Five Book Friday!

Happy Friday, Beloved Patrons, and welcome to another Five Book Friday.  Our favorite postman and several UPS drivers have been bringing boxes of books to our doors every day, and our shelves are looking much more robust as the days pass, so be sure to come in and whet your literary appetite before another sunny and adventuresome weekend.

3636636The Sage of Waterloo: The narrator of Leona Francombe’s book is a rabbit.  A rabbit who loves history.  I fail to see what more incentive anyone could need to run out and read this book.  However, if you would like some more details, William, a white rabbit, lives at the site of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium, where his mysterious grandmother, Old Lavender, teaches him to hear the ghosts whose voices still reverberate around the battlefield.  Library Journal called Francombe’s narrative “gentle and poetic”,  and the story itself “an eloquent reflection on the nature and cost of war…Everything in this little book is perfect.”

3633978Trailer Park Fae: Lilith Saintcrow is a born storyteller, and this debut in her Ragged and Bone series is sure to be a hit with her many fans and new readers alike.  Half-mortal Jeremy Gallow walked away from his fairy legacy years ago, and now lives the boring life of a construction worker–until the day he is dragged back into the fairy realm by a woman who looks uncannily like his dead wife, urging him to hunt down an other-wordly serial killer.  RT Book Reviews raves that Saintcrow “blends the realistic and fantastic with gusto to create a world that is beautifully detailed and wonderfully off-kilter, and a cast that is magnetic and empathetic, yet beguiling and mysterious”

3643277The Lost Concerto: Helaine Mario’s blend of thriller, romance, personal journey, and historic quest has been garnering rave reviews from critics and book bloggers alike, with Publisher’s Weekly calling it a “suspenseful, heartrending novel…which builds to a highly satisfying resolution.”  Like any good symphony, this story starts off quietly, but builds in tension and suspense as a young woman, who had fled the world years ago, is forced back when her godson disappears, and a mysterious photograph sends her on a quest that lead her to uncover a plot surrounding a famous manuscript thought lost to the ages.

3643163The Blooding: This is the fifth book in James McGee’s super-terrific historic thriller series featuring Matthew Hawkwood, a soldier-turned-spy whose adventures unfold across the landscape of the early American frontier.  In this installment, Matthew finds himself stranded behind enemies lines during the War of 1812, with no one to trust but a former comrade, Major Denis Lawrence.  As the two men make their secret way to Canada, they uncover a plot that could lose the war for Britain–but will they survive long enough to alert the British authorities?

3636557Franklin Barbecue: The Meat-Smoking Manifesto:  After the sensational Saturdays at the South post on grilling, we’ve seen an uptick in grilling books and other summertime-eats books, so this particular tome couldn’t have come at a better time.  From Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, the winner of Texas Monthly’s Best Barbecue Joint in Texas award, comes the self-proclaimed complete guide to meat and brisket cooking that goes beyond how to make a hamburger, and explores how to make a smoker, select your wood and meats, and creating the perfect fires for cooking them.  I don’t eat meat, but even I have to admit, the pictures in this particular book look down-right delicious.

So there you have it, beloved patrons!  Have a happy weekend, full of fun adventures, good food, and plenty of good books!

In other news…Pluto!


Outside of the Book World, it turns out that some other things happened this week aside from the publication of a certain book….We got to meet Pluto for the first time!  The sight of the dwarf planet itself is second in my books only to all the happy scientists who have seen their hard work, intelligence, hopes, and dreams pay off, more than nine years of waiting (and Bill Nye was there, too!).

We’ve talked here before about the wonder and danger of exploration, and wandering off the map, and it seems like there are few greater adventures than outer space.  And learning that the New Horizons spacecraft travelled 3 billion miles to get to Pluto, and has plans to travel even father still is simply mind-boggling.  This piano-sized spacecraft has managed to make it to the edge of the solar system, the edge of our knowledge, around meteor belts, comets, space rocks, possibly Dr. Who, on its way past the farther point in the universe we know (which, up to yesterday, was Neptune, which we saw for the first time in 1989), and given us all a reason to dream of what is might show us next.

Perhaps the greatest part of the story is that onboard New Horizons are the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto in 1930, at the age of 24.  It’s fascinating to think of how short our relationship with Pluto has been, overall, but it looks like that relationship is about to get pretty interesting….

So for all of you who, like, me, think the pictures coming back from New Horizon are just the coolest things ever, here is a list of space exploration/adventure themed materials to check out during your next library visit….

