Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

A few months ago I was reading through my April issue of Bon Appetit magazine when I stumbled upon a personal essay called “It Was Quite Possibly the Worst First Date Ever. Then I Ordered the Scallops.” It was one of the funniest things I had read in quite a while. I read it aloud – in its entirety – to my husband that night. 

At the end of the essay was a tag that really got my attention: Bonnie Garmus is the author of the novel Lessons in Chemistry, in bookstores now and soon to be a limited series on Apple TV+. I immediately added her book to my TBR list on Goodreads and Amazon (waiting for a Kindle deal or a gift card from a student). I also jumped in the queue on Libby, figuring I’d read it in the first place I could get to it. Yes, all this off of one essay about a “bad date” and a plate of scallops.

My good intentions of waiting to read this on my library card failed me, however, and when I stopped in for a haircut at my favorite shopping center, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the Barnes & Noble next door where I promptly laid down full price for the hardback. Yes, off of one essay. 

I vowed not to start reading it until my school year was over, as a treat of sorts, to celebrate the summer off. A week later, school was out and while packing for a trip to California to visit our younger daughter, I managed to refrain from packing the hardback, looking longingly at it on my nightstand as we left at the crack of dawn for our flight. 

A few days into the trip, hallelujah, an alert from Libby that I was up next on the waitlist for the ebook version! Feeling just a bit guilty about taking a copy of the ebook out of circulation when I already had purchased the hardback, I downloaded it and began reading it immediately. It only took a few lines to remind me of this author’s witty writing style and why I so loved that essay. I mean, there’s a reason this book is being adapted by Apple TV for a series starring Brie Larson!

Even with a hectic five days visiting my daughter and taking full advantage of the California weather and the largely unused pool at our hotel, I finished the book on the last day of our trip–bittersweet, I must say, because I loved this book and I hated for it to end. In fact, it is my favorite book out of all my summer reading! My obsessive googling provided me with this shocking bit of news: IT’S HER FIRST EVER NOVEL! Debut novels are not usually this good or optioned by a major streaming service or represented by the one and only wife of Stanley Tucci, literary agent Felicity Blunt, which I learned in the author’s acknowledgments.

Since this is supposed to be a book review and not a love letter from a new fan, let me say that the writing is crisp and the story moves along at a good clip. One of the things I loved most about this book is that it models one of my favorite lines: There is a lid for every pot. There is someone out there perfect for you, if only you are open to the possibility, if you are willing to compromise, if you can look past external factors and judge a person by his or her character. Unfortunately, it also models another saying I’m very familiar with: Bad things happen to good people. No spoilers here, however, you’ll have to read this book to understand this. 

The storyline is equal parts funny and poignant. The main characters are so well developed I had an entire cast list of actors that I thought would be perfect for the roles. I’m sure Brie Larson is a wonderful actress but I have pictured Emily Deschanel as Elizabeth Zott and I think Jim Parsons could easily pull off Calvin Evans. Yes, I know I am slightly typecasting both of these actors based upon their most famous roles to date, but hey, that’s what I pictured in my head while I was reading. So, I am a forever fan of Bonnie Garmus, and I will wait patiently for her next book, and the one after that, and the one after that. I highly recommend that you tuck into Lessons in Chemistry before the Apple series premiers. Check out her scallops essay while you are at it!

Book Review: Fauci, Expect the Unexpected, Ten Lessons on Truth, Service, and the Way Forward

After seeing Dr. Fauci on televised news conferences for months on end and hearing his name bantered about by both supporters and detractors, when I saw this book on the new release shelf at my library I picked it up to hear from Dr. Fauci himself.

First of all, this book is not exactly written by Dr. Fauci per se, nor was it edited by him. It is a book of excerpts from interviews and speeches that were developed (their word) by National Geographic Books in connection with a documentary also being produced by National Geographic. This is a short read,  only 96 pages, and it reads like one of those books quickly put together after a particularly good celebrity commencement speech, such as Maria Shriver’s Ten Things I Wish I’d Known … Before I Went Out into the Real World.

