her version of Crispy Chicken and Lemon Orzo as well as making the Arrabbiata sauce. I also chuckled to myself when I came across it – but I am going to try her ice cream sandwich “recipe” of buying crisp chocolate chip cookies (Tates is suggested), coffee ice cream (she says Hagen Das, I say use whatever you have), and toffee bits because it speaks my language, flavor-wise.

Resistance Reborn (CBR13 #62)

Resistance Reborn (Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker #1)

The reading experience of Resistance Reborn is a story of two halves for me. I enjoyed Rebecca Roanhorse’s writing, I find the way she uses a sparring amount of words to build a mood, and from a mood a setting to be incredibly effective. On the other hand, though, I wasn’t floored by the actual story covered within the pages of this book.

Broadly, in this novel, Poe Dameron, General Leia Organa, Rey, and Finn struggle to rebuild the Resistance after their defeat at the hands of the First Order in Star Wars: The Last Jedi after the defeat and narrow escape at Crait. We join action in progress as Dameron and the other members of Black Squadron defeat a small First Order force on the planet Ikkrukk but fail to gain it as an ally. Maz Kanata meets with Dameron on the planet Ephemera, but she also declines to join the Resistance, but she does share that those who would be potential allies across the galaxy are disappearing, often suddenly and without explanation.

From there we are introduced to the threads that make up the larger narrative. On Corellia, the planet’s shipyards have been turned over to the production of new ships for the First Order, using slaves, droids and political prisoners. Winshur Bratt, the executive records officer of the shipyards, is tasked by the First Order with accepting 15 political prisoners and hiding them within the shipyard workers’ population. The Millenium Falcon arrives on the planet Ryloth, where Leia calls on former Rebel allies, who take them in secretly. Yendor, the head of the Ryloth Defence Authority, agrees to hide the Resistance on Ryloth temporarily, allowing the Resistance to regroup, but they are immediately under threat from the First Order who is demanding payment from Ryloth or a blockade. Prisoners need to be freed, a base needs to be secured, and the Resistance needs to gather the people and supplies to continue the fight.

I probably would have liked this book more if I had read it before having seen The Rise of Skywalker, or even just closer to having seen it. This novel also ties the movies in with the Aftermath trilogy (which I haven’t read) and Bloodline (which I have). Wedge Antilles, Norra and Snap Wexley all have supporting roles, which was enjoyable but not enough to push this one above three stars for me.

Hawkeye Volumes 1 & 2 (CBR13 #60-61)

Hawkeye, Vol. 1 by Matt Fraction - Review

Before diving into Disney+’s Hawkeye show I decided to pick up the Matt Fraction run from 2012-2016. One of my friends read them as they were releasing and she raved, suggesting them to me then as an entry into the larger comics world, but I took her up on Northanger Abbey instead. In the years since I’ve dipped my toe in, reading Chelsea Cain’s Mockingbird run, a Star War, and deep diving into Sagain all its gorgeous, heartbreaking glory (and I’m eyeing a 2022 re-read). All that to say, I think I finally felt more comfortable to pick this up now than I did six years ago.

And I’m really glad I did. Fraction decided to tell the story of what Hawkeye (both of them) does when not Avengering. Unlike most of their counterparts Clint and Kate don’t have special abilities or intense suits of armor, they are just very, very good with a bow and arrow and dedicated to making peoples lives better. They are easy to root for, and these “street level” stories are just the right kind of story for me.

What the 'Hawkeye' Comic Tells Us About the Marvel Miniseries - The Ringer

The style of these, led by David Aja, from the lettering to the color scheme made them incredibly easy to read while feeling warm and welcoming and full of information and emotion. In fact, it stood out dramatically at the end of Volume 1 which includes Young Avengers Presents 6 which has a completely different visual feel – a more typical feel for contemporary comics – and I just didn’t like it. The simple color story and evocative but 2-D drawings set the mood and I am super impressed with Annie Wu’s ability to give distinct facial expressions to her characters.

