It’s May and I’ve read 37 books that I’ll admit to on Good Reads. I’ve started even more that I haven’t completely read, due to a number of factors like losing interest, not being the “right time” to read it, or wearing out my loan at the (online) library.
I’ve read a lot of cookbooks. I’ve read a lot of nonfiction. I’ve read a fair amount of fiction. I’m working my way through three books at the moment: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari; Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink; and The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson.
Y’all, I know everyone and their mommas are spouting the good word of Emily Wilson’s translation, but can I just reiterate how that opening line, ‘Tell me about a complicated man,’ blew me away when I read it for the first time? I’m still reeling.
I’m not going to share every book I’ve read because you can find that information on my Good Reads account, but I am going to share my 4- and 5-star reviewed books. I’ve narrowed it down to the three categories above: fiction, nonfiction, and cookbooks.
- The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss — I love the formatting of this book. It’s got the usual narrative text and then the characters from the book interject with their own comments. You really get to know the characters and their personalities quickly. I love that the narration focuses on the women in the story; there are side characters who are men who are integral as a vehicle for the story but who also don’t overtake the story and perspective. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson make an appearance and I’m not even that mad about it. This permutation of Holmes is human and self-aware, which I think has been lacking in certain other recent Holmes. There’s enough movement in the story that you don’t get bored with the book — as the story progresses, several of the characters explain how they got to where they are now in the present setting. If you like morally corrupt scientists, a good mystery, and badass female characters, this is the book for you!
- The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright — I could not put this book down. It’s not my usual fictional fare: there’s not a queer character in sight and the characters do a lot of talking to God out loud, but the story and the mystery of Foster Hill is solid. The story alternates between a woman, Ivy, who lives in Foster Hill’s history and a woman, Kaine, who moves to the house on Foster Hill in the present day. There are little clues sprinkled throughout the book that foreshadow how the story will end, and yet even still the ending was a complete surprise. I’m pretty good at picking out how a story will go, and even I was clutching at my shirt by the climax. The characters are compelling and again, it’s another story where women take the forefront.
- The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien — I wish this book were fiction. To know that Maude lived through the atrocities acted out by her father is heartbreaking. Anyone who’s survived abuse can empathize with Maude’s plight and anyone lucky enough not to have been abused can feel how visceral and all-encompassing it is. But there’s light in this story too, even in a dark basement with rats scurrying around her feet; if Maude can turn out so kind, so caring despite the circumstances of her birth and childhood, then there is hope for the rest of us.
- And a Bottle of Rum: The History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis — So, surprise, I’m not the biggest fan of rum. Maybe you aren’t either. Read this book anyway. It’s so much more than alcohol; the history is rich and interesting. Not all of it is savory, but neither is the history of the New World. And if you’re ambitious, there are ten recipes included in the book that reflect each particular slice of history covered. Let me know how it goes.
- How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn’t Have to be Forever by Jack Horner & James Gorner — My first reaction after stumbling upon this book for the first time was, “Haven’t we all seen Jurassic Park by now? Don’t we all realize how bad of an idea this is?” It’s still my thought after reading this book. As cool as dinosaurs are, we’ve got enough issues on our hands. Jack Horner is actually the scientist who advised on dinosaurs for the Jurassic Park movies, which is fun. This book details all the fun parts of paleontology: peeking inside dinosaur eggs, extracting genes from fossils and discovering that dinosaurs and chickens are not so dissimilar, and making a chicken grow a dinosaur tail for funsies.
- The Book of Blood: From Legends and Leeches to Vampires and Veins by H.P. Newquist — This is a book aimed at upper elementary school students, but it’s so interesting that you won’t even mind. I actually recommended this book to one of my students who hates reading almost as much as he hates school, because I thought he’d be interested in it. There’s a lot of information presented in this book, from the ancient history of blood to what we’ve learned about blood in the last hundred years. Religion, mythology, medicine, and animals are all touched on in this book, so take your time in reading it.
- The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey — This book takes you on a journey: you hurt with Elisabeth Tova Bailey as she retreats into an illness that steals her strength, you find hope as she finds hope with a snail brought inside by a friend, and you learn much more about snails that you would ever imagine you would want to learn. This story is treads lightly, like a snail does, but still manages to pack an oomph that you wouldn’t expect from a common garden snail.
- Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson — If you are unfamiliar with making bread, this is probably not the best book to dive into first. The directions can be unclear, but if you do know how to make bread, you should be able to fill in the gaps. I loved the whole section he dedicates to directions on how to make a perfect loaf of bread. I appreciate the compilation of Tartine Bread recipes. The thing to remember about the breads encased in this book is that they are project breads: breads that start from carefully curated sourdough starters and breads that are elegant as well as delicious.
- Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee — This book is one part cookbook and one part story; it’s the recipe for possibly the best cookbook I read in 2018. What I love most about this book is how Edward Lee examines Southern food through the lens of his Korean heritage and culture. I know there’s this trend to skip past the author’s personal stories while reading cookbooks, but don’t do it here. The stories tie the recipes together and make the journey that much more enjoyable.
- The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten — While I was reading this cookbook, I felt like I was one of Ina Garten’s friends. After reading this cookbook, I wanted to be one of Ina Garten’s friends. I’m hoping that if I cook enough of Ina’s recipes, something mystical-magical will happen and suddenly I’ll be going to a dinner party at Ina Garten’s house, tasked with the duty of picking up cheese and fruit.
- Cravings by Chrissy Teigen — Buy the cookbook, follow Chrissy Teigen on Twitter, and submerse yourself in all the pictures tweeted at her of people who have made the recipes in this book. Thank me later.