Each of the short chapters is titled with a life lesson and is laid out with examples from Fauci’s long historied life as a doctor, NIH scientist, and advisor to six different presidents over eleven terms of office. The title of Chapter 4 supplies the title for the collection, Expect the Unexpected. We get to learn a bit about Fauci’s childhood, education, and career choices while the book focuses primarily on his work during the HIV/AIDS crisis. Surprisingly, the very issue that made Fauci a household name, the Covid-19 pandemic, is not even mentioned in the bio on the book jacket.

I found this book interesting but not compelling. Perhaps its abbreviated format and indirect narration made it so. Fauci recently announced that he will retire at the end of this year, and perhaps he will devote some time to an autobiography that will give us a more complete picture of this interesting man.

Book Review: Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout changed my life as a reader, and more importantly, as a writer. If you read my review of Strout’s Oh William, you know that I was introduced to Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge by my local librarian. While reading Strout’s masterpiece of thirteen interwoven short stories, I finally (FINALLY) came up with a plan for my own novel, an idea I came up with a long time ago but couldn’t figure out the structure I wanted to deploy. Now, I carry Strout’s stories and words around with me, a kind of mental inspiration board designed by my own personal muse, as I work on my novel.

Since reading Olive Kitteridge and its sequel Olive, Again, I have been reading my way through Strout’s back list, including I Am Lucy Barton, the first in Strout’s Amgash series, which includes Anything is Possible (Amgash #2), Oh William mentioned above (Amgash #3) and now, Lucy by the Sea (Amgash #4), Strout’s latest novel, to be released on September 20, 2022.

Strout’s latest novel, which is set during the coronavirus pandemic, will NOT be for everyone. Some of us are still too raw and wounded by the isolation, death, and economic fallout of COVID to cozy up on the couch with a cup of tea, a warm blanket, and a 300-page novel about the stress and anxiety we have all been through since March of 2020. Add to that the election of November, 2020, the BLM protests, and the subsequent political upheaval of January 6, 2021, and honestly, this book should have a few trigger warnings on the cover: miscarriage, divorce, adultery, isolation, riots, loneliness, aging, and yes, death.

Yet, I loved this book. At times, I felt like Elizabeth Strout had rented space in my head for her pandemic writing room. If you read books 1-4 of the Amgash series you know that Lucy had a terrible childhood, and that is an understatement. She is STILL carrying that baggage around, even when she packs her small purple rolling suitcase to leave NYC as the pandemic cranks up and her scientist ex-husband William insists she go to Maine with him to ride out the attack of the coronavirus. He occasionally has to remind her that he is trying to save her life. 

Once in Maine, she is a duck out of water, seemingly calm above the water but paddling furiously below it. She longs for the hustle and bustle of the city, even as she takes her daily walks along the rocky coastline of Crosby, Maine, even as she admires the beauty and majesty of the ocean. She doesn’t talk about whether she is reading much, or even writing much, unlike Strout, who managed to write this book during the same international pandemic her main character was living through. Instead of using her writing to help move her through her anxiety over the pandemic, her relationship with her ex-husband William, her grown daughters and their own marriage issues, she suffers sleepless nights, her only consolation to her angst is her near constant conversations with “the nice mother I had made up,” as opposed to her dark thoughts of her “real mother, not the nice one I made.” How sad is that?

I had what I think most would call a “normal childhood,” and I loved my mother dearly. She struggled with showing her emotions but I am sure she loved me dearly, too, but I too have my baggage, and some nights I am restless, unpacking and repacking the effects of Hurricane Katrina on my family, as well as a few personal demons that periodically visit me. Lucy at one point says, “Everyone needs to feel important.” This is yet another example of where Strout creates a character with elements that really resonate with me. As a veteran teacher with retirement on the horizon, I fear that once I am not a teacher, in my middle school language arts classroom, shaping readers and guiding young writers, will I still feel important? 