This run of Hawkeye is proving to be just as clever and funny as I had been led to believe and episodic in a great way. Its also trying new things, with Hawkeye 11 we get everything from the point of view of Lucky the dog and it’s a creative master work. I had only anticipated reading the first two volumes and getting around to the second two sometime in the new year. Volume 2 ended so strongly with Lucky that I immediately requested the rest of the Fraction run from my library.

Farewell, Bro: How Matt Fraction and David Aja's 'Hawkeye' changed Marvel  Comics | EW.com

Other Words for Home (CBR13 #59)

Other Words for Home

I read Jasmine Warga’s debut My Heart and Other Black Holes in 2016, and its one of the books that has stayed with me most as it contained some of the truest descriptions of being a teenager that I have ever read. When I was hunting for a book to fulfill the Muslim Middle Grade novel task for the Reading Women challenge and came across Warga’s name I decided that Other Words for Home would be the book I read, without looking any further into what the story actually contained. While a dangerous move, it was not a mistake.

Told in verse, Other Words for Home is Jude’s story. When things in her Syrian hometown start becoming unstable, Jude and her mother go to live near Cincinnati with her mother’s brother and his family, leaving behind her own father and older brother. Jude was happy in Syria and initially doesn’t want to make the move but promises to be brave. From there, the story traces Jude’s experiences in all that is new to her in the United States, from making new friends, living with whole new family, through to a school musical that Jude might just try out for.

This one is geared towards middle grade readers, but certainly not out of place on any grown-up’s shelves. This book tackles big things as it is set in the midst of the Battle of Aleppo (where Jude’s brother goes), and touches on prejudices against Muslims writ large and refugees and immigrants. Warga also doesn’t shy away from the way people, particularly white women, can choose to see choices that are not their own as not a choice at all.

I’m glad to have read this one, and not ashamed that it made me tear up several times, something I was not expecting in a novel in verse since I so often struggle with poetry.

“There is an Arabic proverb that says:
She makes you feel
like a loaf of freshly baked bread.

It is said about
the nicest
kindest
people.
The type of people
who help you
rise.”

The Life Revamp (CBR13 #58)

I received an ARC from Carina Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Life Revamp publishes November 30th, 2021.

The Life Revamp (The Love Study #3)

This was a first for me, a romance featuring a polyamorous relationship, but one I had been looking for. Kris Ritter’s The Life Revamp tells the story of Mason, who wants to fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. You know, live the fairytale a little. His luck has been less than stellar, including being left at the alter as a younger man, and the hunt is beginning to wear him down, to the point of settling for Mr. Checks All the Boxes. That is, until he meets up and coming local fashion designer Diego. Everything sparks between them—the banter, the sex, the fiery eye contact across a crowded room. There’s just one thing: Diego is already married, which includes outside courtships. In fact, Diego’s wife Claris, who is also friends with Mason, sets them up – she’s sure they are what the other is looking for. Mason thought he knew what would make him happy, but it turns out the traditional life he’d expected has some surprises in store. 

The thematic thrust of this book is expectations, what they are, how we come by them, and what they might prevent us from seeing. We are experiencing the story from Mason’s point of view, and we are therefore treated (burdened?) with his hopes, fears, and insecurities about finding the person who will choose him and allowing the possibility that Diego might be able to choose him equally to Claris. While much of this book focuses on Mason’s romantic expectations (and falling for the delightful Diego), Ripper doesn’t sideline the other areas of Mason’s life, and their incumbent expectations. We see how Mason navigates his found family, the wonderfully named Motherfuckers, his relationship with his mother – and by extension his faith. The story climaxes as Mason realizes he’s been coasting both romantically and professionally and does something about it, and the doing something about it worked for me in a big way.

There are a few things that I wished were fleshed out in order to balance the story, both from an arc structure perspective, but also from telling a balanced story about an open relationship such as Diego and Claris have. While we spend a good amount of time with the various components of the Gentleman’s Fashion week, we never hear from the POV of the pair in the existing relationship, but we also don’t see Mason and Claris have a conversation, really, about what it means to be metamours especially as that relationship would be based on their existing friendship. But by and large I felt that Ritter wrote a believable and entertaining romance with characters that I was happy to spend time with.

