When an ARC arrives at my house, it usually goes in the stack of ARCs waiting to be read. But recently, I have cut down on ARC requests and have beenWhen an ARC arrives at my house, it usually goes in the stack of ARCs waiting to be read. But recently, I have cut down on ARC requests and have been diligently making my way through them. I’m pretty sure I only have one left in the stack to read. So, when The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister arrived on Tuesday, it was serendipitous timing - I had just finished Blindspot, and hadn’t picked up another book yet.
I started it Tuesday night, staying up way too late reading. It grabbed me immediately, the food metaphors rolling around in my brain and making me hungry. Bauermeister’s writing is lyrical and heady, and drew me right into the stories of these strangers who come together to take a cooking class.
The class is facilitated by Lillian, a chef and restaurant owner. Every Monday night, the class gathers in her restaurant’s kitchen, surrounded by the sights and smells of sweet and savory ingredients. The book is written almost as a collection of short stories, although I don’t think any chapter could stand on it’s own - each person’s story needs the frame of Lillian’s story in the prologue and epilogue, as well as the stories of the other characters. There is Antonia, the single kitchen decorator who misses her native Italy; Carl and Helen, the long-married couple whose love has endured much; Chloe, the clumsy waitress who is trying to come into her own; Ian, the young man who sees life as an experiment to be tried; Isabelle, a woman who is entering the winter of her life; Claire, the wife and mother of young children looking for something to call her own; and Tom, the widower still grieving the loss of his beloved.
Lillian has an uncanny knack for knowing just what her students need. As each Monday’s class brings an essential ingredient to the group, relationships are forged, changed, and healed. This is a short book - around 240 pages - and I could have gobbled it up in one sitting, but instead I forced myself to savor it over a few days. I will be watching eagerly for Bauermeister’s next foray into fiction.
Last year, I read Debra Ginsberg’s memoir, About My Sisters. As a woman who also has three sisters, the memoir resonated with me, and has stuck with mLast year, I read Debra Ginsberg’s memoir, About My Sisters. As a woman who also has three sisters, the memoir resonated with me, and has stuck with me since then. When asked to review Ms. Ginsberg’s latest novel, The Grift, I was happy to oblige.
The Grift is the story of Marina Marks, a woman working in Florida as a psychic. She doesn’t believe in psychic abilities, but she uses her keen observation skills and intuition about human relationships to tell her clients what they want to hear. She makes a pretty good living at it, even if she’s deceiving the people she’s helping about the nature of her observations.
When some competition and persecution from other psychics and gypsies force Marina to move from Florida to Southern California, she sets up a prosperous business and is well on her way to her goal of retiring in comfort before age 40. But then a mysterious man shows up who throws a wrinkle into her plans. Not only does she find herself immensely attracted to him, but she suddenly starts having premonitions and visions that she had never had before. Marina has to come to terms with her grift, her gift, and her future.
It took me a while to be drawn into this book. I enjoyed the eclectic group of characters that made up Marina’s clientele, but I wasn’t really compelled to keep reading until Gideon arrived. When he showed up, and along with him, the manifestation of Marina’s true psychic abilities, I was hooked and couldn’t stop reading. I stayed up until almost 1 am finishing it.
As the mystery unfolds, I was sure I knew who the culprit was, but Ms. Ginsberg managed to keep me guessing until the last possible minute. While the ending wasn’t fairytale happy, it ended with resolution for Marina’s story and hope for her future.
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland is a reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Set in 14th century England, during a time of fear, religiousCompany of Liars by Karen Maitland is a reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Set in 14th century England, during a time of fear, religious power, and superstition, it is the story of nine travelers trying to escape the Plague. As they travel inland, it becomes apparent that each one carries a secret. One by one, the secrets are exposed, with deadly consequences.
There is Zophiel, the traveling magician whose wagon full of boxes is a constant source of worry. No one knows what is in them, but there seems to be someone following them who does.
Osmond and Adela, a young couple expecting their first child, also travel with the group. They seem to be of too high a class to be traveling with the wanderers.
Rodrigo and Jofre are musicians from Italy. Jofre has a hot head and a taste for wine, as he drinks to get away from his own secrets.
Pleasance is a midwife who hides her true identity, while helping to keep the travelers healthy and caring for Adela in her pregnancy.
Narigorm is a white-haired child who enchants everyone who meets her - but there is a darkness in her.
The story is narrated by Camelot, a traveling peddler who sells saints’ relics and artifacts. We see and experience the story through Camelot’s eyes and ony at the end do we realize that his secret is the biggest of all.
Karen Maitland is an amazing writer who digs into the faults and weaknesses of human nature, the things that people prefer to keep hidden. She uses the child Narigorm as a catalyst for the characters to confront their true natures, for better or for worst. The results are disturbing, mystical, and all too believable.
Even though I wasn’t completely crazy about this book, I kept reading because of the quality of Maitland’s writing, and because I wanted to see how it would end. She does an excellent job of slowly revealing the truths about the nine travelers, piece by piece. The religion and superstition that permeate the book create an eery atmosphere that becomes terrifying as the book progresses - culminating in an ending that made me shiver. Though the ending was clever in that way, I still didn’t care for the twist. But that’s just me - and I would still recommend this to any lovers of historical fiction.