As the world went on lock down, many felt listless, wandering from room to room in sweats, watching CNN on repeat, learning how to Zoom, trying to work from home. If Lucy by the Sea wanders around a bit, like all of us during lock down, I’m okay with that. If Lucy rehashes all the pains and pangs of her life, and Strout rehashes bits and bobs of other story lines, I’m okay with that. As a relatively new–but avid–fan of Strout’s, I’m okay with it all, as long as she keeps writing.  

(Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the advanced e-book.)

Book Review: The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook by Coco Morante

At what point when reading a cookbook do you make the decision to just go ahead and purchase a copy for yourself?

Wait, you don’t read cookbooks? I do. I check out bags of them from the library and read them cover to cover like my favorite mysteries or biographies. Sometimes I jot down a recipe or two and sometimes I just read them and return them. But, every now and then, one comes along that screams to me, “You must own this book.” Coco Morante’s bible on Instant Pot cooking is one of those!

Amazon Prime Day I took the plunge and ordered myself an Instant Pot. I haven’t used it yet, but after reading this cookbook, I am all set to give it a whirl! And, by the time I got to Risotto with Lemon and Peas on page 43, I had decided I needed to buy myself a copy of this cookbook.

The introduction is packed with information for the Instant Pot newbie. The directions are clear and concise, giving me the confidence to try pressure cooking for the first time. The recipes are both familiar and new at the same time. Irish Beef and Root Vegetable Stew (page 85), sure, a standard. Korean Braised Beef Short Ribs (page 89), can’t wait to try it!

Growing up near New Orleans, I’ve decided to christen my Instant Pot with a pot of red beans. While this book has lots of great info and recipes on cooking beans in the Instant Pot, I’m going to try the recipe on the Camellia website. I use Camellia red beans whenever I can (which means when I order them on Amazon), so I’m thinking the Cajun Nation has experimented with this classic standard and given it a thumbs up.

Do you have an Instant Pot? What is your favorite, go-to recipe when using it? Please post below!

While I love spending lots of time in the kitchen–it’s my way to relax–I’m hoping the Instant Pot helps me put healthy home-cooked meals on the table faster after a long day of teaching. I’ll report back when I have enough data to confirm! Stay tuned and happy cooking, whether in an Instant Pot, a slow cooker or on the stovetop!

Book Review: Murder in a Teacup by Vicki Delany

Guilty as charged: I judged this book entirely by its cover. I had not heard of Vicki Delany before I saw this book on the “librarian’s picks” shelf at my local library, but a cover with a table set for afternoon tea in the foreground, a cat sleeping on a windowsill, and sailboats in the background, well, to quote Rodgers and Hammerstein, these are a few of my favorite things. I love a good cozy mystery so I threw this one into my already too full book bag.

Vicki Delany is a prolific author with over 40 books to her credit, mostly cozy mysteries. Murder in a Teacup (Kensington, July 2021), a quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed, is actually the second in a series, so I have to go back now and find #1, Tea and Treachery (Kensington, July 2020), to get the back story on some of the characters from #2. Book #3 in the Tea by the Sea series, Murder Spills the Tea (also Kensington) will be out later this month. Sign me up, I’m hooked on the capers, pun intended ;-), that protagonist Lily Roberts gets into. 

Delany did a good job of giving me enough background on the recurring characters to set the stage for this second installment of the series. Lily Roberts is a professional pastry chef who left her home and work in Manhattan to run a tearoom on the estate of her grandmother’s Victorian bed and breakfast inn on Cape Cod. In a subtle nod to one of my favorite British television comedies, Keeping Up Appearances, where the main character Hyacinth has three sisters, Rose, Daisy, and Violet (room for a pony IYKYK), Lily’s grandmother is Rose while her own mother’s name is Petunia.