If you like Pluto, Then be sure to check out…

3459381The Martian:  A best-seller upon its release, Andy Weir’s book as received a new wave of attention thanks to the upcoming release of the film adaptation starring Matt Damon (you can see the trailer here).  This is the story of Mark Watney, the first man to walk on Mars–and the man who has been abandoned on Mars after a dust storm separated him from his team.  But Watney isn’t content to sit and wait for the inevitable–he is going to live now for the chance to go home.  This is a great book because, despite the sheer existential terror of being the only human being on an entire planet, the tension inherent our hero’s quest, and the depth of detail that Weir built into this story, neither he not his hero Watney ever lose their sense of humor over the course of this epic human endurance story.  Nor does it lose its respect for duct tape.  What more could you want in a book?

2913524Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void: Author Mary Roach writes some of the most unexpected popular science around today.  Her topics range from the science of taste and eating to the search for ghosts and the afterlife, but each book so intensely engaging, quirky, and enlightening, making them perfectly light, educating reading.  This book tackles those questions about space travel that we’ve all wondered, but never actually asked: how do astronauts go to the bathroom in reduced gravity?  Can they take a shower?  But beyond these answers, Roach also writes about the considerable physical and psychological difficulties that astronauts face, and how looking into the unknown makes us all confront our own humanity differently.  A must read for anyone who ever dreamed of the stars.

2299772The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Books like The Martian are considered ‘hard science fiction’, in that they deal with actual details about space travel, planetary science, etc.,  Douglas Adams’ classic is not quite the same thing, dealing as it does with the bulldozing of earth to create an intergalactic freeway, and the erstwhile human, Arthur Dent, who gets picked up seconds before the end.  This is one of my favorite books in the world, for so many reasons.  It’s funny, ridiculous (the send-up of human and alien bureaucracy alone are enough to heal your soul a little), wonderfully imaginative, and deeply insightful, featuring, as it does, the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.  For those of you who enjoy audiobooks, do not miss Stephen Fry’s recording of this book.  And remember: Don’t Panic.

3343686Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery: Margaret Weitekamp’s terrific book for younger readers explores the history of Pluto from its discovery by Tombaugh in 1930, up to its re-classification as a dwarf planet, and also considers how planets are named and studied.  The text is informative and fun (not an easy combination to achieve), and the artwork by Diane Kidd is simply delightful.  With all this talk about Pluto recently, this is the perfect introduction to the solar system, but older readers are sure to find plenty of fun facts in these pages, as well!

A Few More Thoughts on Watchman…

First and foremost, I cannot even begin to tell you how exciting it is to hear people talking about books in public.  People on the radio have been discussing Harper Lee.  Two trainers at the gym this morning were talking about Atticus Finch.  It is suddenly socially acceptable not only to strike up a conversation about books we read as children, but to admit, publicly, that they moved us and changed us.  And, as a dedicated bibliophile whose life has been turned upside down on a regular basis by literature, I could not think of a better outcome of Harper Lee’s newest (or oldest) novel.

It’s very clear that the controversies surrounding this novel have not, and most likely will not, go away.  From the very day that the publication of Go Set A Watchman was announced, there have been a number of reports stating that Lee herself is the victim of manipulation and swindling, an some who still hold that the manuscript itself is an outright fraud.

Interestingly, when To Kill a Mockingbird was published, there were a great many people who believed that Lee’s friend Truman Capote, author of In Cold Blood, authored the book.   In the earliest editions of Mockingbird, a quote from Capote was used on the dust jacket: “Someone rare has written this very fine first novel: a writer with the liveliest sense of life, and the warmest, most authentic sense of humor. A touching book; and so funny, so likeable.”  A great many people took this to be a subtle message from Capote admitting authorship, which he did very little at the time to refute.  It was only when a 1959 letter from Capote surfaced at auction, discussing how his friend Harper Lee was working on a new novel that the debate was finally laid to rest, only for similar accusations to arise with Watchman.

And I wonder…have we grown so used to celebrity that we inherently doubt those who do not seek the spotlight–that we can no longer trust what we cannot explicitly see?  Is it because Lee is a woman that her repeated assertions to her own authorship and decisions are doubted?  Or could it be that the characters from Mockingbird, from Boo Radley to Jem, from Scout to Atticus, are so real, and so meaningful, that we cannot conceive of the fact that they are the fictions?

