Don’t Like The News? Take Refuge In The Past.

Author and FOFriend, Linda Wolfe, recommends three books for Summer 2017.

FOF award-winning author, Linda Wolfe, recently published her powerful book, My Daughter, Myself: An Unexpected Journey. She has published eleven books and has contributed to numerous publications including New York Magazine, The New York Times, and served the board of the National Book Critics Circle for many years. Her latest reviews capture everything from 1960s Kabul to present-day hostages in Somalia.

This season’s a hot time for historical fiction. Agitation over our own dismaying times is probably the major factor. Who doesn’t want to escape from our turbulent present into the past?  

But something else is going on, too. Publishers are offering a number of historical novels that could just as easily be termed not “Historical Fiction” but “Literary Fiction.” I like to think we owe thanks for this to Hillary Mantel, who dragged historical fiction from its genre cage alongside Romance into the realm of the literary novel.  The books reviewed below, while none approaches the stature of Wolf Hall or Bring up the Bodies, are all literary novels, that is, literary historical novels. And I must say I was really glad to immerse myself for a time away from the turmoils in Washington DC and London and Riyadh, and go off to Dickensian London, Ancient Greece, and even post-World War II Germany.   

by Jessica Shattuck
William Morrow.

Absorbing and immensely interesting, The Women in the Castle is set in Germany in the turbulent days immediately following the end of World War II.  Shattuck’s heroine,  Marianne von Lingenfels, an exceedingly rational and competent aristocrat, has promised a dear friend who is leading a plot to assassinate Hitler that if he and the other conspirators fail and are executed, she will look after their wives and children.  The assassination plot does fail (as did the real life Officers Plot to kill Hitler, on which it is based).  Marianne, whose husband was part of the plot, is widowed, and she sets out to keep her promise to the leader of the group and take care of the other widows.  She manages to rescue two women, the beautiful Benita from a Soviet officer who is keeping her in a brothel, and the stoic Ania, who is languishing in a Displaced Persons camp. Marianne brings them and their children to live with her in her family’s castle and helps them recover from their traumas.  But Benita, who had been married to the heroic leader of the plot, the man to whom Marianne had given her promise, falls in love with a former Nazi working on the estate, and Ania turns out to have been lying about her past. She wasn’t married to one of the men trying to get rid of Hitler; in fact she was a Nazi herself.  As Marianne slowly discovers these unnerving things about the women whose care she has undertaken, the plot grows taut and eventful, and the issues facing Marianne become ever more tangled and disturbing.

Shattuck published two excellent novels before The Women in the Castle.  But the reason this one works as spectacularly as it does is because Shattuck’s own maternal grandmother was a former Nazi, an early participant in Hitler’s Youth Movement.  She has written in an essay about her grandmother, “’We didn’t know’ was a kind of mantra for her on the long walks we took when I visited her at the farm she lived on, not far from where she grew up.  ‘But didn’t you hear what Hitler was saying?’ I would ask, grappling with the moral paradox of a loving grandmother who had been a Nazi.”  Her years of grappling have paid off.  In The Women, she brings to this moral paradox a rare and insightful perspective, within the pages of an exciting and eventful novel.


by Sarah Shoemaker
Grand Central.

Rebooting and revisiting an admired classic novel has been a popular pursuit of fiction writers for well over a hundred and fifty years.  Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre has been a particular favorite.  The book was first published in 1847 and according to my friend Anne Humpherys, Victorian scholar and Bronte mavin, authors started publishing their own takes on Jane’s story as early as 1850.  Since then, we’ve had prequels, sequels, versions with sex added, versions with religiosity removed, and reboots that set out to provide the backstory of other characters in the tale besides Jane.    

Only a few of the hundreds of Jane Eyre-retellings have risen to the status of classics in their own right.  Jean Rhy’s Wide Sargasso Sea, does – and if you’ve never read it, run, do not walk, to your Kindle.  Rhys, Caribbean born and bred, imagines the story of Cariibbean-born and bred Bertha Mason, the madwoman Rochester keeps locked up in the tower of his manor house, and how she came to be mad.    

Now there’s another quite compelling redo, one that gives us the past of another of the main characters in the original: Mr. Rochester, who is blinded in the fire set by Bertha, and pining for Jane, who has disappeared. In a work that is engagingly Dickensian, Shoemaker invents Mr. R’s neglected childhood, his eccentric education, his years of having to work at a clothing mill, and only then, ah hah and at last, his voyage to Jamaica, where he is tricked into marrying Bertha.  

Up to this point, Shoemaker’s story is exceedingly original, not cleaving to anything much in Jane Eyre, as there isn’t anything much about Rochester’s youth in Jane Eyre.  But once the man marries Bertha and returns to England with her, we’re back in Jane Eyre territory, and what happens, though told from Rochester’s perspective, will be familiar.  