A sudden death in a hotel is bad enough, but when it comes to light that the guest had just eaten in the hotel’s tearoom, the police storm in and clean out the tearoom’s kitchen of the already prepared foods as well as all the ingredients stored for future bakes. Lily and her best friend Bernie, with the unsolicited assistance of Rose, have no choice but to try to clear the name of the tearoom and inn before the locked doors put them all out of business.

I’ve never been to Cape Cod but the setting of this book makes me wish for a stay in a Victorian inn with its very own British tearoom, where I could sit on the veranda reading a cozy mystery, and later take an after-dinner walk along the pier to get an ice cream cone while listening to the waves crash along the shore. Until then, I’ll lap up Vicki Delany’s Tea by the Sea series and dream on.

The Keys of My Life

Friday, June 10, 2022, was the last day of school where I taught upper school religion this year. Today I will turn in my school keys and walk out of the door as a retired teacher–again.

If you follow me on my website or on social media, you may have seen my personal essay “I Loved Being A Classroom Teacher: Covid 19 Stole That From Me” published by HuffPost on January 11, 2021.  At the time, I was so upset to leave my classroom against my will that I couldn’t even say “retired” out loud.

This time is a little different. This time I made the decision, after much discussion with my family, to retire from the classroom. I’m 99% sure I’m happy with my decision, although today when I turn in my keys, I can’t promise I won’t be teary-eyed and second-guessing myself.

What is it about turning in a set of keys that makes me so upset? In the summer of 2020 when I turned in my keys after deciding not to teach pre-vaccine during the pandemic, I was shattered. I walked next door to the church and sat in the quiet, cool, stillness, and prayed that I was making the right decision. This time, I’m not quite at that stage but, still, I’m not looking forward to handing them over.

Even with all of the technology available to us today, keys still play an important part in our daily lives. Keys to our cars (even with fobs to unlock them, and in some cases, to start them, too). Keys to our houses (even with keypads and auto-opening garage doors). Keys to gym lockers (not that I would actually know about that, lol). Keys to our workplaces, which for me has always been a place of order, efficiency, and professionalism. I might have to turn my house upside down to find something, but at work, not a chance. Twenty-four years as a paralegal and eighteen years in education, and I’ve always left for the day with my desk cleared off, files in order, and everything ready for the next day of work or teaching.

My parents lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. Anything that wasn’t in the trunk of their car when they evacuated to Houston in 2005 was gone, a victim of the ravaging waters of the Mississippi River as it breached the levee north of their home in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. When they drove away on that fateful day heading for a La Quinta Inn in The Woodlands, Texas, they both had their house keys with them. Months later, when they were finally able to drive into my hometown, those house keys were a bitter symbol of what was lost, a five-bedroom, three-bathroom, two-car garage home nowhere to be found. 

We spent two glorious years in Belgium for my husband’s work. We loved the house that we lived in. Our landlord was a genteel, older man who had built the house himself, in the “American-style” he was so proud to tell me. When we moved back to the States, I somehow managed to leave with an extra house key in my jewelry box. I found it months later when our sea shipment arrived. This time, that key is a symbol of happy memories of a lovely home in a foreign country learning so much about Belgium and her people and culture.

I started working right after graduation from college in 1978, and except for those two years in Belgium where I volunteered daily in the school, I’ve been employed ever since. I’ve always had “work keys” on a separate key chain, hanging from a lanyard so I could distinguish them from my “home keys.” After 42 years of working, why is it so hard to turn in these keys?

My husband keeps reminding me of all the things I love to do that I never have time for: writing, cooking, reading, crafts, and swimming. Turning in these keys means I will have time for those things, along with more time to “relax,” which he says I don’t know how to do. I feel quite differently about that. Work has always given me the discipline I needed to get things accomplished. Without a schedule, I worry that I will just spin my wheels and waste time. I have two book ideas I’ve had for years (decades if I’m honest) and now I will have time to actually attempt to get those ideas out of my head and onto paper. 