If the Fates Allow (CBR13 #57)

If the Fates Allow: A Short Story

A few weeks ago, I saw an announcement on Rainbow Rowell’s Instagram that she was releasing a holiday short story this year and I rejoiced. I like Rowell’s short form work as much as I like her novel length ones. I’ve read Kindred Spirits, her 2016 take on fandom and waiting in line for Star Wars. Rowell also has holiday themed ones: Almost Midnight, 2017’s collection that includes both Kindred Spirits and Midnights. Midnights tracks a pair across several years’ worth of New Year’s Eves and 2019’s Pumpkinheads which is a delightful graphic novel that celebrates all things Halloween.

If the Fates Allow brings Reagan from Fangirl forward in time to now, including all the COVID-19 reality we’ve been living through the past nearly two years, and gives us a peek into her in her early 30s (I think, the math is throwing me a bit). Reagan is still just as kick-ass as she was when we first met her: she’s quippy and quick, she’s a bit of a misanthrope but she cares about the people who matter to her. In 40 pages we learn that social distancing came easily to Reagan (girl, I feel you). Maybe a little too easily (yep). But it’s Christmas 2020 and Reagan doesn’t want her grandpa to be alone for his first Christmas as a widower, and like everyone else (who is properly isolating) he’s already spent too much time on his own. After quarantining for two weeks Reagan leaves Lincoln and heads back to her hometown to spend the holiday with him. What Reagan wasn’t expecting or planning for was to run into the boy next door. Mason’s family has lived next to her grandpa for years, and like Reagan he is all grown up now, not that Reagan can remember him from their shared years in high school. The person in front of her now is considerate and funny, and just the sort to put himself in a bit of danger to help someone who needs it.

In their short time together Mason’s warmth defrosts Reagan a bit. Not that he’s trying to, one of the things I liked best about Mason was that he wasn’t put out by how prickly Reagan is, in fact, he appears to like it (and perhaps always has). This is Rowell, she’s able to craft quality characters quickly and she deftly handles how COVID effected interacting with others, both those we know well and those we’re meeting again. I’m going with four stars for this because it wraps up a bit too quickly, and I didn’t feel like the first and second halves were balanced, but I was glad to have spent the time back in this fictional neck of the woods and I’m sure I’ll probably read it again before the end of the year.

(There’s also another check-in on Levi and Cath, like in Landline, and it made me smile to read it.)

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (CBR13 #56)

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

The Reading Women Challenge for 2021 (its last year, as it turns out) contains two challenges which surprisingly caused me some consternation – I didn’t have anything in my nearly 600 book deep to read list that was a book written by an Eastern European woman and/or a crime novel or thriller in translation. I spent time on and off all year hunting up a book that could work for both – it had to be out there and the whole point of this is to stretch my reading habits. And I’ve not been reading enough translated works lately as it is (this is only my second all year, and I have one more on deck).

What I found was Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Tokarczuk is a leading Polish author, (she recently won the Nobel Prize for literature for her book Flights) and Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is a study of the shadowy spaces between sanity and madness, righteousness and tradition. The novel was shortlisted for the 2019 International Booker Prize, Antonia Lloyd-Jones’ translation was also longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Translated Literature.

The novel tells the story of a remote Polish village, and one of its residents. Mrs. Duszejko devotes the winter days to studying astrology, translating the poetry of William Blake with her friend, and taking care of the summer homes her neighbors leave behind each winter. Mrs. Duszejko is also a Civil Engineer, English Teacher, and committed Vegetarian. She has a reputation as a crank and a recluse which is amplified by her not at all a secret preference for the company of animals over humans. Then a neighbor turns up dead. Soon other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances. As suspicions mount, Mrs. Duszejko inserts herself into the investigation, certain that she knows whodunit. If only anyone would pay an old lady any mind.

Her characterization as an eccentric old lady that is often treated with skepticism or even derision by other characters, further endearing her to the reader. But, without giving anything away, this book features perhaps the most unreliable narrator I’ve come across in a while, or maybe she’s just the oddest narrator who happens to be purposefully unreliable. The whodunnit, and how, isn’t revealed until near the very end, and it puts everything we have learned from Mrs. Duszejko into a new light. This is a complex book my brain is still working through, and I’m still not sure if I liked it, but I can recognize its quality.