Maybe too familiar.  I liked best the first two-thirds of Mr. Rochester, when Shoemaker’s wonderful imagination was on display. I was less enthusiastic about the last third, where the story comes right out of the beloved classic.  But while this last third may be lacking in originality plotwise, the plotline it is following is such a terrific, tragic and timeless one that it seems rather pointless to quibble.            


by Colm Tòibin

The ancient Greek myth about Agamemnon, who cruelly sacrificed his own daughter, Iphigenia, to further his ambitions, thereby setting up a series of revenge assassinations within his family, is a chiller. It’s been thousands of years since the playwright Aeschylus wrote his version of the myth, and told it so well that in 658 B.C., his Oresteia won first prize at the Dionysus Festival, ancient Greece’s equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival.  Aeschylus’s retelling was followed a bit later, in 413 B.C., by an equally great, quite different, version of the myth by the equally great playwright Euripedes.  And since those hoary old days, the story has been told and retold innumerable times by innumerable, albeit lesser, writers.

Now, Colm Tòibin has taken his shot at it.  With compelling prose, he writes about how Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, is traumatized by witnessing the cruel demise of their daughter, and decided to wreak vengeance by killing her husband.  But once he has Clytemnestra do away with Agammemnon and turns to what followed upon this killing  — the murder of Clytemnestra by her and Agammemnon’s son, Orestes, who is egged on by his sister,Electra, Tòibin begins to stumble.  According to the myth, Orestes vanished in childhood after the killing of Iphigenia, only reappearing in Athenian society once he was a grown man, capable of violence and revenge.  Where was he till then?  It’s a mystery.

Tòibin attempts to solve the mystery.  He has little Orestes being kidnapped and placed in a school that resembles a Victorian horror.  The students are forced to write down one another’s sins on slates, so that the sinners can be brutally beaten by their faceless captors, and they must never speak to one another.  They must observe silence at all times.  

Given all the silence, the school scenes are very sterile.  So is what follows.  Even when Orestes escapes from the establishment with two friends, there’s a lot more silence between them than conversation.  And the royal palace to which Orestes eventually makes his way is also a place of silence.  Orestes doesn’t confront his mother, has barely anything to say to anyone, even his lover, and the palace echoes with the footsteps of suspicious-looking courtiers who scurry wordlessly down long silent corridors.  I couldn’t help feeling that Tòibin just couldn’t imagine his way into this story, and simply gave up, drowning his readers in silences.  

My advice: go back to the classics. Those Greek plays can’t be beaten. Or even matched. Certainly not in this dull and annoying retelling.

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Memoirs Of Death, Depression And Determination

Two acclaimed members of New York’s literati have published memoirs at the same time.

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_THE MEN IN MY LIFE: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan
by Patricia Bosworth


Bosworth, who has written best-selling biographies about movie magnificos like Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Jane Fonda, as well as an incisive biography of photographer Diane Arbus, and a searing account about the life and death of her father, famed civil rights lawyer Bartley Crum, has finally, in The Men in My Life, given us an autobiography that is harrowing, scintillating, and, ultimately, profoundly inspiring.

The harrowing part comes first.  Two of the three men who figure prominently in this book, Bosworth’s  beloved younger brother, as well as her distinguished father, will commit suicide. The third, Jason Bean, is a sociopathic painter, whose only real aesthetic talent was for con-artistry, who swept  Bosworth off her feet while she was a freshman in college.   (more…)

Best Books Of 2016

Author and FOFriend, Linda Wolfe, recommends five books for the new year.

FOF award-winning author, Linda Wolfe, recently published her powerful book, My Daughter, Myself: An Unexpected Journey. She has published eleven books and has contributed to numerous publications including New York Magazine, The New York Times, and served the board of the National Book Critics Circle for many years. Her latest reviews capture everything from 1960s Kabul to present-day hostages in Somalia.

by Ian McEwan

Nan Talese/Doubleday.

If you haven’t already read this, put buying it at the top of your To Do list. And give it to yourself, not someone else, though that’s not a bad idea, either. With Nutshell, the masterful McEwan, of Atonement and Saturday fame, has produced another masterpiece. This, despite its absurd premise – or maybe because of it. The absurdity? The story is told by a foetus.   

He’s a clever little fella. Knows all about wine, especially his mother’s favorites, French burgundy and a good Sancerre, which come to him, he explains, “decanted through her healthy placenta.” Knows too all about  Norway, with its generous social provisions, and Italy with its excellent regional cuisine. How is this possible? It’s because, he tells us, “I listen. My mother likes the radio and prefers talk to music…I hear, above the launderette din of stomach and bowels, the news, wellspring of all bad dreams. I listen closely to analysis and dissent.”