1436905221269I think, ultimately, that this might be why this debate is such an emotional one: Atticus and Scout (probably most of all the characters) are too real, and have become too much a part of us, for us to accept that someone else has power over them.  There have been a number of articles posted in the past few days about the number of people who went to law school because of Atticus Finch.  Or the number of people who named their children Atticus as a way to commemorate his importance in their lives.  Or tattooed images and quotes from the book onto their own flesh so that they would become a part of the reader in a physical, as well as an emotional way.  And there are many who feel uncomfortable, at least, and betrayed, at worst, by the release of a book that threatens their understanding of the man they know as Atticus Finch.

But that is the beautiful thing about fiction.  Authors create the characters, naturally, just as they create the world those characters inhabit.  But then, like any good parents, they give them away to the world–and they become part of us.  They mean different things to different readers, and influence us in ways the author never imagined.  The Atticus who means so much to so many is not the Atticus that Harper Lee created, but the Atticus that so many readers needed him to be.  They created him out of the material Lee provided, but he is as much theirs, yours, and mine, as he is hers.  And nothing that appears in the pages of Watchman will take your Atticus out of your heart or your soul.  Watchman may be Harper Lee’s Atticus–possibly.  I’m still not sure.  And I’m not convinced anyone will ever know for sure what the truth surrounding Watchman and its publication really is.  But if he (or any other character, for that matter) gave you the strength to be you…that is a gift that cannot be taken away.


Go Set A Watchman: The Obligatory Post

Since several news outlets have referred to it as such, it’s safe to say that the release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is one of the most unexpected, curious, and pivotal releases in modern publishing history.  And today is the day, beloved patrons, that history is made.

The world at large was stunned in February when it was first announced that Lee had penned a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, a work that has been hailed as America’s “national novel”, which tells the story of Scout, a wonderfully intelligent and empathetic six-year-old, and her brother Jem, in the “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama with their widowed father, Atticus Finch.  When Atticus is appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, Scout becomes witness to both the best and the worst extremes of human behavior; from the noble defense and relentless compassion of Atticus to the murderous and vengeful reactions of her closest neighbors.  Though it deals with some genuinely difficult themes and dark subject matter, this book is noteworthy for its sympathy and humanity, as well as for the way it deals with courage in the face of ignorance, fear, and prejudice.   Lee’s narrative style, which Time magazine called “tactile brilliance”, brings the world of Maycomb to life through the eyes of a precocious child who is clearly marked forever by the events of Tom Robinson’s trial.

Gregory Peck and Harper Lee, 1962
Gregory Peck and Harper Lee, 1962

The book was an immediate sensation, and although it met with sharp criticism from many Southern reviewers.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960, and in 1962, was adapted into an Oscar-winning film, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in a role that would forever define his career (Lee thought Peck so embodied her father, who was the model for Atticus, that she gave him her father’s pocket watch).  By 1964, however, Lee was so overwhelmed and exhausted by the attention both she and her book received that she refused all press requests.  Since then, the book has gone on to be a classic, as famous for its subject matter as for the reclusive nature of its shy author.

Hence the genuine shock–and intense doubt– that resulted from the announcement that Harper Lee had penned a second book about Atticus, Scout, and Maycomb.  Many claimed that Lee, who is currently 89 years old, and suffers from failing hearing and vision.  was a victim of elderly abuse, and was being coerced into publishing the book.  News coverage was so intense that the Alabama Securities Commission investigated the situation, eventually concluding that Harper Lee was fully cognizant of the publication of her long-hidden novel, and eager for its release.  Shortly thereafter, Lee released a statement through her publisher, Harper Collins, stating, “In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called ‘Go Set a Watchman.  It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort…My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’) from the point of view of the young Scout. … I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years”.

But reactions to Go Set A Watchman will very likely be mixed, as expectations collide with reality, and inevitable comparisons are drawn between this book and Lee’s immortal Mockingbird.  Last Sunday, London’s Guardian and The Wall Street Journal released the first chapter of the book to an eager public (you can read it here), and the results can only be described as collective bewilderment, particularly by those who expected the tone and feel of Watchman to emulate Mockingbird.  Instead, we find an adult Jean Louise (Scout’s real name, apparently), a resident of New York, who is returning home to visit her father, who is crippled by rheumatoid arthritis.  Her brother Jem is dead, and Jean Louise is nearly engaged to her lifelong friend Henry Clinton.  The story is told in the third-person, creating a completely different relationship between the reader and the world of the story.  But the real shock comes from the changes in Atticus.  From what we have been told, gone is the compassionate moral compass of Mockingbird, and in his place is…a very different man indeed.

