Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

I finished The Leavers by Lisa Ko before our long weekend away in the North Carolina mountains—which is why you didn’t see a Bookshelf post last week. It’s a story about the separation of a mother Polly/Peilan and her son Daniel/Deming. Deming’s an interesting character. He never gets over the separation because he doesn’t know why it happened—and we don’t either for quite a while.

Deming’s a brilliant musician, due in part to his synesthesia (the sound-as-colors brain syndrome), but he’s also a gambling addict and college drop-out. As he loses his Chinese family and identity, he becomes an interloper between two worlds, never fully settling into his white-American adoptive family and accepting the path set out for him—college. He’s like his mother who didn’t accept her path (marriage, village life) and, like her, he has to make his own confusing way.

Peilan stayed on my mind even when I was reading this book. We read about her life as a young woman in China, her escape from village life, and her first years in New York with and without Deming. She was always struggling to make a good life for herself even if it meant keeping secrets. So, did this determined survivor really abandon her son? I’m not saying. I enjoyed this book and wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

When this book was released it got a lot of buzz because it showed the personal side of a political issue. Immigration has always been personal to me and my opinions are conflicted. Throughout my restaurant and pastry careers, I worked alongside immigrants. I saw Salvadorans and Haitians leaving their eight hour kitchen shift and heading to another restaurant or cleaning job. When I volunteered as an English as a Foreign Language teacher, I was amazed at the dedication my students had to learning their new country’s language, many of them finding time to take classes in between morning and night shifts.

Peilan’s world was different: Chinese immigrants in New York’s sewing sweatshops and nail salons. For them, the most immediate enemy was poverty along with smugglers, gangs and loan sharks, not La Migra. For all immigrants, their story resembles the traditional hero’s journey—battling challenges (poverty, discrimination and the precariousness of illegal immigration status) to find freedom, peace, community and success.

Four stars.

I’m still enjoying A Life of Spice: Stories of Food, Culture and Life by Monica Bhide. I’ll need its light (both in mood and subject matter) considering the other two books I just started—these blurbs are from Amazon:

  • Blindness by José Saramago: A stunningly powerful novel of man’s will to survive against all odds, by the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature. A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” which spares no one. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. A magnificent parable of loss and disorientation and a vivid evocation of the horrors of the twentieth century, and a powerful portrayal of man’s worst appetites and weaknesses—and man’s ultimately exhilarating spirit.
  • A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary by Anonymous: In 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army, a young woman kept a daily record of life in her apartment building and among its residents. The author depicts her fellow Berliners in all their humanity, as well as their cravenness, corrupted first by hunger and then by the Russians. A Woman in Berlin tells of the complex relationship between civilians and an occupying army and the shameful indignities to which women in a conquered city are always subject—the mass rape suffered by all, regardless of age or infirmity.

Now you can see why I’m balancing these tales with uplifting stories of cooking and food. Both these books have been lingering in my bookshelves for years so it’s time to read them and pass them on.

As of earlier today, these ebooks at Amazon were on sale at $2 to $7—up to an 90% discount—but act quickly if you want a bargain. These deals may only last a day or a week, you never know. If you’re in the browsing mood, check out last week’s ebook sales too—some of those books may still be on sale. Book blurbs are from the Amazon page unless otherwise credited.


Reminder: some of these books may only be on sale a few days so act quickly if you’re interested. Click on the title to get to the Amazon deal.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel ($2.99 – today only)

Kirsten will never forget the night a famous Hollywood actor had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end. 20 years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians… [who] have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff ($1.99 – today only)

Prize finalist and on many “best of year” lists.

