Books for Foodies: Some Fiction

There’s been a plethora of culinary-inspired fiction within the past ten years or so.  Some authors have made a nice living at it producing a ton of food-centered mystery series.

As I continue with my Christmas gift list for readers, today I wanted to highlight some of my most recently read novels that I perused with those culinary goggles of mine.  Some may or may not be considered “foodie reads” but they have a lot of culinary inspiration in them.

For your foodie fiction lover or just your regular avid reader, I present you with today’s gift suggestions:

 

Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund

This novel is expansive to say the least.  Not only does it follow a young woman from adolescence to adulthood, it also connects her life with the  intelligentsia of the first half of the 19th century.

Una (Ahab’s wife of the title) tells her tale in non-chronological order. The novel traces her move from her childhood home in Kentucky to a lighthouse off the east coast to whaling towns in Massachusetts. Along the way she crosses paths with Margaret Fuller, Emerson, Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry James (as a child), and Maria Mitchell (the first American woman to work as a professional astronomer).

Again, this is a huge novel and it lags a bit at times. I would recommend this book but beware of its girth (and maybe its breadth).   I did enjoy Una’s journey and seeing Ahab from another point of view. The interview at the end of the Kindle edition with the author is quite informative.

I have listed this book on my foodie-reads shelf because of the amount of food mentioned in the novel. That list is expansive as well including  toast with homemade cheese and garden fresh herbs, homemade bakery items, egg drop soup, fish chowder, pear flan, cobblers, jams, jellies, preserves, muscatel, ginger cookies, “caviar from Russia, French pates, double Gloucester cheeses, heart of palm, water chestnuts from China,” etc.  (Totally incomplete list here.)

 

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers is a cross between White Oleander(because of the foster care system depiction) and Garden Spells (because of the power of the flowers).

Victoria has aged-out of the foster care system and finds herself homeless and without any job prospects. Luckily, she has the “language of flowers” to fall back on. Her gift lands her a job with a local florist and allows her to reconnect with her past while visiting the flower market.

Victoria’s “gift” with the language of flowers is her education and knowledge versus any mystical talent. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the book as much if Diffenbaugh had gone over to the mystical side.

I didn’t like Part 4 as much as the first three sections of the book. To discuss it further would be a spoiler. Just suffice it to say that Victoria has to work through some “mommy issues.”

If you like a “foodie” read, there is lots of food mentioned in the novel:  peach-banana pancakes, fresh vine-ripe fruit, peppermint blossoms, donuts, muffins, herbs, chocolate, chicken curry, ravioli, rosemary with new potatoes, cobbler, homemade ice cream…. I found the explanation of the symbolic meanings of plants intriguing as well.

 

Cooking for Picasso by C.A. Belmond (Camille Aubray)

If you are a Francophile and food and art lover, you will adore Cooking for Picasso.  Alert:  I listened to the audio book  narrated by Mozhan Marno.  Her dulcet tone was mesmerizing.  That being stated, I like to think that I would have been just as engaged with an old-fashioned hard copy.  Another alert:  this unabridged version is 13 1/2 hours long.

The tale is told from two points of view and covers three generations of women:

  1. Ondine, first portrayed as a young woman whom we follow into her sixties.
  2. Julie, Ondine’s daughter.
  3. Celine, Julie’s daughter, a thirty-something Hollywood make-up artist.

The flashbacks of Grandmother Ondine’s tale are told in third-person. Celine tells her story in first-person. The action of the novel swaps back and forth between Celine’s modern world (set in New York, Nevada, and France) with Ondine’s tale of the mid-thirties in the quaint village of Juan-les-Pins.

Where does Picasso figure into this tale? The young Ondine cooked for Picasso when he spent time on the Riviera. She starts out as a personal chef but is soon posing for Picasso.

Many years later, Ondine’s granddaughter, Celine, treks to the same French town to seek the truth about her grandmother’s connection with Picasso. She is also there to hopefully find a better life for her mother, Julie. Celine finds herself in an upscale cooking class (accompanied by her Aunt Matilda) taught by a Gordon Ramsey-like chef.

There are lots of French delicacies and good hearty peasant food in the novel, but it was hard for me to keep up with all the food as I was driving and listening. Honestly, as the intrigue and drama (and heartache) escalated in the novel, I found myself forgetting to notice the food as I was swept away by the story. (This tale is vast and encompasses 1936-2016 and settings of France, Monaco, Las Vegas, New York City, and New Rochelle.)

If you have a long drive ahead of you pick up this audio book. If you have a few days to spend on the French Riviera, you might also want to pick up the novel and become entranced with the lives of Ondine, Julie and Celine.  Or, just gift this book the foodie-Francophile in your life.

You can see my full review here along with a holiday menu idea.

 

Finally I would love to highlight the current Cook the Books selection for December/January:

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King

One book reviewer describes Feast of Sorrow  by Crystal King as ““The Food Network meets HBO’s Rome.”  That is a spot-on description.

The novel’s plot revolves around Thrasius, a slave who is coveted by many for his culinary prowess, and his master Apicius.  This is a tale of intrigue, power, and obsession as Apicius is determined to become the culinary adviser for Caesar.   He sees his new slave as the key to his success.

Apicius is based on a historical figure, Marcus Gavius Apicius, who lived during the First Century AD.  He was known as a gourmand and epicurean and is often attributed as the first author of any known cookbook.  Although the truth about Apicius’ life is a bit sketchy at best, King takes historical references of his life (from ancient texts) and of his tragic death and fills in the blanks in this work of fiction.

 

With shameful plug, I hope that some of you might request the novel as a Christmas gift and join the fun with this round.  (I am hosting.)  For more information, please check out the announcement post here.

 

If you’ve read any great fiction (culinary-centric or otherwise) lately, please comment below.

I am once again linking to December’s Foodies Read.

What’s to come this holiday season?

  • Some  more New Mexican inspired “gifts from the kitchen”
  • An heirloom family fruitcake recipe
  • Some more book gift ideas (hopefully)

Please stay tuned.

Postscript:  Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm left a great idea on a previous foodie-book post:  “I think next year I will start early and purchase the books that I choose and include it in a basket with the ingredients to create a recipe inspired by said book.”   I love this thoughtful gift idea!  Maybe this will be next year’s theme!

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My Favorite Reads

Eat, Pray, Love
Running with Scissors
SantaLand Diaries
Me Talk Pretty One Day
Angela's Ashes
Naked
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
My Life in France
Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job, and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table
The Liars' Club
Code Name Verity
The Paris Wife
The Shoemaker's Wife
The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo: A Novel
Brother of the More Famous Jack
Burying the Honeysuckle Girls


Debra's favorite books »