Category Archives: Winter Holidays

Books I’d Love to See Under the Tree this Christmas

Before it’s time to post my lists of 2014 Favorite Books and Audiobooks, I’d better post this wish list of books I wanted to read in 2014, but haven’t gotten to yet. I also still want to read Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and some of the other books that got so much buzz this year (Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Revival by Stephen King, etc.) but I don’t need my own copies of those!

string of colored Christmas lights

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History of the Rain by Niall Williams

We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. That’s how it seems to me, being alive for a little while, the teller and the told.
So says Ruthie Swain. The bedridden daughter of a dead poet, home from college after a collapse (Something Amiss, the doctors say), she is trying to find her father through stories—and through generations of family history in County Clare (the Swains have the written stories, from salmon-fishing journals to poems, and the maternal MacCarrolls have the oral) and through her own writing (with its Superabundance of Style). Ruthie turns also to the books her father left behind, his library transposed to her bedroom and stacked on the floor, which she pledges to work her way through while she’s still living.

I’m a sucker for a book cover that looks like this one on History of the Rain.

cover imageThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The bestselling, Man Booker Prize-winning novel hailed as “a true achievement. Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, and in so doing created a novel for the 21st, something utterly new. The pages fly.”New York Times Book Review

I started The Luminaries but it’s a long one (864 pages) and I had to keep setting it aside for book club reads and review copies. Now it’s out in paperback, and if I had a copy of my own, I wouldn’t have to keep borrowing it from the library and returning it.

cover imageThe Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer, Mona Simpson, and Jhumpa Lahiri comes a winning, irreverent debut novel about a family wrestling with its future and its past.
With depth, heart, and agility, debut novelist Mira Jacob takes us on a deftly plotted journey that ranges from 1970s India to suburban 1980s New Mexico to Seattle during the boom. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is an epic, irreverent testimony to the bonds of love, the pull of hope, and the power of making peace with life’s uncertainties.

I like the sound of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, and hope for a family story to sink into over the winter. It comes in nice and long at just over 500 pages.

cover imageStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

I was really impressed with The Lola Quartet, this young author’s last novel, so, although this one sounds completely different, I’m curious about it. It’s been getting a lot of buzz, and was a National Book Award finalist.

And just for fun…

cover imageCocktails for the Holidays: Festive Drinks to Celebrate the Season

Mix holiday drinks like a pro with the help of this book from the editors of the award-winning Imbibe Magazine. Cocktails for the Holidays features favorite seasonal recipes from bartenders around the world—50 classic and contemporary recipes for every festive occasion.

What books have I left off my list of must-reads for 2014?string of lights and text saying Happy Holidays!

Hearts Warm on Cold Island: A Nantucket Christmas by Nancy Thayer

cover imageJudging from A Nantucket Christmas, author Nancy Thayer has mellowed over the years since the earlier novels that I remember reading about marriages or long-time friendships breaking up, family secrets revealed, the occasional crime of passion, etc. (She is described by one reviewer as “queen of the beach book.”) Her earlier women’s fiction, as I recall, had more of a bite to it. this Christmas story set on the cold island of Nantucket is short and sweet – in a word, heartwarming. With food! But no recipes.

There is some realism in evidence here, especially in the almost-caustic thoughts of Nicole, a retired nurse, when she sees her first Christmas with her new (also handsome and wealthy) husband being ruined by the extended visit of his hugely pregnant and unpleasant adult daughter and her family, but mostly it’s a heartwarming story about the ups and downs of marriage and blended families. Maddox – Nicole’s new, four-year-old step-grandson – gets his own story line, and so does an abandoned, little dog.

Dogs, baking, Christmas, and quaint Nantucket…That about sums it up! I enjoyed the story and the setting and recommend this to anyone who enjoys domestic fiction and is looking for a pleasantly undemanding holiday read.

cover imageA Nantucket Christmas was released last year, and this year there is An Island Christmas, about a family and a holiday wedding. (Also described by the publisher as “heartwarming,” so you can count on a happy ending.)

A Nantucket Christmas
Thayer, Nancy
Ballantine Books, 2013
224 pp.
$18, hardcover
$9.99 (e-book)

Disclosure: I received a free print copy of this book for purposes of review from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.

Other opinions:
LibraryThing reviews

Weekend Cooking: Cookbook Gift Ideas #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

Weekend Cooking ButtonWeekend Cooking is a weekly feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads linking up food-related posts. Click here to check out other Weekend Cooking posts.

Cookbooks for Christmas? Yes, please!

GFF Magazine cover
Click on image for more info

Included in this list of cookbook gift ideas is a brand-new magazine for gluten-free eaters called GFF. All of the recipes and articles relate to the gluten-free diet in some way, but it reads like a regular foodie magazine, so it would make as good a gift for someone who wants to cook an occasional gluten-free meal as for someone with celiac disease. (I received a subscription as a birthday gift, and though it may seem a bit pricy at $40 for a quarterly, the inaugural issue is easily worth $10 for the appealing recipes and engaging writing.)