Demystifying Disability (CBR13 #55)

Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally

I read NTE’s review of Demystifying Disability and immediately put it on my library request list since a good, 101-level introduction to current disability discourse is just a very good idea to read full stop, but highly relevant to my life. And if it got the NTE stamp of approval, then it was an easy choice for me.

At work we’re taking part in an IMLS funded project in partnership between the NYU Ability Project and the Intrepid Museum that is focused on improving the visitor experience in Historic Sites which make up almost half of all museums in the United States. The final product will be an ebook, Sensory Tools for Interpreting Historic Sites, that offers concrete strategies to increase visitor engagement at museums of all sizes, while supporting visitors with a wide range of physical, sensory, cognitive, or behavioral abilities. As we move towards reinterpreting our historic home and sharing what tools work for us in order to support our visitors (including making our accessible entrance our main entrance), it’s important that the team is as up to date as possible, and since I’m recently added to it, I wanted to make sure I was as well.

Disabled people are an estimated 15% of the world’s population but too often disability remains a mystery, sometimes even to those of us who find ourselves disabled later in life. In Demystifying Disability Ladau keeps the conversation simple and direct while weaving in her own experiences into the wider conversations being discussed. Ladau aims to builds towards understanding and human connection, and by and large accomplishes just that.

This book discusses topics such as disability etiquette, how to talk about disability, recognizing and addressing ableism, and portrayals of disability in the media. Ladau pulls in her own anecdotes and those of many other disabled activists to provide as many different lenses as possible onto the lived experiences that are part and parcel of the disabled community. Ladau discusses the importance of understanding intersectionality pointing out on multiple occasions in the book that we all live it differently and part of the beauty of Demystifying Disability is that Ladau is intentional in her attempts to leave room at the table for nearly everyone and show/remind others to do the same.

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb (CBR13 #54)

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb is Sebastian’s trade paperback debut and I’m excited for the people who get to discover her work with this outing. There were times during The Queer Principles of Kit Webb that I was reminded of the first Cat Sebastian I ever read (her debut) The Soldier’s Scoundrel. There’s a class difference, one character making their living on the wrong side of the law, and a major injury. Plus, I really, really liked it. Sebastian writes steamy, upbeat historical romances where the worlds of each character are brought to light and the protagonists find their matches in their partners. We have two characters falling in love despite themselves, humor, and found family – which is catnip for me.

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb is set earlier in time than the other of Sebastian’s works that I’ve read. We’re in the mid-18th century, 50 years at least before the more common Regency era. I’m borrowing much of narfna’s plot summary since she nailed it and I’ve been struggling for a week to write a better one. We get our two heroes, the titular Kit Webb, a former infamous highwayman who is now retired due to a job gone wrong that left him disabled and with a dead partner. He now runs his coffee shop, once simply a front for his criminal activity it is now his entire life. When we meet him, he hasn’t much left its general environs in weeks. Next, we’ve got Edward Percival Talbot, Lord Holland, who goes by Percy. Percy has returned from the continent to several pieces of awful news not the least of which is that a blackmailer has surfaced with proof that his father the Duke is a bigamist, making his mother, his childhood best friend and now stepmother Marian (and there appears to be much drama there) victims, and himself and his new baby sister Eliza illegitimate. Marian and Percy have only a few months to concoct a plan to salvage their futures and punish Percy’s father. Marian is the brains of the operation and it’s her idea to hire Gladhand Jack, Kit’s alter ego, to rob the Duke, so that she and Percy can get the book they need for leverage. When Percy approaches Kit, it’s clear that his bad leg will make performing the robbery impossible, so instead, Kit offers to teach Percy to do it himself. From that point we watch as the two men are drawn to each other while Kit teaches Percy the skills he needs to commit the crime and Percy plans for his future. This outing also features Sebastian’s command of banter, her salty secondary characters and situational humor balances everything out.