He also listens to his mother’s conversations. And, poor little eavesdropper, he overhears her plotting with her lover, his uncle, to murder his father. She is Trudy. He is Claude. Get it?  Nutshell is, in a nutshell, Shakespeare’s Hamlet as experienced and related by an unborn baby. This one sure doesn’t like Claude. “Not everyone knows what it is to have your father’s rival’s penis inches from your nose,” he says. “By this late stage [of pregnancy], they should be refraining on my behalf.  Courtesy, if not clinical judgment, demands it. I close my eyes. I grit my gums. I brace myself against the uterine walls. This turbulence would shake the wings off a Boeing.”

The book is hilarious. Its also wondrous, with every sentence chiseled to perfection – perhaps in homage to Shakespeare. Most delicious of all, Nutshell is a page turner. Its suspense builds and climbs as we wonder if this older-than-his-years, or even older-than-his-months little creature who’s telling us the story will be able to prevent the murder.

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_THE NEWS OF THE WORLD
by Paulette Jiles

William Morrow.

This book had me reading on the edge of my seat and metaphorically biting my nails. A historical novel, it’s set in the wilds of Texas in the years immediately following the Civil War. The story is told by elderly Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who makes his living by driving his covered wagon to isolated small towns where he reads the news of the world to settlers with no access to newspapers. One day, he’s asked by a federal agent to take on the task of transporting to her remaining family members a ten-year-old child who, at the age of six, had been taken captive by the Kiowa Indians after they scalped her German-American parents.

The girl is a handful. She doesn’t want to be rescued. She considers herself a Kiowa, and has become very attached to her captors. (Apparently, we learn in an endnote, this was common among children taken by Indians; very few of them wished to be rescued and returned to relatives.)  She has no memory of what her original name was, so Kidd gives her a name: Johanna.  

At first the Captain finds the girl, with her blond braids flaunting bits of stick, her immobile face, and her icy blue-eyed stare, “malign.” She finds him hateful, and proves to be a kicking, screaming, disobedient passenger, always trying to run away. But after they are attacked by truly malign men, and against great odds they together manage to fight them off, the unlikely pair bonds. In time, Johanna, who has learned to call herself “Cho-Hana,” comes to love the “Kep-dun,” who one day she dubs “Kontah,” Grandfather in the Kiowa language. The Captain himself has learned to admire his spunky little charge, and like a real grandfather, dotes on her and longs to see her have a happy future. But trouble awaits when the pair finally makes it to San Antonio, where Johanna’s remaining relatives live.

Jiles is a poet, and she knows how to use her music to play upon the heartstrings. I defy you not to shed a tear, as I did, at what happens to Johanna when she is reunited with her family – and to pray that once again the Captain will find the strength to rescue her.


by Ann Patchett


Patchett is unpredictable as a novelist, and I don’t mean as regards her art, which is reliably wondrous. I’m referring to the kind of tale she tells in each book, its whos and wheres and wherefores. Commonwealth starts out in California as the story of a married couple who fall in love with other people, divorce their partners, and try to meld their unwieldy bunch of children, three of his, two of hers, into a viable extended family. They’re successful at this. The children become very close. But they are uneasy with their new stepparents and angry at the parents who broke up their original families.

What we get is a tapestry, a complex and exquisite weave of different threads, in which each thread is the tale of one of those children or parents relating what happens to them over a long period of time. Fifty years, to be exact, enough time for the children to grow up and old, and the parents to grow aged. There are lots of characters, lots of threads, a sister who becomes a lawyer, another who becomes a Zen monk, a misfit of a brother who bears a burden of guilt all his life about a tragedy that befell another brother, and, most memorably, the gentle Franny, who falls in love with a writer much older than she is and makes the mistake of telling him the story of her family, only to see him use it, to her embarrassment, and for his own self-aggrandizement. Patchett, treating all her characters with abounding compassion, makes every one of them so vivid and recognizable that you’ll be as fascinated by how they develop and change over the years as you are in how time treats your friends.   

Interestingly, at first Commonwealth seems like a book about extended families, of which we have read many in recent years. But it turns out to be about something newer, and and more important. Patchett’s characters marry, and have children, and get divorced, and some of them remarry and acquire new children, and their children marry and have children, and some of them get divorced and remarried and also acquire new children, so that the “family” keeps growing and expanding. One of the book’s final, stunning scenes shows us that not only do today’s extended families grow ever larger, but that the very idea of family is changing.  When Franny’s mother, late in life, marries a man named Jack Dine, and Franny goes to their Christmas party, she realizes that she can’t keep everyone there straight. “She knew the Dine boys, that’s what they were called late into their fifties, but their wives and second wives confused her, their children, in some cases two sets, some grown and married, others still small…There were members of the Dine family who considered her in some vague sense to be a sister, a cousin, a daughter, an aunt. She couldn’t follow all the lines out in every direction: all the people to whom she was by marriage mysteriously related.”  