While most people look forward to retirement and count down the days of being free of a 9-5 schedule, I have been actively trying to wiggle my way into a part-time job. But, I know deep down that I need to just let it go (key the music). Getting these thoughts out of my head and into essay form is my way of dealing with all the feelings I am having, the shoulda-woulda-coulda feelings. As my younger daughter said, “So proud of your run, Mom.” I’m proud of it, too. So, I’ll just hand in those keys, turn the page, and start a new chapter. Wish me luck!

Book Review: Love & Saffron by Kim Fay

If books were people, and if Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin married 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, and if those two book-people had a baby, it would be Love & Saffron by Kim Fay, and that baby’s godmother would be Ruth Reichl. 

I devoured this book in one day. Granted I was in a hotel room with a crying baby in the room on one side of me and a barking dog in the room on the other side of me and the roiling ocean waves off my balcony were the OG white noise machine soothing away my frustration at the poor weather conditions for my short getaway to the beach on my Easter break from teaching. 

On my first day at the beach I visited the town’s independent bookstore and purchased one book of fiction (Love & Saffron) and one of nonfiction (Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson). Opting for the fiction first, I started Kim Fay’s short epistolary novel after breakfast this morning. My husband and I took a walk up and down the boardwalk and the wind and chill factor drove us back inside and back to our books. I was not unhappy, lol.

My first epistolary piece of literature, like many, was probably Diary of a Young Girl. When I started teaching, I discovered Karen Cushman’s masterpiece Catherine, Called Birdy. Of course I read Helen Fielding’s bevy of Bridget Jones’ works and stumbled upon a rather dry piece called Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday which was a glorious gem of cinematography when adapted for film starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. Eventually I discovered The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and I realized with great clarity that I loved books told through letters or diary entries.

So, perusing the shelves in the bookstore on Monday, I noticed this slim volume on the staff picks’ shelf. The short description drew me in: a story of food and friendship, of love and loss. Yes please.

With its bright cover and clocking in at just 193 pages, you might be fooled into thinking this was a beach read. You would be wrong. Set in the early 1960s with the drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the trauma of JFK’s subsequent assassination, Love & Saffron starts off innocently enough with a fan letter from a devoted female reader to a female columnist on the other side of the country. The letter is sent along with a small packet of saffron and a recipe of sorts for mussels steamed in a vermouth and saffron sauce. As the correspondence continues between these two women, much different in age and personality, a true friendship develops. In the span of the four years covered by the novel, we watch the friendship develop into a mutual love and respect for one another. In much the same way that Olive Kitteridge grows and evolves in Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Imogen Fortier, as well as her husband Francis, also grows and evolves as a result of her correspondence with Joan Bergstrom. Imogen realizes that along with her unadventurous palate, she has not really given life a chance. Joan’s openness to foreign cuisines, international travel, and inclusivity begins to work its magic on Imogen. And, as quid pro quo, Joan’s confidence in herself as a writer and as a food expert, blossoms.

No spoilers here. The cover says “A novel of friendship, food, and love,” but there is loss as well and when it comes it tears a hole in your heart. That sadness is worth it, however. Imogen, Francis, and Joan all grow and evolve and live richer lives as a result of that one simple fan letter and a small packet of saffron. 

Book Review: The Hygge Holiday by Rosie Blake

For two years I lived in a small town near Brussels, Belgium, and seeking to make friends, I joined an international cooking club. There were twelve members, and we were each assigned a month where we hosted the entire group for lunch, with foods from our own culture. Each month was new and exciting, learning about the cuisines of the places represented by our membership. 

I have very fond memories of the month when we lunched at the home of our Danish member. I had been to Copenhagen as a high school student, but my memories of those few hours in the capital were mostly of the Hotel Lawrence, a ship converted into a floating hotel, and of course, the Little Mermaid, where we all posed in the bright summer sun for photos with her.