The original notecard from Harper Lee's agent, noting the progression of Watchman and Mockingbird.
The original notecard from Harper Lee’s agent, noting the progression of Watchman and Mockingbird.

Perhaps because Watchman has been so heavily touted as a ‘sequel’ to Mockingbird that many are finding the premise, and the events of the book, so difficult to digest.  Perhaps it may be helpful to remember (assuming that everything that has come out of Harper Collins’ press department is true) that Watchman actually came first.  When she read the manuscript for Watchman in 1957, Lee’s editor told her to write Mockingbird instead, thinking that the views of a time long past might appeal to readers more than a commentary on contemporary events, and that a child’s view might soften the view of an ongoing debate over civil rights.  The country was convulsed by issues such as the desegregation of school, the rise of the NAACP, and the visceral, often violent indignation of those who feared their own power slipping away, and Mockingbird spoke to those issues without confronting them directly.  What we see in Watchman is a world where the Civil Rights Movement was proving as divisive as it was powerful, and exhausting even the most well-intentioned as wave after wave of protests and marches were met with water cannons, billy clubs, and hatred, a world where generation gaps became gulfs of misunderstanding, hostility, and indignation.

Thinking about Scout/Jean Louise and her world in this light, and considering Mockingbird as a kind of prequel to Watchman, instead of the other way around, makes these two books into a heart-rending, but timely commentary on the cost of idealism, the complicated relationships we have with our own pasts, and the realities of race relations in the United States.  The timing of this publication could not be more timely, or more poignant, and the ongoing debate over the lowering of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina only serves to remind us of how far we have come…and, like Jean Louise herself, how far we have yet to go.


Summer Concert Series: Hoot and Holler

Get ready for the upcoming performances in the library’s Summer Concert Series! Concerts are at 7 p.m. every Thursday night in July and August at East End Veterans Memorial Park. Every Monday, Free for All will offer an article or interview with the band of the week. The following is an interview with Mark Kilianski of this week’s band,  Hoot and Holler.

What made you decide to become a musician?

As an awkward and angsty 13 year old, I found it difficult, and frustrating, to express myself and connect with peers socially.  At the time, I loved heavy metal music, and picking up electric guitar helped me do those things.  The friendships and happiness I found in musical connection mellowed me out considerably, and initiated a journey through blues, jazz, and now, bluegrass and folk music.

How would you describe your sound?

Hoot and Holler is the combination of Amy Alvey’s fiddling and my guitar playing, with both of us singing.  Amy’s got a soft, sweet voice, and mine is more animated and rowdy.  We meet in the middle, and blend together the best we can.  Amy plays a mean fiddle, very rich and rhythmic.  I like to push the songs forward with big fat guitar chords, and take big fat guitar solos.  Our sound is mostly derived from Appalachian string band music, but our blues, rock, and jazz influences peek out sometimes too.

What is your songwriting process like?

Amy writes songs in 5-10 minutes.  I let an idea stew for about 6-24 months and then spend an excruciating afternoon with pen and paper working it out.  It’s all stuff that comes from personal experience, sometimes obviously, sometimes more subtly.  The point is to write folk songs, stuff people can relate to without being to brainy or esoteric.

Which artists have been your biggest musical influences, and what is it that draws you to their music?

As a band, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings are a major inspiration, and a lot of the old guys like Bill Monroe, Arthur Smith, Uncle Dave Macon, Hank Williams, and Norman Blake.

Please tell us about any albums you have available or in production.

We’ve got a new EP called Nothing If Not Young that we released last fall.  It’s all original songs and tunes.  We also each released a solo album prior to the solidification of this project, which are again, all original material.

What should people expect when they come to your concert on Thursday night?

People can expect songs about losing love, looking for love, finding love, nature, humanity, despair, joy, and of course, rambling.  Classic folk themes with boy-girl harmonies, backed by fiddle and guitar.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

We hope you enjoy the performance!  Check out, and if you like what you hear.

More about the Summer Concert Series:
Concerts will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday evenings in July and August at East End Veterans’ Memorial Park. Bring a blanket or folding chair, and maybe even a picnic dinner, and enjoy live acoustic music from a new performer each week. East End Veterans’ Memorial Park is located at 45 Walnut Street. The concert schedule is as follows:

July 9th: Damn Tall Buildings
July 16th: Hoot and Holler
July 23rd: Colleen White and Sean Smith
July 30th: Semi-Aquatic Rodent
August 6th: Molly Pinto Madigan
August 13th: Eva Walsh
August 20th: Ian Fitzgerald
August 27th: The Whiskey Boys

Please note: In the event of rain, Summer Concerts will be held in the Sutton Room at the Peabody Institute Library and food will not be allowed.