I think Commonwealth could well have been entitled, The Way We Live Now, like Trollope’s book of that title, for what it really is about is a world in which increasingly the very word family has come to seem something altogether new.  

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_THE RETURN: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between
by Hisham Matar

Random House.

In 2007, when I first fell in love with the work of Libyan-born writer Hisham Matar, it was because I had just read his novel, In the Country of Men, a polished, psychologically astute novel about a little boy who inadvertently betrays his father to the jailers of a repressive regime. The child’s grief at the loss of his father’s presence, plus the burden of guilt he feels for causing that loss, were haunting. I did not know until I read Matar’s eloquent memoir, The Return, that at the time he was writing In the Country, the author was himself struggling with grief over the loss of his own father to the repressive regime of Qaddaffi, and even struggling, with a kind of survivor’s guilt, what he calls, “the guilt of having lived a free life,” for he and the rest of his family had fled the Middle East to live zin exile in London.   

Matar’s father, Jaballah, had not had a free life. An outspoken opponent of the repressive Qaddaffi regime, he had been kidnapped in 1990, imprisoned, and after a few years during which he wrote letters to his family which were smuggled out of Libya by political supporters, never heard from again.  Was he still a prisoner, held in some miserable dungeon, like the one fellow prisoners called, “The Mouth of Hell”? Or was he dead? The uncertainty turned Matar, then nineteen years old, “into a bridled animal, cautious and quiet. I could not stop thinking of the detestable things that were surely happening to my father as I bathed, sat down to eat….I stopped speaking. I hardly left my London flat,” he writes, and, “You make a man disappear to silence him, but also to narrow the minds of those left behind, to pervert their soul and limit their imagination. When Qaddafi took my father, he placed me in a space not much bigger than the cell Father was in.”

During the years that followed the kidnapping, Matar, his mother, and his brother, Riad, spent endless hours trying to raise public awareness of what had happened to Jaballa, and to arouse British diplomats into finding out what they could about his whereabouts, all to no avail. So in 2012, after the fall of Qaddaffi and before Libya fell victim to competing militias including Al Qaida, when for a brief time the country was peaceful, Matar went there to see if he could learn something of his father’s fate.  

The Return is the story of that trip. Matar travels with his mother and brother, and the three of them manage to find and reunite with relatives they haven’t seen in years. We visit along with them, discovering the Libya that was, and its rich culture and fascinating traditions.

The book is heartbreaking. Matar learns of a prisoner who may or may not have been his father (but seems likely to have been), a man who recites Libyan poetry from his cell a night, and then one night is heard no more. He learns the details of Qaddaffi’s notorious 1996 massacre of twelve hundred prisoners (his father was most likely one of the men brutally killed that day). And he learns how his father, surviving for many years in the most horrendous circumstances, became a symbol to his fellow prisoners of all that was once steadfast and noble in Libya.


51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_SWING TIME
by Zadie Smith

Penguin Press.

I’m not a big fan of Elena Ferrante. Perhaps it’s the fault of the translator, but I find the language of her acclaimed Neopolitan novels flat and dull. But of course, like everyone else, I’ve been a sucker for the books’ subject – female friendship — a matter so important to so many of us females, but so little written about.  Well, no need to slug through those Naples novels. Zadie Smith of White Teeth fame, arguably England’s most renowned novelist and certainly its liveliest stylist, has just come out with Swing Time, a novel about female friendship which pops and sizzles and rocks. It’s all here, the passionate attachments we women form with friends, first when we’re young, later on, throughout our lives, the way we measure our lives against those of our friends, the way our friendships support and sustain us and the way they can grow stale, can wither with time or distance or achievement, or die sudden deaths from envy or betrayal. Not to mention the way we never, no matter what, forget our first best friends.

The unnamed narrator of Swing Time lives in one of London’s depressing housing projects.  She meets the girl who will become her best friend, a pretty child named Tracey, also the denizen of a housing project, when she’s seven years old, at an after school dance group. “There were many other girls present,” she tells us, “but for obvious reasons we noticed each other, the similarities and differences, as girls will. Our shade of brown was exactly the same – as if one piece of tan material had been cut to make us both – and our freckles gathered in the same areas.” Each girl has one white and one black parent. The narrator’s mother is black, a Jamaican immigrant bent on climbing up and away from the projects through education and discipline, her father a white postal worker with little ambition beyond caring for his daughter. Tracey’s mother is white, permissive, free-spending, imbued with bad taste, and determined to see Tracey, who has talent as a dancer, become a star. Tracey’s father, who rarely comes to see his wife or his daughter, is a gambler and petty thief; he’s been in prison, but Tracey boasts when he’s absent that it’s because he’s a back-up dancer traveling with Michael Jackson.

