Books to Get You Thinking Holiday Edition II

Gifts ready to be unwrapped
It is December and now we are down to the wire—time to make sure we have checked off everyone on our list for gift-giving! If you are still stressed about what to get, just hurry in to a local book store, where a feast of wonderful titles, both old and new, awaits you! And to help you zoom in on just the right title, we follow up last month’s column, which highlighted nonfiction and biography books, with fiction of different shades and genres for gift-giving. The holidays are also the perfect time for exploring new recipes for the kitchen and entertaining ideas, and we have some exciting new cookbooks on our list as well! From all of us at the Mercer County Library, have a wondrous and joyous holiday season!

Fiction

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
A powerful narrative centered around the theme of home and family, about growing up and finding one’s place in the world. The principal character is Mimi Miller, who grew up with her parents and two brothers on a small farm in Miller’s Valley that had been with their family for the past 200 years. The novel opens with Mimi reminiscing on her childhood back in 1960, when she was just eleven. Life was about to take a dramatic turn for Mimi and her family as the government decides to buy the existing old family farms and ramshackle homes, relocate the families and convert the area into a reservoir. The water flooded over and covered the only home Mimi had ever known and loved, a home that she and her father wanted desperately to keep. Their life now disrupted and changed forever, the novel explores the different paths Mimi and her family must take. Mimi earns a scholarship and makes a new life for herself as a medical doctor, but in the end her heart stays firmly tied to Miller’s Valley , the only place that meant home to her.

The Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson
The Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson
Helen Simonson, whose debut novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand became an instant bestseller, delights readers once more with her historical fiction set in Edwardian England. The backdrop is the idyllic coastal town of Rye, East Sussex, where Beatrice Nash arrives one summer to accept a position as a Latin teacher in a local grammar school following the death of her father. A woman teacher in that era defied all social norms but Beatrice is taken under the wing of Agata Kent, a prominent figure in town and a strong proponent of education for all children. Soon Beatrice strikes up a close relationship with Agata’s two nephews, Hugh Grange, a medical student and Daniel Bookham, who loved poetry. Based on period research, the author paints a haunting and vivid portrait of England at a time when the first rumblings of war had just begun to break out. It was the last summer before the brutalities and ravages of war would transform familiar traditions, the ingrained system of social classes and long established conventions, changing the lives of the inhabitants of Rye forever.

News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles
News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles
A poignant novel by Paulette Jiles, nominated for the National Book Award. Set against the backdrop of the 1800s, following the Civil War, the novel centers around Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd who has lived through three wars and now spends his time travelling across North Texas, reading out news from newspapers to an audience hungry to learn about what was happening in the world beyond their frontiers. Unexpectedly, life takes a complete turn for the Captain when he is entrusted with a young, rescued ten-year-old girl, Johanna, who had been kept captive by Indians for four years. It was his responsibility to reunite her with her aunt and uncle in San Antonio, some four hundred miles away. A journey across the treacherous terrain of Texas begins with Johanna distrusting the Captain and trying to escape at every opportunity, but as they grapple with the dangers that they must face together, there are bonds that grow between them. At the end of the journey, the Captain faces the excruciating decision to leave Johanna with an aunt and uncle she did not know, who treated her as an obvious burden, or keep her with him and be called a kidnapper himself.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
A compelling novel by Jodi Picoult, a New York Times bestselling author well-known for writing on social issues. Based on painstaking research and interviews, the book is meant to challenge readers and stir up a conversation about prejudice and racism in America. It is the story of a black woman, Ruth Jefferson, and her teenage son. Ruth is an experienced, skilled labor and delivery nurse at a hospital in Connecticut—the only African American amongst the staff. The novel revolves around the court case that follows when Ruth is accused of murder by Brittany and Turk Bauer—a couple with white supremacist beliefs and whose new born baby dies in the hospital under Ruth’s watch. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white attorney takes on the case as Ruth’s public defender. In the narrative that follows, through a brilliant portrayal and development of all characters in the book, the author explores the complex issues of race, prejudice, implicit biases and discrimination—topics that are not easy to confront but which are very much a part of society.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout offers a brilliant portrait of the love and complex relationship between a mother and daughter. It is a story about loneliness and missed opportunities to connect within a family as Lucy grows up in poverty and isolation in the tiny rural town of Amgash, Illinois. Lucy manages to escape her bleak early years by getting a scholarship and moving away—she marries, has two daughters and becomes a successful writer. Lucy is in a hospital for nine weeks recovering from a complication following surgery when her mother, whom she has not seen in years, comes and stays five nights with her in the hospital. For Lucy there is a brief interlude of happiness as she reconnects with her mother through simple conversation about people she had known back in Amgash. Underlying the narrative is realization that, in the end, we stay inextricably tied with our roots with all the pain, pathos and loneliness of those early years lasting a lifetime.
Red and gold gift