Sebastian takes on the different elements of privilege that are tied up together and starts pulling them apart. In this case it’s how Kit and Percy are seen by the world around them– specifically in the ways they use artifice to hide. Class plays a significant role in the story, as Sebastian writes characters who are conscious of class – as the should be – and hinges much on characters moving up and down the social rungs and what life looks like when they do. I love Sebastian’s “eat the rich” mentality and how in this book she has Kit blatantly state it. It could be the thing that breaks these two characters of vastly different backgrounds, but it isn’t. Because Percy has come to agree that while the trappings of the wealth mean home to him, they are in fact not worth what they cost in terms of people’s suffering and use of resources. It is an example of how Sebastian uses her craft to create tension and release it without having to write a break-up at the 80% mark and I appreciate that about this book, much as I did with Lucy Parker’s Battle Royal.

The other is how she navigates the differing sexual identities of her two leads. Percy is pretty open about his only being attracted to men and finds himself a bit of a challenge in understanding Kit, who appears to be sexually interested in him, but does not act on it for a decent amount of the story. We the reader bounce between Kit and Percy’s viewpoints so we know that Kit is likely what we would now term a demisexual in that he feels sexually attracted to someone when he has an emotional bond with them as well as being bisexual having had a fulfilling sex life with his deceased wife. Kit’s need for emotional connection, and Percy’s relative inexperience in the emotional arena is the other tension point Sebastian works her characters through. I would have liked to see it get a little more conversational space in the story, but that even isn’t much of a complaint. I do wish I knew going in that there are significant portions of the narrative that are left on a cliffhanger, even though Kit and Percy find a way to be together even though they live in a society that has deemed it illegal.

In an interview Sebastian commented about writing to reflect identity and I find it instructive to understanding why Sebastian’s books work so well for me. “History is filled with disabled and neurodivergent people and people of color. Historical fiction that doesn’t reflect that reality is a tool of oppression. I know that sounds dramatic, but when you repeatedly see a version of reality that’s overwhelmingly white, abled, rich, cis, and straight, you start to accept that as the default identity of human beings, even if logically you know better!”

Content notes (from the author): non-graphic violence (including gun violence), reference to past infant death, reference to character being imprisoned in the past, period-typical homophobia, explicit sex, alcohol use

Children of Monsters (CBR13 #53)

Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators

I had been looking forward to this one for a while, and I’m bummed I didn’t enjoy the reading experience more. I know, you’re wondering what exactly I thought I’d be “enjoying” while reading about the titular “children of monsters” in Jay Nordlinger’s 2015 book. I find the human mind fascinating, and when it comes to some of the biggest “monsters” of the twentieth century, how much could be expected to travel from parent to child? I’m not sure Nordlinger is the author to write the kind of book I was actually looking for or expecting when I picked this up. I was on the hunt for a book that was a psychological study of these people, and the milieus they were developed in, but that is not really this book, unfortunately.

Structurally the book is comprised of biographies to tell a story through the historical narrative. Each chapter is a description of a dictator and his children. Nordlinger is obviously attempting to build a case for a handful of psychological profiles of the progeny of dictators. The problem is, it smacks of armchair psychology. Nordlinger states what seems right to him without considering empirical data, without accessing the larger body of psychological work. In fairness to the author, he does have a good amount of primary sources in the form of books and interviews with people in positions to know at least some of the truth, but it falls short.

One downside was the failure to define dictatorship at the start, the author decides what he wants a dictatorship to be for his needs and announces his loose organizational structure in the Foreword and jumps in. What becomes clear is that the dictators are cherry picked to suit a certain western audience. There was no mention of South American dictators which is a glaring omission. The other component is that dictators’ regimes are often hermit kingdoms, closed in many important ways to the outside world. Which made getting information for this book, and providing appropriate context difficult and made it even stranger that these 20 were chosen, or that it was 20 at all.

The author’s tone also threw me off, its both often too sympathetic towards people who have done terrible things as well as being very casual with the reader generally. The idea, I’m guessing, is to set up the experience like a conversation, but it just doesn’t quite hit the right balance in order to be approachable while also maintaining intellectual authority. By failing to maintain the balance the writing does not match the seriousness of the topic, nor does the book commit to being lighter pop history fare.