The narrator shares Tracey’s love of dancing, though not her talent. No matter. Together they bond over dance VHS tapes, spending endless hours watching Fred Astaire and other hoofers do their routines. To both girls, it seems that their friendship is forever. But time and the differing aspirations of their mothers intervene. Tracey becomes not a star but a minor chorus line dancer and the narrator, after attending university, becomes the personal assistant of a famous singing star, an international celebrity patterned on Madonna and named Aimee.

Along the way the narrator will have boyfriends — I especially liked her college beau Rakim, who wore “skinny dreadlocks to his shoulders, Converse All Stars in all weather, little round Lennon glasses.  I thought he was the most beautiful man in all the world. He thought so, too.” She will travel, with Aimee, to distant places. New York offers to her “her first introduction to the possibilities of light, crashing through gaps in our curtains, transforming people and sidewalks and buildings into golden icons.” Gambia, where do-gooder Aimee wants to establish a girls school, offers “polygamy, misogyny, motherless children (my mother’s island childhood, only writ large, enshrined in custom).”  

Along the way, the book will offer perceptive reflections on race and class, plans will be realized and thwarted, there will be scandals and betrayals, babies dubiously adopted, lovers lost and stolen, and friendships that teeter and totter yet offer identity and belonging in a world that rarely does. This is an action-packed cinematic novel that also thinks hard on its swiftly running feet.

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7 Top Food & Wine Books Of 2016

No matter how many recipes you can access online, there’s nothing quite as satisfying in the kitchen as having a real cookbook at your side, while you make your first or fiftieth creme brulée or a new roast chicken dish.

So think cookbooks as Christmas gifts, and don’t leave yourself out! Here, we have the pleasure of presenting you 7 reviews by book critic and essayist, FOF Annette Gallagher Weisman.

Annette Gallagher Weisman is an award-winning essayist and a longtime member of the National Book Critics Circle. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she has written for numerous publications including the St. Petersburg Times, edibleASPEN, TheWineBuzz, Cincinnati Magazine, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Town & Country, People, and in the U.K. Vanity Fair and Over21. Annette received an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College in Vermont.

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_COOKING FOR JEFFREY
by Ina Garten

Clarkson Potter. 258 pp.

It’s that time of year when celebrity chefs come out with their latest cookbooks. Ina Garten, one of the most beloved cooks of our time, has just published her tenth, Cooking for Jeffrey.

Jeffrey, as her fans know, is Ina’s husband, the most affable of men who loves to run errands for his wife. Whether in Paris or the Hamptons, Jeffrey can be seen on her television show, the Barefoot Contessa, shopping for a special wine or cheese and coming home with his prize as delighted as a man can be to have accomplished his mission.

As well as the many beautiful food shots by Quentin Bacon, there are some personal photographs. One of them shows Ina and Jeffrey on their wedding day exuding the kind of joy and happiness they emote together on television. Cooking for Jeffrey also includes tales from their happily-ever-after marriage and recipes for his favorite dishes including Filet Mignon with Mustard and Mushrooms, Skillet Roasted Lemon Chicken and Raspberry Rhubarb Crustata.

Ina’s new television series is also called Cooking For Jeffrey. Both the cookbook and the new series are a love letter of sorts to a man to whom Ina has been married for 48 years… “My most constant and appreciative audience has been my sweet Jeffrey.”

Just reading through these easy to make recipes makes me want to say “I’ll have what he’s having!”

by Anthony Bourdain

Ecco. 290 pp.

In August of 2000, Anthony Bourdain’s controversial memoir Kitchen Confidential brought shock and awe to the food world. Since then he’s written many books, both fiction and nonfiction.

Appetites is Bourdain’s 13th book – a cookbook with the focus on comfort food that’s full of the irreverent talk he’s known for. He doles out plenty of advice too, as when making Eggs Benedict, “Toast your goddamn muffins.” Bourdain is both entertaining and informative with comments like “Caesar Salad is of Mexican origin.” And just when I am thinking – really? he adds “I bet you didn’t know that.” In fact, going through his recipes, I get the feeling Bourdain is shadowing me, and if I don’t shape up, he’ll ship me out of my own kitchen!

Seriously, reading this conversational-style cookbook is like having a friend tell you exactly how things should be done and how not to screw up. The brilliant photographs by Bobby Fisher include many candid shots such as Bourdain sitting on a closed lid toilet seat eating a sandwich or feeding linguine to the elegant Chef Eric Ripert who is wearing a badass T-shirt. But the recipes alone are worth the price of the book, from Macaroni and Cheese to British Style Pheasant with Bread Sauce and a pullout illustrated guide to Bourdain’s Perfect Burger.

Anthony Bourdain is an edgy, authentic, and likeable human being. Read him and laugh!

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_THE LONDON COOKBOOK
by Aleksandra Crapanzano

10 Speed Press. 352 pp.

Let’s travel across the pond to a city best known for its gourmet food. You might be thinking Paris. But, no, I mean London. Who knew a country once known for its bangers and mash and nondescript looking dishes is now considered by Aleksandra Crapanzano to be “the gastronomic center of the world.”