The following descriptions are from the publishers.

Six New & Newish Cookbooks for Home Cooks

cover imageBut I Could Never Go Vegan! by Kristy Turner
The Experiment, 2014
Blogger-author extraordinaire Kristy Turner deliciously refutes every excuse you’ve ever heard with 125 bursting-with-flavor vegan recipes for every meal of the day—including dessert!
If you’re a waffling vegan newbie, on-the-fence vegetarian, or veg-curious omnivore, this book will banish your doubts. You’ll find you can get enough protein, fit in at a potluck, learn to love cauliflower, and enjoy pizza, nachos, brownies, and more—without any animal products at all. (Even vegan pros will discover some new tricks!)
Colorful photographs throughout will have you salivating over Kristy’s inventive, easy-to-follow recipes. So what are you waiting for? Get in the kitchen and leave your excuses at the door!
Check out the book trailer on YouTube.

cover imageFlavor Flours by Alice Medrich
Artisan, 2014

In this monumental new work, beloved dessert queen Alice Medrich applies her baking precision and impeccable palate to flavor flours—wheat-flour alternatives including rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, teff, and more. The resulting (gluten-free!) recipes show that baking with alternate flours adds an extra dimension of flavor. Brownies made with rice flour taste even more chocolaty. Buckwheat adds complexity to a date and nut cake. Ricotta cheesecake gets bonus flavor from a chestnut flour crust; teff is used to make a chocolate layer cake that can replace any birthday cake with equally pleasing results. All of the nearly 125 recipes—including Double Oatmeal Cookies, Buckwheat Gingerbread, Chocolate Chestnut Soufflé Cake, and Blueberry Corn Flour Cobbler—take the flavors of our favorite desserts to the next level.

cover imageFrench Comfort Food by Hillary Jordan
Gibbs Smith, 2014
In France, people take pride in preserving the recipes of their regional heritage and deeply rooted traditions. What has remained true over time is that the French have a determined hold on their beloved regional classic dishes, the ones they grew up with that their mothers and grandmothers and grandmothers before them made—French comfort food.
Collected here are recipes from friends and acquaintances Hillary Davis has made while living in France, recipes handed down through the years as well as modern family remakes of the originals. With these resources, plus referring to her hundreds of well-worn cookbooks, Davis has brought together her favorite comfort food recipes from France, with a hope that they will inspire and charm you, showing just how fabulous good home-cooked food from France can be.

cover imageThe Healthy Slow Cooker, 2nd ed. by Judith Finlayson
Robert Rose, 2014
Definitions of healthy eating have changed quite dramatically since The Healthy Slow Cooker was first published in 2006. In those days, it was one size fits all — low fat, low calorie and no saturated fat. Since then, there’s been a shift in thinking. Many leading experts now feel that many of our modern diseases are directly associated with the consumption of wheat and advocate reducing carbohydrates. Another significant development is that the evidence against saturated fat has been gradually diminishing. All the recipes are delicious, nutrient-dense and have a balanced approach that will suit a wide variety of people. Incredibly healthy meals prepared in a slow cooker is an unbeatable combination!

Moosewood Restaurant Favorites Moosewood Restaurant Favorites by the Moosewood Collective
St. Martin’s, 2013
(Second year of hinting…)
Moosewood Restaurant, founded in 1973, revolutionized vegetarian cooking by introducing delicious soups, satisfying sandwiches, warming casseroles, zesty entrees, spiffy salads, and divine desserts. Moosewood Restaurant Favorites contains 250 of their most requested recipes completely updated and revised to reflect the way they’re cooked now—increasingly vegan and gluten-free, benefiting from fresh herbs, new varieties of vegetables, and the wholesome goodness of newly-rediscovered grains.


cover imagePlant-Powered for Life by Sharon Palmer, R.D.N.
The Experiment, 2014
Fall in love with whole plant foods and they will love you back! 52 simple steps and 125 globally inspired recipes show the way.
Fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and other plant-based foods can work wonders for your health and vitality—and they’re delicious when done right! Still, many of us don’t get enough.
Whether you’re a meat-loving omnivore or junk-food vegan, if you’ve been meaning to eat more whole plant foods, Plant-Powered for Life is here to help. Sharon Palmer, RDN, helps you set a personal goal (anything from “I will eat a plant-based meal every day” to “I will go 100 percent vegan”), then approach it at your own pace by taking 52 simple steps and cooking 125 mouthwatering recipes in any order you like.

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Disclosure: One of my daughters works for The Experiment, the publisher of But I Could Never Go Vegan!, Plant-Powered for Life and other cookbooks and nonfiction books.