Category Archives: Four Star

‘Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat’ by Bee Wilson

“The food we cook is not only an assemblage of ingredients. It is the product of technologies, past and present.”

Food writer Bee Wilson does a really great job of looking at the history of how we cook and eat; it’s a look at kitchen utensils and cooking methods that we now take for granted. The modern kitchen and its contents evolved over time around the cooking practices of their day and were dependent on a number of factors that we are most likely unaware of. With artful sketches by Annabel Lee gracing each chapter, Wilson looks into things like pots and pans, knives, fire, measurement, refrigeration, and things as simple as the humble wooden spoon, the indispensable chopping knife, and the clever vegetable peeler. The history is fascinating and Wilson’s writing style is engaging. She has done her homework and relays the information in an entertaining manner.

This is a great book for anyone who enjoys cooking and is interested in how we as humans have evolved in our domesticity (also makes me think of Bill Bryson’s book At Home). Even though it contains not a single recipe, it does provide inspiration and a new respect for being in the kitchen and cooking even a simple meal.

‘The Walk’ by Richard Paul Evans

Wow. Loved this book. Gobbled it up on the weekend and am heading for the library to pick up the next episodes in the season,….oops, I mean books in the series; there are five all together, this is the first, but they are quick reads. This is not hugely literary fiction, but very relaxing reading…like watching a TV series on Netflix. My plan is to “binge read” through the upcoming camping trip!

I love unsentimental pilgrimage adventures. It’s such a brilliantly simple premise for a novel and always so full of promise. If you liked Rachel Joyce’s Harold Fry or Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, or anything by Bill Bryson, you’ll love this one.

Alan Christoffersen has just lost the love of his life, his wife McKale. As if that weren’t enough, he also has lost his ad agency, his business partner, his house, his cars…everything really. On a whim (and as an alternative to swallowing two bottles of his wife’s left over pills) he decides the thing to do is to walk to Key West, Florida which is the furthest possible point from where he lives in Seattle, Washington. He packs up and sets off. This book has short snappy chapters. It is inspirational, humorous, and uplifting, despite the serious reasons for the journey. Feel free to walk along!

Series Book List

‘I Let You Go’ by Clare Mackintosh

A tragic accident. A past you can’t escape. Wow, what a cracking good read, an addictive twist-filled page-turner. Summer readers, pay attention to this author! I loved her book I See You, also a suspense thriller, but I liked this one even more. The title has multiple meanings at various points in the novel. Loved the clever plotting, characters I really cared about, compassionately portrayed dark issues, an authentic police investigation, pertinent side stories about the detective’s home life, and the unpredictability for the most part, except for the classic “look out, you should have seen this coming and protected yourself better” moment, when the haunted inevitably becomes the hunted, but every true thriller needs one of those right?

With this book it’s best to go in with as little information as possible to enhance the thrill of discovery, so here’s the goodreads synopsis to set up the storyline just enough…

“In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever. Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating…”

An interesting BBC interview with the author, containing no spoilers:

‘Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table with Recipes’ by Shauna Niequist

“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”

You don’t have to be a great cook of fancy food in order to have people over for a meal…trust me, I’ve been doing it for years! Even though I don’t love cooking like some people do, I have always been committed to the family dinner because it works like glue in our lives. There’s something about breaking bread and sipping wine and enjoying conversation with family, friends, or colleagues that is more than the sum total of its various parts. Whatever age your children are, whatever your home looks like, whatever you can or can’t cook (Uber eats?), being committed to at least one meal together everyday as a household and having guests often, will bring tremendous blessing to your life. Hospitality in my mind has always been about being welcoming and real and being ‘present over perfect’ which also happens to be the title of Niequist’s next book (Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living). I think I will read it but the title is almost enough already.

Shauna Niequist brings a down-to-earth perspective in her book Bread and Wine. She makes herself vulnerable with the funny and honest stories she tells about her own life with themes of hospitality, spirituality, community, food, friends, family, infertility, love, and shame, AND there is a recipe included at the end of every chapter! I loved this book and read it slowly, trying out her comforting and easy recipes along the way, many of which have already become favourites and are simple enough to memorize and/or tweak to your own tastes.

Pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy the conversation at Niequist’s table!

