Great Reads

Pullinger, Kate. The Mistress of Nothing

Sally considers herself fortunate.  As a lady’s maid to Lady Duff Gordon, she has come up the ranks from being an orphan without skills to having a secure job of some prestige. When Lady Duff Gordon becomes ill with a lung disease, her doctor suggests she relocate to the warm, dry climate of Egypt.  Sally can scarcely believe her luck in being asked to go along to care for her lady.  Sally craves adventure and having spent her precious free time at the British Museum studying the Egyptian culture, she knows what a wonderful opportunity is ahead.

The somewhat unorthodox and gregarious Lady Duff Gordon decides that Luxor is the place where she will settle and sets about renting the finest home in the city and hiring household help. Because there are few English speakers in the area or traveling through, Lady Duff Gordon begins to treat Sally as a friend rather than a servant, giving her freedom that Sally had never imagined and which ultimately causes Sally to forget the real nature of her situation in life. Sally settles in quickly, learns Arabic, and begins a friendship with an Egyptian man that soon turns into a love affair.

Sally has a rude awakening when she discovers that the lady she has served so faithfully quickly turns on her when provoked and she discovers just how little she means to Lady Duff Gordon when she needs her the most.  This novel is based on a true story, gathered from the letters of Lucie, Lady Duff Gordon.  Fans of historical fiction and book groups will find enjoyable reading in Pullinger’s debut.

Gwynne, S. C. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

Gwynne covers a lot of history in his book.  This is, in part, the biography of Quanah Parker, the last Comanche Chief.  More than that, it's the history of Texas settlers spilling onto the open plains and their persistence in pushing the frontier forward despite vicious battles with southern plains tribes. 

Included are the many historical misteps made as the Mexican government, the Republic of Texas government, and finally the U.S. Government as they took on the Comanches, a little-understood tribe that had developed into the world's best mounted cavalry. Quanah Parker seems a historic anomoly as well. Considered the greatest Comanche war chief, he was the son of a white woman taken captive by the tribe at age nine and a respected war chief.

Recommended for fans of American history.

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Meldrum, Christina. Amaryllis in Blueberry

In Meldrum's first adult novel, an uncommunicative family moves to Africa to become medical missionaries because of a whim of the father, a pathologist.  When the family leaves Michigan for Africa in 1976, they have no idea what to expect and little knowledge of the area to which they are transported. 

Although the plot sounds a little like The Poisonwood Bible, the similarities end there.  Meldrum's disfunctional Slepy family consists of parents and their four daughters, each seemingly lost to their own thoughts. A rotating perspective gives us a glimpse of everyone's view, but of all the daughters, Amaryllis, the youngest, is the only one with any real instincts.  Her father, along with her sisters, believes she is not his child and despite it being the elephant in the corner, her mother remains strangely silent on the topic which festers and drives them all to various levels of insanity.

This is an unusual story complete with well-drawn characters and a vivid setting.  Fans of women's psychological fiction may find much to enjoy in Meldrum's latest.


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Bryson, Bill. At Home

If you’re a regular reader, you probably know I’m a Bryson fan.  Still, I was hesitant to pick up his latest because the description made it sound a tad boring.  Recently, when I saw the audio edition available, I picked it up just to see.  I’m glad I did!

Bryson takes us on a tour of his old house, a parsonage in England, and gives us a history of domestic life as we follow along.  For instance, a tour of the scullery brings us to a discussion of the lives of servants in the 1800s, complete with gossip of the day. A discussion of the word “hall” brings us to the history of medieval halls where lord of the manor and servants coexisted in one large room out of the elements and near the fire. As it turns out, At Home is a fascinating look at history complete with a touch of Bryson’s trademark wit.  If you’ve ever read Simon Winchester (Krakatoa), you might see a glimpse of the constructs Winchester employs to connect his topics, which on the surface often seem unrelated.

Bryson narrates his own CD in his slightly British accent, making it a pleasure to listen to.

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Just a Thought...Celebrities and Cookbooks

Cookbooks are wildly popular here and have been for years.  I find I sometimes have to watch the food channel to see who is who and who cooks what so I can assist those seeking the cookbook written by the woman with the southern accent, or the one who cooks Italian and has that husband on the show sometimes. 

I was thinking about this recently, remembering the days when cookbook meant Betty Crocker, Fannie Farmer, or Julia Child.  Then there were the less personal titles like “The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook”, “The Joy of Cooking”, and the Sunset series.  There came the appliance-specific books like “Slow Cooker Recipes for Two”, and “Cooking with Convection”. There are food or ingredient-specific books and the restaurant/chef cookbooks such as: Leone’s Italian Cookbook, Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen, and Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. And finally, there’s that new crop of celebrity chefs made popular by the food network including Paula Dean, Rachel Ray, Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, and a host of others.

Is it just me or does it seem that the focus is off the food and onto the celebrity chef? Is it the making of entire networks devoted to food? or has it always been that way for foodies who want to know not just the what, but the why and the who?

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