Many a therapist will tell you that honesty and transparency is the glue that keeps a relationship together. Lauren Groff cleverly turns this concept on its head in Fates and Furies, demonstrating that sometimes it’s what you don’t say—to protect your partner’s vanity, their reputation, their heart—that makes a marriage hum…this dazzlingly told tale of one such marriage introduces us to Lotto and Mathilde. The former is an out-of-work actor-turned successful playwright, although some of that success is fueled by forces his ego obscures. And then there’s his adoring and enigmatic wife, Mathilde, who we later find out is a far better actor than Lotto ever was…a convincing love story that packs an emotional punch, especially when certain truths are revealed. The title Fates and Furies is a nod to Greek Tragedy, and this novel revels in the themes befitting one—passion, betrayal, vengeance, redemption.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett ($2.99, 75% off)

Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, Nadia takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner….The pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar ($1.99)

Thrity Umrigar’s poignant novel about a wealthy woman and her downtrodden servant, offers a revealing look at class and gender roles in modern day Bombay. Alternatively told through the eyes of Sera, a Parsi widow whose pregnant daughter and son-in-law share her elegant home, and Bhima, the elderly housekeeper who must support her orphaned granddaughter, Umrigar does an admirable job of creating two sympathetic characters whose bond goes far deeper than that of employer and employee.

My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira ($1.99, 84% off)

Mary Sutter is a brilliant, head­strong midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine—and eager to run away from her recent heartbreak—Mary leaves home and travels to Washington, D.C. to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded… My Name Is Mary Sutter powerfully evokes the atmosphere of the period. Rich with historical detail (including marvelous depictions of Lincoln, Dorothea Dix, General McClellan, and John Hay among others), and full of the tragedies and challenges of wartime.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles ($1.99)

National Book Award finalist: Captain Jefferson Kyle is a war-weary widower, traveling from town to town reading bits of news to paying customers. In one such town he is given a $50 dollar gold piece to ferry a kidnapped girl back to what’s left of her family—her parents and sister having been murdered by members of the Kiowa tribe who spare the then 6-year-old and raise her as one of their own. Fast-forward four years and tribe life is the only life she knows, so she’s not about to go quietly with a stranger who doesn’t speak her language, whose motives she does not trust, and to a place that is not what she now considers home. Thus begins a seemingly ill-advised but transformative road trip where the mismatched pair eventually form an uneasy truce, then a not-so begrudging alliance, and finally something more wonderful that neither Captain nor kid could have imagined.

Delicious by Ruth Reichl ($1.99, 84% off)

Reichl was Gourmet magazine’s editor in chief and, before that, restaurant critic for The New York Times.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine…Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints to pay her bills. To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to come to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love.

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund ($1.99)

Marie Antoinette was a child of fourteen when her mother, the Empress of Austria, arranged for her to leave her family and her country to become the wife of the fifteen-year-old Dauphin, the future King of France…She shows her new husband nothing but love and encouragement, though he repeatedly fails to consummate their marriage and in so doing is unable to give what she and the people of France desire most: a child and an heir to the throne. Deeply disappointed and isolated in her own intimate circle, and apart from the social life of the court, she allows herself to remain ignorant of the country’s growing economic and political crises, even as poor harvests, bitter winters, war debts, and poverty precipitate rebellion and revenge. The young queen, once beloved by the common folk, becomes a target of scorn, cruelty, and hatred as she, the court’s nobles, and the rest of the royal family are caught up in the nightmarish violence of a murderous time called “the Terror.” With penetrating insight and with wondrous narrative skill, Naslund offers an intimate, fresh, heartbreaking, and dramatic reimagining of this truly compelling woman that goes far beyond popular myth—and she makes a bygone time of tumultuous change as real to us as the one we are living in now.

Ariel: The Restored Edition (Modern Classics) by Sylvia Plath ($1.99)

When Sylvia Plath died, she not only left behind a prolific life but also her unpublished literary masterpiece, Ariel. When her husband, Ted Hughes, first brought this collection to life, it garnered worldwide acclaim, though it wasn’t the draft Sylvia had wanted her readers to see. This facsimile edition restores, for the first time, Plath’s original manuscript—including handwritten notes—and her own selection and arrangement of poems. This edition also includes in facsimile the complete working drafts of her poem Ariel, which provide a rare glimpse into the creative process of a beloved writer.