‘Anything is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout

This is a must-read for Elizabeth Strout fans who have read My Name is Lucy Barton. As with Olive Kitteridge, it is a collection of linked short stories featuring characters from Lucy Barton’s home town. It’s not a sequel per se, more of a companion novel, but nevertheless an amazing back story giving portraits of people living in this fictional small town. I guess she wasn’t quite done with them yet! Because it isn’t a sequel, either book could be read first. Anything is possible when one human makes an authentic connection to another. One reviewer called this book a requiem to small town pain!

“Here, among others, are the ‘Pretty Nicely Girls,’ now adults: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband, the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. Tommy, the janitor at the local high school, has his faith tested in an encounter with an emotionally isolated man he has come to help; a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD discovers unexpected solace in the company of a lonely innkeeper; and Lucy Barton’s sister, Vicky, struggling with feelings of abandonment and jealousy, nonetheless comes to Lucy’s aid, ratifying the deepest bonds of family.”

Strout is one of my favourite authors just because her stories are so real and unsentimental yet evoke such feeling and conflict. I’m not thrilled about investing in short stories, so I do expect to be drawn into a story immediately and completely, and in this Strout does not disappoint. If you are an Alice Munro fan, you’ll love Strout. They both have a way of capturing deep nuance and hope in everyday life: love and loss, reconciliation, complicated family bonds, resentments big and small, indignities, disappointments, grace, kindness, etc. and there is not necessarily a happily-ever-after or a definitive ending involved. Strout respects the reader enough to allow them to fill in some of the blanks.

‘Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family’s Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue, and Redemption’ by Vinh Chung with Tim Downs

“I am a refugee. My family went to sleep in one world and woke up in another, and more than anyone in my family I was trapped between those worlds. I was born in Vietnam, but I was not Vietnamese; I was raised in America. I grew up Asian in character but American in culture, a citizen but always a refugee. I had no lessons from the past to guide me, no right way to do things in the present, and no path to follow to the future.”

This is the incredible personal account of a refugee who fled from certain death and found flourishing life. It is a real-life rescue story, a poignant family drama, and a telling of recent world history. Many North Americans will remember the “boat people” who became thankful recipients of resettlement to a new life in a new land through resilience, determination, and many helping hands along the way. But what was it like for a young boy in a large family, suddenly separated from all he’d ever known, thrust into a different culture? Why was his Dad, who used to be a wealthy manager, now working a menial job? How would he be affected by this survival and redemption? How does a refugee see himself differently from an immigrant who chooses to leave?

Vinh Chung, originally from China, was born in South Vietnam, just eight months after it fell to the communists in 1975. His family was wealthy, controlling a rice-milling empire worth millions; but within months of the communist takeover, the Chungs lost everything and were reduced to abject poverty and forced to leave. They had no choice but to take their chances in a boat on the pirate infested waters of the South China Sea.

Rescued by a World Vision mercy ship, Chung went on to become a Fulbright Scholar, Harvard graduate, successful surgeon, and philanthropist. Chung is now a WV US board member.  The book includes some history of the early days of that organization under Stan Mooneyham and operation Seasweep. There’s a wonderful collection of photos included in the back of the book.

‘The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life’ by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher is a columnist for The American Conservative, author of several books, and blogger about topics like religion, politics, film, and culture. He was brought to his knees by the death of his little sister Ruthie. When she was diagnosed at the age of forty with a hugely aggressive cancer, Rod returned to the small town where he grew up but had left behind in his youth. When he returned, he was surprised and humbled by the great love he witnessed in the community. His relationship with this town was fraught and his ties to family sometimes misunderstood and thin. Through a hard won lesson, Dreher learned that living in a small town did not mean living a small life. Rod wrote this memoir as a tribute to his sister, being brutally honest about loss and love, faith and family, struggle and sacrifice. He tells this true story well and honestly, discovering even things about himself along the way that he did not know. What he did know in the end, was that his sister’s death taught him how to live.

I once heard American writer Rhoda Janzen speak about memoir at a writer’s conference. She said memoir should be more than the story of a life, it should point to something beyond, some further resolve or purpose. She did this beautifully in Mennonite in a Little Black Dress as does Dreher in this book.  The books are very different stories but come to very similar conclusions. Both authors, in an unsentimental and thought provoking manner, rediscover their roots and humbly realize the warmth and joy of coming home.

NPR Interview with the author:
A Grieving Brother Finds Solace in his Sister’s ‘Small Town’