Monday, February 28, 2011

A Feast for the Imagination: Books Full of Food

Molten Lava Cakes = Chocolate Seduction 

I love food, and I love books, but the combination of the two is pure seduction. I've read quite a few books that entwine the two, and every time I do, I'm inspired to bake, cook, or just to savor the tastes that inspire these writers to create these impressive stories. This is a follow up to a previous post about books with food. After realizing how many books I've read that touch on the magics of food and cooking, I decided to create a list of some of the ones I've read, and others that are on my list of books to read.  The first 8 are ones that I've read, and I've reviewed the first 6 to get you started: 

The Food of Love by Anthony Capella
This book was one of those books that can only be described as seductive. Laura is an American student studying art in Rome who meets love-em-and-leave-em Tommaso, a waiter in an upscale Roman restaurant, and Bruno, Tommaso's shy friend and incredible chef working at the same restaurant. Tommaso convinces Laura to come to his house to dinner under the pretense that he is a chef, while Bruno is actually the one doing the cooking, and also has feelings for Laura, who is seduced by Bruno's culinary masterpieces.  The setting of this story, the narrative of how food entices the senses, and the juicy plot that is almost a modern comedy-of-errors, are a winning recipe that had me wanting more. I LOVED this book.
This book also contains recipes toward the back.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
 This book hits on the magic of food and engages in magical realism (a style where magical or extraordinary events or happenings are interwoven with realistic settings to enhance the meaning of the story or bring out the symbolism of the circumstances). The Waverley family is peculiar in their hometown in North Carolina. Claire Waverley is a caterer who weaves her garden's herbs and spices into her foods which can change people's moods and affect their emotions. She's thrown for a loop when her long-lost runaway sister returns home with a child of her own, and a neighbor shows an interest in her, and her world is changed suddenly and drastically. 

Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Mysterious and alluring. Single mother Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk move to a small town in France whose activities and characters are dictated by the Catholic church, under the local priest Pere Reynaud. Vianne opens a sweets shop just before Lent, tempting the townsfolk and irritating Reynauld by her uncommon friendliness and defiance of the common town order.

Sweet Love by Sarah Strohmeyer
Julie Mueller is a single mother, whose life has gotten bland. Her mother, feeling guilty and remorseful that she secretly ended her daughter's relationship with a man named Michael (the only one her daughter ever really loved), seeks to bring them together again by enrolling them both in a dessert class. Julie finds the beauty in dessert making and is thoroughly taken out of her comfort zone by seeing Michael again for the first time in years, thinking that he had abandoned her to end their relationship. The book contains recipes at the back, and it's a light, easy read that is a lot of fun.

The Icing on the Cupcake by Jennifer Ross
Ansley is a Southern sorority girl who gets dumped by her boyfriend, ruining her dreams of living a cushy, comfortable life and being a stay-at-home mom and housewife. Stressed at the prospect of having to actually find a job in the real world, she moves to New York City to live with a grandmother she's never met, and whose reputation at home is a scandalous one. There, she decides to open a cupcake shop as she tries to carve a niche for herself as a baker. This is another light easy, easy read that makes you wonder why you've never started that bakery/coffee shop/bookstore  that you meant to with all your friends that have egged you on over the years. Sorry, maybe that was a little personal. Seriously though, although this book is a little predictable or trite at times, but otherwise, it's fun and the recipes in it are simply delicious (I've tried a few so far, and have it in the cards to try many more!). 

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
A new book by Aimee Bender. I was on hold for this book at the library for over a month, and I thought it would be really similar to Sarah Addison Allen's books (all of which are phenomenal). It's a book about a young girl who can taste food, not just the ingredients, but where they came from, and especially, the feelings of the person who made them. Although this is the synopsis, I'm going to go ahead and warn you that this isn't really a good thing...though it sounds like fun from the outset, she learns secrets about her family through her food.  She has a very interesting perspective, and the writing is absolutely exquisite. It's is dark and brooding, and alive with magical realism, although of a slightly more pessimistic type than Sarah Addison Allen.

Here are some other books along the same lines as the above, most of which are on my list of books to read:

The Owl & Moon Café by Jo-Ann Mapson 
Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella [Great book for coffee connoisseurs, but it does start slowly]
Baking Cakes in Kigali   by  Gaile Parkin [African food]
Belle in the Big Apple: A Novel with Recipes by Brooke Parkhurst [recipes included]
The Chocolate Lovers’ Club by Carole Matthews
Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior [Italian food]
How to Cook a Tart by Nina Killham
Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance by Nancy Verde Barr
Last Chinese Chef  by Nicole Mones [Chinese food]
Rosewater and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran [Iranian food in an Irish setting]
Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran
Secrets of the Tsil Café  with Recipes by Thomas Fox Averill [recipes included]
Baker’s Apprentice  by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Reckless Appetites: Romance with Recipes  by Jacqueline Deval
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel [Mexican food; magical realism]
Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray [Baking cakes as stress therapy!]
Under the Cajun Moon by Mindy Starns Clark [Cajun food]
Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris [set in France]
The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni [Indian spices; magical realism]

After posting this, I'm starting see how common it is for stories alive with food to be done in magical realism. When you think about it, I guess it's not so strange, since food really can be magical.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Inkheart: Everything a book should be

If you believe that children's books are just for children, then you are wrong. Not just a little wrong, but a lot of wrong. It only takes reading a book like the Harry Potter series or Inkheart to make you realize that there's something so inherently compelling, beautiful and imaginative about those stories-- and if you are missing out on those, you're missing out on real literature.

I believed that children's books were meant for children once, too. Even though I've been a fan of children's books since I began with them as a kid myself, and though I knew the incredible effect they had on me growing up, I still turned my back on them once I considered myself an adult (which, let's be honest, anyone that knows me knows that I am not particularly prone to being high and mighty or adult-like). But when I started working at the library, and children's books began to catch my eyes again (because who can deny the luscious artwork that lives on the covers of children's books?), I decided that I would read them again so that I could help children find good books to read. I was kidding myself. I wanted a good book to fall into, but thought I was doing it for the kids. Well that good book is exactly what I found in Cornelia Funke's Inkheart.

Cornelia Funke is a master of words. Her language is beautiful and eloquent, but her words aren't condescending in any way. You don't trip over the words. They are clear and poignant, and you feel as if you're really there, which fits so well with the storyline of Inkheart that I get the feeling the author truly understands the strength of her own words.

Inkheart is the story of a girl named Meggie and her father Mo, the bookbinder and book repairman. Mo has a distinct talent for bringing stories to life, and the villains of one story in particular, a book called Inkheart, have been brought to this world, give Mo and his family a great deal of problems.  Also thrown into the mix is a marten with horns, a fire-eating entertainer named Dustfinger, a stern book-loving aunt named Elinor, Tinkerbell, the steadfast tin soldier, a boy from the Arabian Nights, Inkheart's author, and the foulest villains that your imagination could hope never to conjure. I dare say, they give Voldemort a run for his money for #1 most evil man in a story.

In addition to the excellent writing, the riveting story, and the realistic characters is the layout of the book itself. Each chapter has a short excerpt from another story which relates somehow to the theme of the chapter. I have such a deep appreciation for Cornelia Funke's work, now having read Inkheart and The Thief Lord, that I am surprised that she doesn't receive as much notoriety for her skills as J.K. Rowling. Her stories are just as delicious and well-thought out. I'll never again check out a "children's book" to say that I'm reading them for anyone but myself.