Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits
By Reese Witherspoon
“Dorothea always said that it was a combination of beauty and strength that made southern women ‘whiskey in a teacup.’ We may be delicate and ornamental on the outside, she said, but inside we’re strong and fiery.” (page 10)
In April 1986, a massive fire broke out in the Los Angeles Public Library. The fire burned for 7 hours, destroying 400,000 books and damaging an additional 700,000. It took more than a dozen years before the library was returned to the community – the library restored and expanded, books restored through massive effort, books replaced…
The fire inspectors ruled out the usual suspects and declared the fire was set intentionally. A suspect, Harry Peak, was investigated but never charged.
In The Library Book, Susan Orlean uses the 1986 fire and recovery period as a way to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians, how the institution of public libraries and the profession of librarian evolved in the U.S..
Review/Recommendation: The quote on the cover of this book says, “Mesmerizing… A riveting mix of true crime, history, biography, and immersion journalism.” (From BOOK LIST)
In fact, when I picked up this book, I thought that there would be much more true crime woven into the story than there was. While the fire at the Los Angeles public library was the central pillar of the book, the novel felt less about the fire and the investigation into arson, and more about the history of the Los Angeles library system, their librarians over the years, and the broader context of libraries and librarians in the U.S.
Don’t get me wrong, as an avid reader and lover of books since childhood, I did enjoy this book. The history Orlean’s described was fascinating to me. However, it was not the true crime story that I expected. It’s much more of a history novel, told in a unique fashion.
I will say that the book’s flow was a little jumpy – it wasn’t always clear why we jumped from one well-researched topic to another. It worked, but it is something that I felt necessary to call out in the review, as it’s something that I thought of several times during the book’s reading.
If you’re a lover of books and interested in the evolution of our library system, then I think you’ll enjoy this book. If you’re looking for true crime, then it’s probably not for you.
When Nic Farrell goes home to help get her father’s house ready to sell, she’s quickly swept up in a tragedy from her past. As a teenager, her best friend disappeared. Nic, her friends, and her family were all entangled in the investigation, doing everything possible to protect their own secrets. Fast forward to present, and another girl disappears – one linked to some of the same people that were caught up in the investigation 10 years earlier.
Review/Recommendation: It’s been quite a while since I’ve picked up a mystery novel – I just haven’t been in the mood to read a mystery or suspense novel lately – but I was almost immediately hooked on this book.
Below Stairs is the memoir of Margaret Powell, who entered the world of domestic service as a young girl. Starting off as a kitchen maid and raising to the position of cook, Powell served in some of the greatest houses in England. With her sights always set higher than her current stature, Powell constantly pushed to learn more, to do better, and to achieve greater things.
Review/Recommendation: I was drawn to this book as the memoir that inspired Downton Abbey. I binge watched the show during maternity leave years ago and loved every minute of it, so my expectations for the book were set pretty high.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed. This short little book – just over 200 pages – was a struggle for me to finish. If I could sum up my feelings in one word, that would be ‘lacking.’ The whole book seemed to be lacking in depth and detail that would have made it more enjoyable, easier for the reader to connect with Powell or the time period. The 200-page book started with Powell entering domestic service in her early teens, covered her years in domestic service as a kitchen maid and cook, and ended with a couple of quick pages on her marriage, motherhood, and activities as an elderly woman. There were stories, but years of Powell’s life were covered so quickly that I never became invested in the story of Powell’s life or even the larger picture of a servant in a 1920smaster’s home.
I did appreciate Powell’s bluntness, honesty, and her ability to see through society’s norms. I appreciated that no matter what her position in life was, Powell always wanted to improve, to reach the next level – as a kitchen maid, as a cook, as a mother, and as a woman. That admirable quality was apparent through her whole life, although like everything else, wasn’t detailed.
While the book was short and should have been a quick read, I would not recommend it. It was a real struggle for me to finish. I didn’t see the connection with the hit television show that I loved, nor did it tell such an amazing story that I’d recommend it in its own right. Skip it and watch Downton Abbey instead.
Life, On the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat
By Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas
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Life, On the Line is the story of Grant Achatz, a young man from Michigan who grew up in the kitchens of family restaurants and how he rose to become one of the greatest chefs in America.
Review/Recommendation: Although I consider myself to be somewhat of a foodie, Grant Achatz was unknown to me until my husband received his gorgeous cookbook, Alinea, one year for Christmas. After paging through the cookbook – which was more of a coffee table book full of incredible photos than a cookbook for the home cook – I immediately ordered Life, On the Line to learn more about Achatz.
Achatz’s story – his drive and passion for food and cooking – was incredible, and shown through every aspect of the book. I was rooting for him from the beginning, as a young chef out of culinary school who wanted nothing more than to learn and become the best. We readers watched Achatz grow, experiment, and find himself in Life, On the Line. We watched him nurture his restaurant and his food to become Best Restaurant in America, per Gourmet magazine.
I also was really touched by Achatz’s relationship with his mentor, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. Another famous chef from one of the country’s best restaurants, I loved reading about how Keller mentored Achatz, encouraged him to find his own way, and cheered on his successes.
About 80% into the book, the tone changed completely as Achatz’s life was turned upside-down in his early 30s. For those that don’t know, shortly after Achatz’s restaurant took off and started receiving national accolades, the chef was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma – tongue cancer. The end of the book was emotional and sometimes tough to get through, as the reader followed Achatz’s battle for his life – his fight to find the will to survive, the journey to figure out how to keep his tongue and his livelihood, the torture of his treatments, and his struggle to maintain his passion for food.
Food-lovers would love the insight into the drive and passion of one of America’s greatest chefs. But truthfully, Achatz’s story should inspire everyone to work hard to make their dreams come true, despite any obstacles that get tossed in their way.