That may seem to be going a little far, but the world-class restaurants and other establishments serving specialty foods and beverages featured in The London Cookbook confirm that statement. Crapanzano shows us that this sophisticated, hip and lively city is undergoing a culinary rebirth.

Restaurants such as Ottolenghi, Clos Maggiore and Trullo showcase over 100 recipes that make one salivate. Some are a bit involved for the home cook, but others are relatively easy to make such as The River Café’s signature Crab and Raw Artichoke Salad or St. John’s Plaice, Salsify, and Capers. The superb desserts include Tom’s Kitchen’s Baked Alaska and Brasserie Zedel’s Bavarois Framboise, which are followed by yummy cocktails in the back pages.

It’s obvious that Crapanzano knows the increasingly diverse London dining scene inside and out. In The London Cookbook she describes in an engaging way the history of British food, the ingredients used in each recipe, as well as personal details about the chefs – a touch of humanity that runs throughout the entire book.  In fact, if you have a friend who is a professional chef, he or she, along with home cooks would appreciate owning this cookbook.


51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_THE 24 HOUR WINE EXPERT
by Jancis Robinson

Abrams Image. 112 pp.

Want to become a wine expert overnight without wading through books that double as doorstops? Jancis Robinson, a well-known wine critic, writes prolifically about the subject and is esteemed by wanabee sommeliers. Yet her latest book is for non-experts, the average wine lover who, after reading it, will feel more comfortable about selecting a wine in a restaurant and in a wine store.

Although small in size, The 24 Hour Wine Expert is jam-packed with useful information. Chapters include How to Taste, Ten Ways to Pick the Right Bottle and Matching Wine with Food. Last year, the 4th edition of Robinson’s tome The Oxford Companion to Wine was published – required reading by serious students. However, this tiny primer is an easy read and a user-friendly guide for anyone who loves to drink wine.

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_DINNER AT THE LONG TABLE
by Andrew Tarlow & Anna Dunn

10 Speed Press. 336 pp.

Restaurateur, chef, and publisher of Diner Journal Andrew Tarlow and Anna Dunn his editor-in-chief have written a cookbook that celebrates special occasions and the art of slow living. It is organized around 17 menus representing the essence of good food, such as Ragu, a sauce that takes a weekend to make. As with other meals, Ragu is described poetically. “Serve it in the afternoon, when you can still glimpse low angular light arching through the window.”  

Tarlow and is wife Kate Huling have six restaurants, a hotel, a bar, and a bakery, all in Brooklyn, New York. At Diner, their first restaurant, there was a long table at the back where about 20 people who had worked hard in helping the restaurant get started sat around for a celebratory meal together.

Dinner at the Long Table is a big thank you to all the fans and supporters who helped make their restaurants successful. It’s also for those of us who truly love to cook, preferably without time constraints. Dishes such as Rabbit & Chorizo Paella, Roasted Leg of Lamb Dressed Down with Zest, and Cassoulet are the kind of meals to be savored, but not the kind you can whip up in 30 minutes after a busy day at the office.

There are, however, some recipes that can add a little zing to your culinary life without going to too much trouble. But this cookbook is not for cooks in a hurry; rather, it’s a book about love, about taking the time to prepare a satisfying meal for friends and sitting down with those loved ones around your table, or mine.  

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_A NEW WAY TO DINNER A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead
by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs

10 Speed Press. 288 pp.

Food 52’s cookbook A New Way to Dinner is perfect for the person who likes to make lists and be organized. I mean really organized. In fact, thinking of all the work that went into this comprehensive cookbook makes me tired.

Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, co-founders of the online home destination Food52, will plan a week’s worth of meals for you, supply you with grocery lists, and provide strategies for selecting meals you can prepare in advance. Divided into seasonal recipes, you’ll find these techniques and more, such as cooking timelines and how to mix and match food with sauces (almost like clothing), for first one meal and then another.

Hesser and Stubbs have put a tremendous amount of thought and personal experience into writing a cookbook that will make the home cook’s life easier. By taking their advice and doing some planning and preparatory cooking on the weekend, you can quickly put together meals during the week to come. Even if you’re like me, and get an adrenalin rush from winging it using ingredients I have on hand, you’ve got to admit Hesser and Stubbs are on to something. Their cookbook has so many inspiring recipes too, such as Chicken Cutlets with Charmoula and Preserved Lemon, Frittata with Peas, Spring Greens, and Ricotta and Lemony Pasta with Asparagus, as well as useful tips.

Whether you need a little structure or a lot in planning meals for the week ahead, A New Way to Dinner could be your new best friend.