Fiction, cookbooks and nonfiction ebooks on sale now and book review of The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Food & Cooking:

Caveat: Ebook sales like these sometimes only last a day or a week, so act quickly.

The Dinner Plan: Simple Weeknight Recipes and Strategies for Every Schedule by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion ($2.99, 75% off)

The Dinner Plan offers five meal strategies—Make-Ahead, Staggered, One-Dish, Extra-Fast, and Pantry—that will help get dinner on the table no matter what the workweek throws at you…all of the recipes are “keepers”—brag-worthy, reliable, crowd-pleasing preparations that you’ll confidently turn to again and again…The Dinner Plan is every home cook’s indis­pensable weeknight dinner guide.

Cook Simple: Effortless Cooking Every Day by Diana Henry ($0.99, 75% off)

Diana Henry shows you how to turn everyday ingredients into something special with the minimum of effort. Cook Simple is packed with over 150 recipes and ideas…that offer simple ways to make every meal spectacular. Diana dedicates a chapter to each of 12 everyday ingredient groups: chicken, chops, sausages, leg of lamb, fish, leaves, summer veg, winter veg, pasta, summer fruit, winter fruit, flour and eggs. Each recipe takes only minutes to prepare with ingredients easily sourced from your local supermarket.

New French Table by Emily and Giselle Roux ($0.99)

Simple family food forms the heart of French gastronomy…French food is not only easy and approachable, but light, fresh and bursting with flavor. From the provincial home cooking of the Ardeche to the sweet treats of Brittany, this unique collection of recipes shows how the French kitchen has evolved to suit a modern lifestyle – with delicious recipes for every day; family dinners; lighter soups and salads; new trends; international influences; and big feasts to feed a crowd.

Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, & Calzone by Alice Waters ($1.99)

Alice Waters…gives us the extraordinary pastas, pizzas, and calzones she serves in her famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkley, California. Based on the freshest and best seasonal ingredients, every recipe is bursting with flavor and unexpected combinations. Inspired as much by Providence as by Italy, these recipes reveal Chez Panisse’s strong Mediterranean affinities, not only in the choice of ingredients, but also in the combinations that make them so tantalizing.

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman ($1.99, 83% off)

A young historical gastronomist named Sarah Lohman discovered that American food is united by eight flavors: black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. In “a unique and surprising view of American history…richly researched, intriguing, and elegantly written” (The Atlantic), Lohman sets out to explore how these influential ingredients made their way to the American table.

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton ($1.99)

Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends.

Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food by Megan Kimble ($1.99, 81% off)

In January 2012, Megan Kimble was a twenty-six-year-old living in a small apartment without even a garden plot to her name. But she cared about where food came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body: so she decided to go an entire year without eating processed foods. Unprocessed is the narrative of Megan’s extraordinary year, in which she milled wheat, extracted salt from the sea, milked a goat, slaughtered a sheep, and more—all while earning an income that fell well below the federal poverty line…Backed by extensive research and wide-ranging interviews—and including tips on how to ditch processed food and transition to a real-food lifestyle—Unprocessed offers provocative insights not only on the process of food, but also the processes that shape our habits, communities, and day-to-day lives.

Fiction, cookbooks and nonfiction ebooks on sale now and book review of The Leavers by Lisa Ko


These books were on sale as of Sunday morning, but may not be on sale for long—act quickly.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover ($6.99 – today only)

This book is getting all kinds of positive buzz so grab it while it’s on sale.

When the Holocaust was mentioned in a history class, Tara didn’t know what it was…because she didn’t see the inside of a classroom until the age of seventeen. Public education was one of the many things her religious fanatic father was dubious of, believing it a means for the government to brainwash its gullible citizens…If it wasn’t for a brother who managed to extricate himself from their isolated—and often dangerous—world, Westover might still be in rural Idaho, trying to survive her survivalist upbringing…Eventually earning a PhD from Cambridge University may have been the easy part, at least compared to what she had to sacrifice to attain it. The courage it took to make that sacrifice was the truest indicator of how far she’d come, and how much she’d learned. Educated is an inspiring reminder that knowledge is, indeed, power.