My Danish luncheon however, was something I won’t soon forget. Bright, airy, and minimalist in decor, her home was a respite from the loud city noises and busy traffic. Lightly stained and highly polished wood furniture was softened by flickering candles and plush cushions. Her dining room had been stripped of chairs, anchored solely by a long teak table, unadorned but completely covered with platters of food—my first experience with a true smorgasbord.

After a brief welcome and a toast to our ongoing friendships, she instructed us in how to build the perfect open-faced sandwich of brown bread, soft sweet butter, pickled herring, and a topping of dill-specked cream. It is almost as though I can still taste it, nearly twenty years later: the contrast of textures, the brinieness of the herring, the sweetness of the butter and the cream, accentuated and brightened by lemon and dill. 

If you’ve read any of my essays here on my website you know I was born and raised in southeast Louisiana, and I know a thing or two about seafood. There is nothing that comes from the water that I don’t love, but this was my first taste of pickled herring…and I adored it. When teaching the book Number the Stars by Lois Lowry set in Denmark to my 6th grade literature class one year, I talked so much about that little open-faced sandwich that I had to make good on a promise to bring in brown bread and pickled herring for them all to try.

In 2003, I had never heard of the concept of hygge, although now it is so prevalent in pop culture it made its way to a Jeopardy clue on a recent episode. When I saw the title The Hygge Holiday listed on Amazon’s Kindle deals, I decided it was just the thing that would drag me out of a reading slump, and boy, was I right.

This quick read by Rosie Blake is a delightful example of how hygge worked to bring a dilapidated Suffolk village back to life, resuscitating even the recalcitrant son of the gypsy toy store owner who has left her flat and toy store in the capable and creative hands of Danish wanderer Clara. How and why Clara has ended up in a tiny village in Suffolk slowly unfurls as the story tightens around her relationship with the villagers and London financier Joe, Louisa’s son. 

While the plot and much of the story line is well-known, the beauty of this book is the deft balance of humor and loss. Blake’s writing really shines in her dialogue, both dialogue between Clara and Joe as well as their individual internal dialogue. 

While most British literature leaves me gasping for a cuppa’ tea, this charming novel left me reminiscing about that small open-faced sandwich of pickled herring on brown bread!

Family Food Traditions

In mid-December, I added a bag of mixed nuts – in their shells – to my holiday shopping list. My husband, the shopper in the family, called to verify, “Do you want salted or unsalted?” I tried to explain that you rarely find nuts salted while still in their shells. Finally he understood and brought me a bag of mixed nuts – still in their shells – unsalted of course. They were dumped into my fluted snowman pie plate. I searched high and low for my little metal nutcracker but it was nowhere to be found. It was always in the white lazy susan utensil holder on my counter top. 

My mom always had a bag of nuts in their shells in a bowl around the holidays. I can remember sitting with my dad, sharing the nutcracker, passing it back and forth, cracking and peeling walnuts, almonds, pecans, and whatever else was in the bag. Somehow, dumping those nuts in my snowman bowl means the holidays have officially begun, and I am whisked back to that activity with my dad. 

We all have food traditions that we inherit from our parents, and for those who are lucky, from our grandparents. Three of my four grandparents died long before I was born, and I have only limited memories of my dad’s mother who died a month after my sixth birthday. “Big Mama,” as she was called even though she was pretty small, would give me a little treat if I ran the gauntlet from the driveway to her door without crying. Many a day I was pecked by the rooster in her yard, which always won me a few squares of a Hershey Bar, because it was my favorite candy at the time (still love them), but also because a square of “chocolate flavored” ExLax could be mixed in with the real thing and I would fall for that every single time. Is it just the south (or perhaps just Louisiana) that a person’s overall state of health is judged by whether you had a bowel movement today?