51IV0du+hBL._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_AMARO: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs with Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas
by Brad Thomas Parsons

10 Speed Press, 280 pp.

Amaro (plural amari) is the Italian term for bitters. Reading Brad Thomas Parsons’ Amaro has shown me how ignorant I was about the breadth of this genre of herbaceous liqueurs; that there’s a whole world out there of bittersweet aperitifs and digestifs that I, and maybe you, have been missing out on.

These drinks are not all as bitter tasting as Fernet-Brancas or Negronis either. Take Aperol, an orange liqueur owned by Compari but not as bitter. An Aperol Spritz is easy to make, low in alcohol, and so popular in Italy it may as well be the national drink.  Sipping this pretty orange-flavored Spritz, makes me feel as if I am sitting in a small ristorante on the Amalfi Coast or some other sunny clime.

Amaro is so versatile it can be a digestive aid, used as a hangover helper, or enjoyed as part of a cocktail. But before we get to the more than 100 recipes with accompanying color photographs by Michael Graydon and Nicole Herriot, Parsons first takes us on an informative tour of Italian bars, cafes and distilleries.

With names like “Hanky Panky” and “Exit Strategy,” even making these drinks sounds like a fun way to liven up one’s evening. Amaro is the perfect gift for the cocktail enthusiast who wants to expand their repertoire, as well as the bar professional.

Keep Reading…

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12 Top Food & Wine Books Of 2015

No matter how many recipes you can access online, there’s nothing quite as satisfying in the kitchen as having a real cookbook at your side, while you make your first or fiftieth crème brulée or a new roast chicken dish.

So think cookbooks as Christmas gifts, and don’t leave yourself out! Here, we have the pleasure of presenting you 12 reviews by award-winning essayist, FOF Annette Gallagher Weisman.

Annette Gallagher Weisman is an award-winning essayist and a longtime member of the National Book Critics Circle. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she has written for numerous publications including the St. Petersburg Times, edibleASPEN, TheWineBuzz, Cincinnati Magazine, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Town & Country, People, and in the U.K. Vanity Fair and Over21. Annette received an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College in Vermont.


[GIVEAWAY & REVIEW] Linda Wolfe’s Fall Reading List

Autumn is cornucopia time in the book world. Publishers’ lists are crammed with a harvest of the latest efforts of the big guns and the debut works of promising newbies. I’ve been enthralled, educated, amused, and moved by a great many of the books I’ve read this season. And here are some of the ones I enjoyed or wondered at the most.



Masters At Work by Linda Wolfe

Masters of the art of fiction – or perhaps I should say the craft of fiction, for it is these authors’ mischievous craftiness that accounts for a great deal of the delights of their new works. Me, I couldn’t be happier. New literary voices are all well and good but oh, to read again an author you have loved for years and find that she or he is still writing up a storm! That’s not just happiness, that’s joy.

Want to win a copy of one of these books? To enter to win, comment below by answering the question:

 Which of these books do you want to read and why?

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{FOF Book Critic} Cold Year, Hot New Voices

Yes, it was a wretched winter.

But the polar temperatures and alpine snow piles allowed me to stay at home guilt free and chores be damned, curl up under the extra quilt and read. Besides which, some of the books I read helped me keep warm. Because they were hot. I don’t mean porno. I mean they were the kind of literary works that have some heat and sizzle. I read four such novels this winter. All four were written by women, one of them a debut novelist, the others well established in their native countries of England and Canada but little known in the U.S.—a provincialism on our part that is being rectified by the publication here of their sparkling new works.

Over the next four weeks, I’ll introduce you to each of the books.


{FOF Book Critic} Books Stuffed With Small Enticing Treasures

I’ll never forget what one of my best friends, a valiant woman who had fought breast cancer for years, said when her doctors told her one July a few years ago that this was It, they’d exhausted their possibilities for her and she had only six months or so to live. Rachel, who was given to ironic statements, smiled her gorgeous wry smile and said,

“Thank God! At least I won’t have send out Christmas cards this year!”

I think about this a lot at this time of year when there’s just too damn much to do, gifts that have to be selected and wrapped, tips that have to be doled out, charitable contributions that have to be made, food that has to be bought in uncommonly large quantities and baked or boiled, broiled or brandied, and of course the stacks of Christmas cards that have to be written and taken to the bloody Post Office where the lines are so long I feel like I should have brought a folding chair with me. Given all this, the last thing I want to do is tackle a long book. But after a day of knocking myself out with chores, reading is how I relax at night. So every year at this time, I find myself turning to short things, collections of stories, articles, essays. Here, for your delectation, and in short takes, because naturally I didn’t have time to give them the kind of long reviews I usually write, are some I’ve found particularly enchanting or exciting.

Like literary Christmas stockings, all the books below are stuffed with small enticing treasures.

FOF award-winning author, Linda Wolfe, has published eleven books and has contributed to numerous publications including New York Magazine, The New York Times, and served the board of the National Book Critics Circle for many years.