Song of Praise for a Flower: One Woman’s Journey through China’s Tumultuous 20th Century by Fengxian Chu, Charlene Chu ($0.99, 90% off)

For nearly two decades, this manuscript lay hidden in a Chinese bank vault until a long-lost cousin from America inspired 92-year-old author Chu to unearth it. Song of Praise for a Flower traces a century of Chinese history through the experiences of one woman and her family, from the dark years of World War II and China’s civil war to the tragic Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, and beyond. It is a window into a faraway world, a sweeping epic about China’s tumultuous transformation and a harrowing yet ultimately uplifting story of a remarkable woman who survives it all and finally finds peace and tranquility.

Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Wartime Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic ($1.99)

When Zlata’s Diary was first published at the height of the Bosnian conflict, it became an international bestseller and was compared to The Diary of Anne Frank, both for the freshness of its voice and the grimness of the world it describes. It begins as the day-today record of the life of a typical eleven-year-old girl, preoccupied by piano lessons and birthday parties. But as war engulfs Sarajevo, Zlata Filipovic becomes a witness to food shortages and the deaths of friends and learns to wait out bombardments in a neighbor’s cellar. Yet throughout she remains courageous and observant. The result is a book that has the power to move and instruct readers a world away.

The Beekeeper’s Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus ($1.99)

The remarkable story of John Miller, one of America’s foremost migratory beekeepers, and the myriad and mysterious epidemics threatening American honeybee populations. In luminous, razor-sharp prose, Nordhaus explores the vital role that honeybees play in American agribusiness, the maintenance of our food chain, and the very future of the nation…Nordhaus’s stunning exposé illuminates one the most critical issues facing the world today, offering insight, information, and, ultimately, hope.

The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey by Dawn Anahid MacKeen ($2.99)

Growing up, MacKeen heard from her mother how her grandfather Stepan miraculously escaped from the Turks during the Armenian genocide of 1915, when more than one million people—half the Armenian population—were killed. In The Hundred-Year Walk she alternates between Stepan’s courageous account, drawn from his long-lost journals, and her own story as she attempts to retrace his steps, setting out alone to Turkey and Syria, shadowing her resourceful, resilient grandfather across a landscape still rife with tension. Dawn uses his journals to guide her to the places he was imperiled and imprisoned and the desert he crossed with only half a bottle of water. Their shared story is a testament to family, to home, and to the power of the human spirit to transcend the barriers of religion, ethnicity, and even time itself.

Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr ($1.99, 75% off)

“A clear-eyed, opinionated, and idiosyncratic guide to a vibrant but endangered art form, essential reading for anyone who loves poetry, and also for those of us who mostly just admire it from afar.” Award-winning New York Times Book Review poetry columnist David Orr delivers an engaging, amusing, and stimulating tour through the world of poetry…Orr’s Beautiful & Pointless offers a smart and funny approach to appreciating an art form that many find difficult to embrace.

The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by Annie Dillard ($1.99, 77% off)

Quintessential Annie Dillard, delivered in her fierce and undeniably singular voice, filled with fascinating detail and metaphysical fact. The pieces within will exhilarate both admiring fans and a new generation of readers…The Abundance reminds us that Dillard’s brand of “novelized nonfiction” pioneered the form long before it came to be widely appreciated. Intense, vivid, and fearless, her work endows the true and seemingly ordinary aspects of life…with beauty and irony, inviting readers onto sweeping landscapes, to join her in exploring the complexities of time and death, with a sense of humor.

Looking for more e-cookbook and ebook deals? Check out last week’s list, some of them are still on sale.

Creative Commons licensed photos by Masaaki Komori (flowers) and Tanya Nevidoma (Death Valley) on Unsplash.

Amazon book links are affiliate links which allow me to earn a small commission on any sales that result from clicking. Thank you!

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