Another food tradition was sharing an avocado with my dad. He would cut it in half and twist it, taking out the pit, and putting each half on a saucer. He would drizzle a little olive oil and red wine vinegar in the little hole, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and hand me a saucer and a spoon. We’d have that as our “salad” before dinner. No one else in my family liked avocados so that was always our shared treat. I still eat mine that way today, and I never fail to think of my dad when I do, symbolically offering up the other half to his memory. Boy, do I miss him.

My mom’s favorite snack wasn’t something I liked, so I never had a handful of Cheez-Its on a paper towel, which she liked to balance on the arm of the sofa while she watched Ellen in the afternoon. I don’t know for sure if I dislike Cheez-Its or not, but the overly cheesy smell of them in the box put me off so I’ve never actually tried one. Anyway, I have too many things on my list of snacks that I love (too much) to add anything new to that list. 

Afternoon coffee was a big thing in my parents’ home, especially if one or both of them had taken a nap. Coffee was always made fresh post-nap. Sooner or later, my dad’s sister, my Aunt Helen, would drive up, or my dad would call her and tell her to come over for coffee. Something was always found to be put out with the coffee, a few store-bought cookies, some pretzels, or if we were lucky, a slice of cake my cousin Penny had baked. We also had fresh coffee after dinner most nights, when my mom would have an extra piece of French bread, with butter and a little jelly, and if no bread was left, she’d have a few Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, with a light smear of butter on top of each one. Don’t gasp, just try it. Store-bought cookies need all the help they can get, and my mom believed a touch of sweet butter was just the thing. Boy, do I miss her.

Somehow, though, the Cheez-It gene skipped me and went straight to my younger daughter, who shocked me when she requested a box of them when I asked her what snacks to buy for her trip home this Christmas. Rest assured they were purchased; she could have asked for dust from the moon’s surface and I would have found a way to have it here for when she arrived. She had not been home since Christmas of 2019, as fear of covid forced us to cancel her trip home Christmas of 2020. Her asthma put her in a higher risk category, and as much as we missed her, we just wouldn’t take that chance. Of course we Facetime’d and Zoom’d all of this time, but loading up the kitchen counter with her favorite snacks was a small price to pay for actually hugging her and holding her close. Thank you science, it was because of her two doses of Moderna and the more recent booster, that we felt safe enough having her fly in from Los Angeles. We are back to Facetime and Zoom for our visits, with hopes of seeing her again in person this summer.

Speaking of that younger daughter, a few days in during our Christmas visit, an Amazon package arrived for me. Inside, a complete set of nutcracker tools. Even though she doesn’t sit and crack and peel nuts with me, she ordered this set for me, and now these new (and much improved) tools will remind me each holiday season of her as well as my dad. Boy, do I miss her. 

Book Review: Jazz Age Cocktails by Cecelia Tichi

Don’t be confused by the title of this book. Yes, it is about cocktails popular during the Jazz Age, but this is not just a book of cocktail recipes. It is a history book, a book of US social history during the time of Prohibition, with recipes for the cocktails of the day sprinkled throughout. And, that’s a good thing, a very good thing.

Jazz Age Cocktails is well-written, well-researched, and well-illustrated. In the “spirit” of the subject matter, it is not dry or flat, but told with a strong narrative, dropping famous names right and left. I particularly enjoyed the sections giving us a peek in the lives of the lost generation.

I really enjoyed this book. As a long-time middle school English and literature teacher, I loved the chapters that delved into the lives of Ernest Hemingway and his frenemy F. Scott Fitzgerald. I also enjoyed Fitzgerald’s RSVP to an invitation to a cocktail party, where he conjugated the word cocktail as a verb, demonstrating his mettle with the English language.

Cecelia Tichi’s mettle with the English language is also on display with this book, and I look forward to reading more of her work, including her Kate Banning mystery series, perhaps while sipping a Cat’s Pajamas, a recipe that stirred (never shaken!) my interest in Tichi’s latest book.

Thank you to NetGalley for a digital ARC of this book.