Honeydew: Stories
by Edith Pearlman

Little Brown.

SUSPENSEFUL STORYTELLING and SUMPTUOUS LANGUAGE is what you can expect from Honeydew, a collection of twenty tales by short story writer, Edith Pearlman. Pearlman’s last collection, Binocular Vision, won the National Books Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2011, an award only rarely given to a work of short stories. Alice Munro won it once, and interestingly Pearlman has often been compared to Munro. But she’s also been compared to Chekhov. The praise is no wonder. Pearlman is arguably today’s premier American short story writer. She has a voice uniquely her own and a range that takes her from realism to surrealism, from the intimacies of marriage or a mother-child relationship to broader concerns in foreign settings. She delves into souls, and slinks into hidden corners of social behavior; she is a master at presenting a character’s present predicament and simultaneously giving us a glimpse into her or his future—the story of what happens after the story.

No one of her stories is quite like another. In “Tenderfoot,” a widowed pedicurist has romantic fantasies about a lonely, recently separated customer, only to realize that neither of them is really unattached. They are both still in mourning, she for her Marine husband, a man she allowed to re-enlist when he was really too old to go back into conflict, he for the people in a car crash that he and his wife witnessed, and who, despite the wife’s entreaties, he had sped past, unwilling to stop and at best, provide aid, at worst, extract corpses. In “Dream Children,” an apparently devoted father, like a primitive who dons the mask of a fearsome animal to ward off attack by one, draws pictures of deformed children presumably as a way of protecting his family from catastrophe. In the title story, “Honeydew,” an anorexic middle school student at a private boarding school is losing weight at an alarming rate. She wants to be an insect, her professor father explains, in this very strange story. And indeed, Emily is fascinated by Coccidae—ants. “Emily liked the story of Moses leading the starving Israelites into the desert. Insects came to their rescue. The manna, which Exodus describes as a fine frost was thought to be a miracle from God, but it was really Coccidae excrement… Nomads still eat it. It is called honeydew.”

Pearlman enters the mind of this odd child, but she also gives us the girl’s perplexed mother, that complicated father, who is having an affair with the school’s headmistress, and the headmistress herself, pregnant by the father and despairing of her future till she comes up with an unexpected solution to her dilemma. It’s enough for a novel, and in the hands of another author, it might have been one. But Pearlman has never written a novel. She’s thought about doing one, she says, but has always returned to what she does best: stories that are as packed with incident and characters as in many a longer work. She’s a fascinating writer.


{FOF Book Critic} Twelve Best Cookbooks of 2014

No matter how many recipes you can access online, there’s nothing quite as satisfying in the kitchen as having a real cookbook at your side, while you make your first or fiftieth creme brulée or a new roast chicken dish.

So think cookbooks as Christmas gifts, and don’t leave yourself out! Here, we have the pleasure of presenting you 12 reviews by award-winning essayist, FOF Annette Gallagher Weisman.

Annette Gallagher Weisman is an award-winning essayist and a longtime member of the National Book Critics Circle. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she has written for numerous publications including the St. Petersburg Times, edibleASPEN, TheWineBuzz, Cincinnati Magazine, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Town & Country, People, and in the U.K. Vanity Fair and Over21. Annette received an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College in Vermont.

by Gabrielle Hamilton

Random House. 576 pp.

It could be said that Gabrielle Hamilton, the author of the controversial cookbook Prune, named after her NYC restaurant, has attitude. She may even be a dominatrix—in the kitchen that is—as she clearly likes things done the way she wants them to be done. As evidence, critics have pointed out the book’s handwritten notes on the recipes to her staff, telling them what to do or not. This doesn’t bother me: for instance, it makes sense not to stick your finger in the food that’s just been plated—even at home! But I was a bit dismayed by finding that the book has no foreword, no introductions per se, and no index at the back. Indeed, Prune seems rather like a beautifully packaged kitchen “Bible” for professional staff.

I was also a bit disconcerted by the lack of text, because Hamilton is a terrific writer. But she has said that she has already written a memoir, her excellent Blood, Bones, & Butter, and that if you want more information about her, go read that book. (I would recommend that you do. It’s one of the best memoirs by a chef ever written.) Prune is not for you if you can’t boil an egg or need to be hand held through basic steps. But if you are willing to be perplexed at times by some of the instructions, then go for it. You can always improvise if you don’t have a certain ingredient or piece of equipment. And substitutions, when not crucial, are half the fun of cooking. When it comes to the recipes themselves, all 250 of them, they are very clear with, for the most part, few ingredients, and I personally love those notes to the staff, as they offer real insight into how a kitchen works.

Visually attractive, with its deep magenta cloth cover and 241 color photographs, this is an ideal gift for the cook who likes to be creative, or for a cook who’d like to fantasize that he or she is part of the Prune “family,” being bossed around “on the line” by the accomplished, demanding Hamilton.