Cooking and Entertainment

Eat What You Love Quick & Easy by Marlene Koch
Eat What You Love Quick & Easy by Marlene Koch
A registered dietitian, Marlene Koch is the author of several New York Times bestselling cookbooks. Her latest offering is part of the Eat What You Love series and features delectable recipes that are appetizing, low in calories and can be whipped up in minutes with no fuss! Every recipe includes a small note from Marlene with practical advice on ingredients as well as complementary dishes that would complete the meal. Included in the book is an inside look into the author’s own kitchen, a handy list of ingredients used for the recipes in the book that could be stocked up in the pantry, as well as a list of indispensable kitchen tools and handy tips and tricks for cooking for just two. Also included are easy-to-make menus for entertaining. The recipes themselves are arranged in different categories that include appetizers and snacks, soups, seafood and meatless entrees, and no-bake and other effortless desserts.

Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten
Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten
This is the tenth book from the host of Food Network’s popular program Barefoot Contessa —one that is dedicated to Jeffrey, her husband and constant companion of more than forty years. For Ina Garten, cooking is meaningful because of the happiness it brings to the people she cares about. The book is brimming with glossy pages of gorgeous illustrations and recipes of dishes that are favorites of Jeffrey. The recipes are classified under different sections of cocktails, soups, salads and lunch, dinner, vegetables and sides, bread and cheese and desert—making it simple to find a dish for every meal. From Maple Roasted Carrot Salad to Asparagus and Fennel Soup, Skillet Roasted Lemon Chicken to a delectable Pumpkin Flan with Maple Caramel, Garten has a wide variety of unique recipes. Interspersed throughout the pages are fascinating vignettes from Ina and Jeffrey’s life together.

Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick-Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes by Gina Homolka
Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick-Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes by Gina Homolka
Gina Homulka, the author of the widely read blog, Skinnytaste has published her second cookbook. This time she is addressing everyone who, despite busy schedules, are interested in putting together healthy and delicious home cooked meals. Packed with time saving tips, the book includes 140 flavorful recipes that can be made under thirty minutes or in a slow cooker. In addition to a full month of planned meals, the recipes are arranged into sections that include healthy morning; chilis, soups and stews; one bowl meals; poultry mains; taco night; meatless mains and the sweeter side. Collaborating with a nutrition specialist, Heather Jones, each recipe is accompanied by its detailed nutritional information. Some of my favorites in the book include a unique spiralized lemon-basil zucchini mason jar salad; delicious cauliflower-potato tacos with lime cilantro chutney and tantalizing sweet ‘n’ spicy salmon with stir fried veggies.

EatingWell Vegetables: The Essential Reference edited by Jessie Price
EatingWell Vegetables: The Essential Reference edited by Jessie Price
A gorgeously illustrated cookbook—the pages popping with all the vibrant colors and textures of different vegetables. The book includes enticing recipes, all of which incorporate an array of unique ways to include vegetables in your cooking. There are forty-seven different vegetables that are introduced to readers with each chapter dedicated to a specific vegetable or vegetable group, all arranged in alphabetical order. The chapter includes basic information about the vegetable, including how to store and prep it as well as related cooking techniques so busy cooks get perfect results every time. What is also unique is that the recipes come from different people including chefs, cookbook authors, recipe developers, bloggers and the editors of EatingWell. Some of my favorites in the book include delicious recipes for braised greens and cannellini bean panini, a sizzling Sicilian eggplant caponata and a hearty ribollita soup.

—Nita Mathur
Books to get you Thinking Box

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