In Benjamin Markovits’s novel Christmas in Austin, the Essinger family gathers for the holidays, its siblings traveling from England and the East Coast back to Texas, where festive lights twinkle amid agave plants and the air smells more of barbecue than roasted chestnuts.
The novel is peopled with numerous characters who are as comfortable and quirky as the family home. They include the Essinger parents, their adult children, grandchildren, spouses, significant others, and the occasional neighbor or interloper. Perspectives shift and a keen, omniscient tone alternates between moods of reflection, uncertainty, intimacy, and humor.
Austin itself is a distinct presence in the novel; the city’s influx of transplants results in cultural and economic change. The elder Essingers, Bill and Liesel, arrived in 1979 for academic jobs; in recent years, they and their family find themselves feeling more like native Austinites, pondering new housing and business developments and the many hipsters who now call Texas home.
Austin’s changing landscape even causes conflict within the family. While shopping for groceries, Paul Essinger questions his brother Nathan’s purchases of “rendered duck fat” and “barista” coffee, complaining that Nathan is becoming like Austin’s newer, upscale residents. Nathan notes that the house Paul is redesigning on Austin’s outskirts is modernist concrete and glass, and that Paul is becoming one of those residents himself.
Beyond its curious Essinger brood, the novel captures the compressed intensity of holiday gatherings: elderly parents are jarred from their settled routines, forced into hosting and accommodating; siblings reconnect or clash; non-family members try to find a sense of belonging or just endure a few days of strangeness. Though Austin is the central location, the narrative incorporates present and remembered lives in Germany, London, New York, and New England with equal perspicacity.
Christmas in Austin ends with a feeling of incomplete closeness, with an almost personal attachment to all of the Essingers and a decided yearning to read about them again.
MEG NOLA (October 27, 2019)
Ingenious Techniques, Accessible Tools & Creative Projects for Working with Yarn, Paper, Wire & More
Deborah Jarchow and Gwen W. Steege’s The Weaving Explorer updates the craft from its 1970s boom days. Gone are garish chemical colors and polyester fibers; cooler palettes and the subtle hues of natural dyes reign. While there are still God’s Eyes and chunky, nubbly wall hangings, their forms and colors are clean, contemporary, and infinitely more appealing.
The book’s range of innovative weaving projects for garments, jewelry, household objects, and art employs an assortment of techniques and materials. Generous photographs illustrate the projects—based on traditional weavings from Japan, India, Scandinavia, and Latin America—and other, more challenging crafts projects that transform the traditional styles.
The text is suitable for novice and experienced weavers. Each technique is introduced with a simple project like a note card or bookmark; from there come more sophisticated examples. Even daunting traditions like tapestry weaving are introduced with small, straightforward samplers, while more complex tapestries are creative inspirations for veteran weavers. Jarchow and Steege’s design inspirations and methods include confidence-boosting, patient, and clear instructions for crafters with a range of abilities and experience.
Weaving techniques on a variety of looms, rings, and hoops; weaving around various shapes and forms; and frameless weaving, interlacing, and braiding techniques are included. While yarns are the favorite medium, allowing fiber addicts to use up the bits and bobs from their ubiquitous stashes, there are also creative projects incorporating wire, ribbons, and paper strips. Many projects, like a knotless netting treasure bag and woven wristlets, are designed for portability and stop-and-start crafting. Invaluable information about simple knots, building looms, needles, and yarn sizes is also included.
Not your grandma’s crafts book, The Weaving Explorer is an imaginative, fun, and accessible collection of projects to cozy up to this winter.
RACHEL JAGARESKI (October 27, 2019)
Artisan Baking for the Cookie Enthusiast
Brian Hart Hoffman’s The Cookie Collection includes 128 recipes from the popular Bake from Scratch magazine that are focused on the “humble heroes of the bake sale.” Despite cupcakes muscling their way to the top of baking lists, cookies are perennial champs—easy to make, share, and eat out of hand.
Recipes are organized into essential and entertaining categories, with elegant color photographs of the finished products included, as well as punchy essential tips for prep and storage. There are chapters for cookies that are all about the spice, including chai and five spice-flavored cookies, as well as cookies that utilize booze, with favorite cocktails transfigured via sugar and flour. A chocolate chip chapter highlights unusual variations of the luscious lunch box standard, including one that incorporates s’mores flavors and a sophisticated whiskey and rye cookie.
A great holiday spread wouldn’t be complete without a cookie tray, and this compilation includes traditional recipes from a variety of cultures, including Finnish pinwheel cookies dabbed with cranberry port preserves, mincemeat rum chocolate sandwich cookies, and tahini chocolate rugelach.
Recipes range in complexity in terms of both ingredients and baking acumen. Some involve common pantry items, while others call for more artisanal ingredients like vanilla bean paste and 66% cacao chocolate. A Stop, Drop, and Bake section features quick and easy cookie recipes, while others pull out the stops with fillings, glazes, and more lengthy and complicated techniques. A chapter featuring “internet-breaking cookies you won’t be able to resist” is more of the latter, with its alluring Red Velvet Peppermint Sammies and two-page spread on macarons, the pastel staples of Parisian bakeries. A concluding chapter on big cookies includes fun skillet cookies perfect for birthdays and parties.
The Cookie Collection is an inviting cookbook suited for enthusiastic occasional bakers and adventurous kitchen veterans alike.
RACHEL JAGARESKI (August 27, 2019)
Experience Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker through the eyes of a young girl attending the ballet in this fresh rendition of the beloved classic. Excitement builds as the girl arrives on a snowy evening in her winter best, her crimson cloak twirling. The sights and sounds of the theater are center stage; musicians, dancers, and a lively audience interact through the onomatopoetic text, and the Mouse King, sugar plum fairy, soldiers, and, of course, the nutcracker dance across the pages.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (October 27, 2019)
An enchanting court of fairies celebrates the return of winter with rosy cheeks and flowing frocks in twilight hues as snowflakes and stars dot the sky and the joys of the season are personified in a series of rhyming verses. Meet Melody, a music lover full of carols, and Banquet, who adores a meal shared with friends and family, in addition to Toasty, Ginger, Myrrh, and more, all gathered under the watchful gaze of majestic Lady Solstice.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (October 27, 2019)