For more information, please call 978-531-0100 ext. 10, or visit the library’s website at


On the Screen: There are books on my TV!

Summer is the season for miniseries, and this year has seen a bumper-crop of bite-sized series for your viewing pleasure. The great thing about mini-series, particularly ones developed for summertime, is that they are guaranteed attention-grabbers.  Gone are the days when summer was nothing more than re-runs and series marathons.  Studios want to keep ratings as high as possible year-round, and thus are willing to pay a pretty penny in production costs and casting to ensure that viewers come home from the beach, or the pool, or the game, (or the library!) early to check out the newest adventures of their favorites characters.

Here at the Free For All, we’ve already discussed two of the best miniseries out there right now, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on BBC America, and Poldark,  which has been renewed for a second season, much to my father’s delight.  But there are a number of other quality shows that might just tickle your fancy during these increasingly hot summer days, and the best part is that many of them are based on books, which are much easier to take along on your summertime adventures than a TV, and which don’t require an internet connection to enjoy–once you’ve downloaded them, naturally, if that is your preferred method of reading.   So have a look at some mini-series and the books that inspired them, and see what tickles your imagination…

MV5BMjMxMDA0NDM5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDMwNTIxNjE@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_Fear the Walking Dead: This spin-off of the wildly popular show The Walking Dead has been getting a great deal of attention, primarily because AMC has yet to announce an official release date (it’s sometime in August, but, like the zombie-apocalypse itself, we might not know about it until it’s already happening).  What we do know is that this series is set in Los Angeles, and shows us how the world transformed into the dusty, fear-ravaged, hungry zombie-scape that we learned to love from the original show.  Though it features a different cast and a different plotline, this show will bring viewers right up to the point where The Walking Dead begins.  For readers, come in and check out Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel series that inspired the show.

250px-Under_the_Dome_intertitleUnder the Dome: Now in it’s third season, this summertime series tells and expands Stephen King’s novel of the same name.  Set in the town of Chester’s Mill, this show examines what happens to a seemingly ordinary place when an inexplicable, invisible, and impenetrable force isolates them completely from the outside world.  Though the show’s writers and creators have taken some liberties with the material, overall, King’s work is evident throughout this show; he is one of the executive producers, wrote the season two pilot, and appeared in a brief cameo (you can see it here).  For those who would like a refresher course, the library has copies of Season 1 and Season 2 on DVD.

Wayward_Pines_Intertitle (1)Wayward Pines: It’s taken a bit of effort for this series to get rolling, but since it began in May, it has captured viewers and reviewers alike–and it’s always delightful to see their shock-fueled, gaping reactions to critical plot twists that readers knew was coming.  Fans of Brett Crouch’s horror/sci-fi trilogy that beings with Pines will know all about the weird little town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, and the people who live there.  But for U.S. Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke, who ends up there alone after a terrible car accident to find two of his partners missing, the mystery has only begun.  Rumors are that this show will be renewed for a second season, which is great news for those of us who know all the creepy revelations yet to come.

The_Whispers_ABCThe Whispers:  “Who is Drill?” has become a mantra in our household this summer, but you can answer that question right now by checking out Ray Bradbury’s short story “Zero Hour”, which provided the inspiration for this series.  Though The Whispers takes Bradbury’s concept much, much further, it’s impressive to see how well the original story has stood the test of time.  Bradbury’s work frequently featured childhood, and that magical, often terrifying moment when childhood dies.  This story–and this show–perhaps encapsulating that theme the best, emphasizing the dangers that can come from not taking children’s games as seriously as the children do.

Zoo_IntertitleZoo: Though his delivery is a topic of some debate, there is no doubt that James Patterson can come up with a fascinating premise, and this mini-series, based on his 2012 book, co-authored with his frequent collaborator Michael Ledwidge, is one of his most intriguing.  Our erstwhile hero, Jackson Oz, has dedicated his life, and destroyed his professional reputation, by trying to draw attention to the number of mammal attacks–a pattern that points to a concerted effort to wipe out the human species.  This is a series that has received world-wide attention (Australia has fast-tracked each episode, so that it airs a day after the US broadcast), and it will be interesting to see how audiences react to Jackson’s theories and evidence.

In related news: Several of these shows have announced DVD releases of these shows, so you’ll soon be able to borrow them from the library and catch up on anything you might have missed!

