I have a love/hate relationship with the slow, long month of January. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it's nice to take a little breather. On the other hand, I often find myself looking forward to my birthday in February, and in March, the (typical) arrival of spring in South Carolina, when things start picking back up again - and this year is no exception.
So I've been mostly grateful to have some slow days, some snow days, and a lot of really cold days to snuggle up and read and rest and keep growing this little nugget that's going to make our spring explosive and crazy. These are all fantastic books, and I highly recommend them.
The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn. I have always loved WWII/Holocaust literature. I'm not sure why it intrigues me so much - maybe because of my childhood American Girl Doll, Molly - but it does. The Alice Network is a great addition to the genre. It alternates between the stories of two women, a spy during WWI and a pregnant girl slightly after WWII. Usually I don't love alternate-viewpoint books, but this one was done really well. I was eager to get back to each story after reading a chapter of the other story. Quinn does a great job of portraying the realities of war without becoming too maudlin or sensationalist, and her main characters are complex and likeable. Overall, I'd highly recommend this book. 4/5 stars.
L'Appart*, by David Lebovitz. I was particularly excited about this book because I have David's cookbook, My Paris Kitchen, and I've read his book A Sweet Life in Paris. Plus, well...I'm a sucker for anything France-related. But I had the hardest time getting into this book. It's (mainly) about his struggles to buy and renovate an apartment in Paris, but he often goes off-topic, discussing other aspects of the city and of Parisians, before going back to the real estate problems. The book is jumpy and doesn't flow well at all. About halfway through, I got a little more into it (or maybe just got used to the disjointed prose?), and I did enjoy it, although the problems he had over and over and over again made MY blood pressure rise. Lebovitz is funny, and his recipes are great - they're the best part of the book. But as far as the story went, this one was just okay. I give it 3/5 stars.
*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.
French Country Cooking, by Mimi Thorisson. I didn't set out to review this. It's a cookbook, and this space is typically reserved for more traditional books, usually novels. But when I found myself curled up on the sofa over a couple of weeks reading this book cover to cover, recipes included, I figured I needed to add it to this list. It's that good. This was my Christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law, and holy potatoes, Batman, it. is. perfect.
The book is half cookbook, half stories about Thorisson's family's villa and restaurant in the Medoc region of Bordeaux, France (a favorite place of ours). It's completed with gorgeous illustrations and recipes that we would actually make. That's what really stunned me about this cookbook. So many times I buy pretty, glossy cookbooks with the best of intentions, but the recipes just aren't practical for us. But apparently we really absorbed some Frenchness during our six months in the country, at least as it relates to food, because I could see us making at least half these recipes, probably more. The ingredients aren't outlandish (at least, to us), and most of the cooking techniques are simple. I was downright sad when I got to the end of this cookbook, and immediately wanted to start cooking. So far, we've made five recipes from this book, and haven't yet been disappointed. If you're looking to up your dinner (or lunch, or dessert, or cocktail!) game in 2018, look no further than this amazing book. And I speak from experience when I say that it makes an excellent gift ;) 5/5 stars.
Poser, by Claire Dederer. Poser is, essentially, a story about a woman's journey doing yoga. It weaves in her current life as wife and mother, as well as her childhood and back story. The story was a bit slow to start, and I really struggled to care about the chapters of her bizarre childhood, but she won my heart and attention with this quote about pregnancy:
"My body had become pure receptacle, not just for the growing baby but for the opinions, analysis, and rules of everyone around me. I found that I did not like this one bit" (emphasis mine).
I mean, can I get an AMEN? Because seriously, if one more person tells me what I should do with my body or my baby, it's going to get ugly. But I digress. While the stories of Dederer's own upbringing weren't my favorite, I really loved her thoughts on modern motherhood and on yoga. It's an easy-to-read book that highlights one woman's quest to make sense of life. 4/5 stars.
Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel. One of my goals for 2018 is to read at least one book a month about a culture that I'm unfamiliar with, as a way to branch out of my Western European, Franco-centric wheelhouse (I mean, I feel I've earned my preferences, having lived in - and loved - the country, but still). This is my inaugural book - a story about a girl in Mexico at the turn of the century whose true love is thwarted thanks to her domineering mother. Instead, she finds solace in the kitchen.
Several reviewers compared it favorably to Chocolat, one of my hands-down, all-time favorite books, and that's where I was a little disappointed. While this does have an element of magical realism, it's a little more out-there than Chocolat and harder to believe. Also, the monthly "chapters" are confusing, because the story doesn't align with the months. And while there are some mentions of political instability and war within Mexico, I wish the author had done a better job tying in the historical aspects with the story. As someone who knows virtually nothing about Mexican history, it would have been nice for her to have gone deeper
Still, the story itself is fantastic, and the characters are all well developed. If you don't love Tita and hate Mama Elena, then you're just wrong. Overall, it's a good book that ties in one young woman's love of the kitchen with her quest for true love and a happy life. 4/5 stars.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. There's no extra cost to you, but if you purchase one of these books I may earn a small commission. Thanks in advance!