Quibbles aside, devotees of Ruth Reichl and M.F.K. Fisher will gobble up this delicious new gastronomic biography.

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THE PEOPLE’S CHEF

THE CULINARY REVOLUTIONS OF ALEXIS SOYER

Brandon serves up the life story of a man who changed the way rich and poor ate.

Alexis Soyer cooked for 19th-century England. Moving from France to Blighty as a young man, he cooked at Aston Hall and at London’s Reform Club, where his creations—haricot and lentil salad, truffles stuffed with ortolans, “New Spring and Autumn Soup”—earned him renown as he transformed the kitchens of the Reform Club into “one of the sights of London.” But, as Brandon’s (Surreal Lives, 1999, etc.) well-chosen title makes clear, Soyer was no mere servant to English bon vivants. He was also a culinary innovator and social reformer. In the late 1840s, he became consumed by the problems of the poor and designed a new soup kitchen to serve them. Disgusted by what was available at most such kitchens, he published Soyer’s Charitable Cookery: or, The Poor Man’s Regenerator, which spelled out healthy, cheap recipes for the “poor and labouring classes.” When he set up a soup kitchen in Dublin, he was heralded as a savior. Soyer’s final act of service was to the British in the Crimean War, where he invented an innovative field stove and oversaw the kitchen at a military hospital in Constantinople. His 1858 death was mourned throughout the Empire. As Florence Nightingale commented, Europe boasted plenty of other gourmands, but there was no one else who had turned his epicurean skill to the nutritious feeding of the masses. Brandon tells Soyer’s story briskly, though not flawlessly. A confusing literary device—structuring the book around a menu, and opening each chapter with a recipe—distracts from the overall fare. (Do we really need to know that the mention of bones, in a recipe for soup, reminds Brandon of “my mother’s continually simmering stockpot”?)

Quibbles aside, devotees of Ruth Reichl and M.F.K. Fisher will gobble up this delicious new gastronomic biography.

Pub Date: April 30, 2005

ISBN: 0-8027-1452-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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