Saturdays @ the South: Chocolate

I tried to think of a better title for this week’s post, maybe something with a pun like last week’s post or something more attention-grabbing, but then I thought, what’s more attention-grabbing than chocolate in its purest, unadulterated form? So the simple title stays in the hopes that chocolate lovers will naturally gravitate towards something they enjoy.

It’s no secret that we at the South Branch love food, as evidenced by one of my posts last month. The food programs we have at the South are perennially popular and I’m continuously working to keep our cookbook section current, relevant and interesting. This Thursday, July 16th at 7PM we’re offering a program featuring none other than chocolate! Local historian Anthony Sammarco will be talking about the 250-year history of the Baker’s Chocolate company. Not only did I have no idea that the Baker’s chocolate I see in every supermarket was a local company (based out of Dorchester), I also had no idea that they’d been in business for over two centuries! And don’t worry, true to my spoiler-free promise this is only the very beginning of the things Mr. Sammarco will be talking about. There’s much more to find out!

So if you enjoy chocolate, local history or the off chance that you might get to have a chocolate snack at the library, come on by the South Branch this Thursday night. Mr. Sammarco will be selling and signing copies of his book The Baker Chocolate Company: A Sweet History, but a purchase is not required. If you’d like a preview, you can find the book here.


If you simply can’t get enough chocolate (who can, really?), here are some suggestions that may ease some of those cravings:

3612592How to Make Chocolate Candies by Bill Collins

The South Branch hosted Chef Bill Collins this past winter for a session on making chocolate candies at home and he really knew his stuff. This book is the culmination of his research into mastering some basic techniques in order to replicate the chocolate-making techniques of skilled chocolatiers at home. This book will guide you through different types of chocolate, simple methodology, equipment and storage tips in clear, plain language. From there he provides detailed recipes for fudge, barks, molded chocolates, truffles and more. If you’d like to impress friends and family with quality homemade candies, this little guide will help you do just that.

Devils’ Food Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke

2978456Joanne Fluke is a heavy-hitter in the cozy mystery field, thrilling fans not only with charming murder mysteries solved by baker and amateur sleuth Hannah Swenson, but with enticing recipes that compliment her stories. Forgoing the in-title puns of her peer Diane Mott Davidson, Fluke gets right to what’s important, titling her books after desserts. Her recipes are so popular she even collected them in a Hannah Swenson cookbook. In this chocolaty adventure, a friend-of-a-friend is murdered, found face-down in a devils’ food cake and Hannah uses the natural comfort that is chocolate and baked goods to poke around where the police don’t have as much luck. As with all of Fluke’s books, come for the murder, stay for the recipes!

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

1547830Joanne Harris’s poetic novel follows Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk as they arrive in a small town in southern France and open a charming little chocolate shop… right at the beginning of Lent and across the street of the local parish. As the town chooses sides between church and chocolate, relationships are tested and forged. Harris’ work is a beautiful love letter to chocolate, family and what “home” truly means. Her prose will wrap you like like a velvety chocolate coating over a sweet, ripe strawberry creating an indulgent, hedonistic but all together delightful read. If you’d like to indulge more, you can follow Vianne and Anouk’s adventures in The Girl with No Shadow and Peaches for Father Francis.


2008774No, it’s not deja vu; no need to adjust your computer screen.  Harris’s book was made into a terrific movie and the two are different enough that I think the movie warrants its own recommendation. The overall vibe and the same plot as Harris’s novel are certainly present in the movie, but the cinematic effort crystallizes some themes and glosses over others to the point where reading the book and watching the movie are very different experiences. Juliette Binoche plays Vianne and her 1950s style in this movie is truly enviable. Johnny Depp gives a great performance as an Irish wanderer and Alfred Molina as Francis Reynaud nearly steals the show from the amazing chocolate creations. This is one of my favorite movies and it brings Harris’s setting and characters to life beautifully.

The Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate by Robert Steinberg & John Scharffenberger

2398302If all of this chocolate fiction has you itching to get into the kitchen, you may want to try this cookbook from Robert Steinberg and  John Scharffenberger (of the artisinal Scharffen Berger chocolate company). With stunning photos and chocolate recipes of all varieties (I’m particularly intrigued by the savory options that pair the richness of chocolate with main-dish meats), even the most hardcore chocoholic will be hard-pressed not to find satisfaction in these pages.

I hope this week’s post has satisfied some cravings (and maybe even fired a few cravings up) and I hope to see you on Thursday night!

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass