Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: September 6-10, 2021

Amber & Rye

A Baltic Food Journey

Book Cover
Zuza Zak
Interlink Books
Hardcover $35.00 (256pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Polish food authority Zuza Zak introduces the Baltic states in Amber & Rye, a stunning account of her summer tour of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Her creative versions of traditional recipes and novel use of beloved local ingredients come alongside travel shots and profiles of Baltic cities.

Zak is a personable, knowledgeable storyteller who uses literary quotes and summaries of history and oppressive occupations to enliven her impressions of the Baltic states’ new waves of restaurateurs, market vendors, and artisanal food growers and producers. She introduces a culture that balances pride and heritage with experimentation, celebrating “hard-won freedom and individuality.” Iconic dishes like kvass, Estonia’s fermented bread beverage, are present, and Zak finds novel ways to use local ingredients like sea buckthorn berries, birch syrup, and Latvian green cheese. The book suggests substitutions for unusual items, too, alongside lists of suppliers for those seeking the most authentic tastes.

In the Baltic states, people love sour and earthy flavors. These are present in recipes throughout, and are offset by desserts and baked goods that satisfy regional sweet teeth. A chapter on pickles and jams, which are updated with intriguing ferments, honors preserving traditions, and vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian recipes prevail. Zak lightens and brightens many traditional dishes with twists, utilizing vibrant herbs, edible flowers, vegetables, and fruits.

Folk art motifs reinforce the book’s fresh, colorful vibe, as do its insightful descriptions of visited sites: Zak references Tartu’s laid-back personality and pop-up home cafés, the “marzipan-colored” architecture of Tallinn, and the Art Nouveau chicness of Riga streetscapes, where residents are “open and smart, with a vein of wry wit.”

Amber and Rye is a stylish introduction to Baltic foods and culture that accents the region’s evolving contemporary scenes.

RACHEL JAGARESKI (August 27, 2021)

The Mad Women’s Ball

Book Cover
Victoria Mas
Frank Wynne, translator
The Overlook Press
Hardcover $25.00 (224pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A spirited young spiritualist rejects confinement in Victoria Mas’s electrifying historical novel The Mad Women’s Ball.

At the end of the nineteenth century, otherwise fast-modernizing France still considers anomalous women to be an embarrassment. For those unlucky enough to fall from social graces, the Salpêtrière awaits—an asylum for the depressed, the wounded, and the simply inconvenient.

Eugénie is committed to Salpêtrière by her rigid father days before the asylum opens its doors for its annual ball, when Paris’s wealthy class, craving spectacles and scandals, is set to mingle among the costumed mad. There, she meets fragile Louise, a favorite among the seedy men who observe the asylum’s hypnotism practices, and Thérèse, a long time resident who regards Salpêtrière as a refuge. And she seeks an unlikely ally in Geneviève, the cold head nurse who recognizes that Eugénie is not mad—though she can speak to ghosts.

Over the course of a week, balances shift at Salpêtrière. Geneviève, who’s spent twenty years mourning her sister’s loss and placing her trust in Salpêtrière’s daring medical practices, reconsiders her allegiances: even as Eugénie channels her sister, offering her peace, the men who run the asylum prove quick to dismiss her, though it’s she who holds their world together.

Though the promise of the ball—and the opened gates—jolts the novel forward, the interned women command attention more. They are survivors of rape, trafficking, and other unwanted attentions and afflictions that warrant compassion and treatment; because they are women, they are met instead with bars, electrodes, and voyeurs. As the indignities they’re subjected to pile up, rage builds––a feminist force that no walls can contain. The Mad Women’s Ball is a magnetic historical novel.


Ice Rivers

A Story of Glaciers, Wilderness, and Humanity

Book Cover
Jemma Wadham
Princeton University Press
Softcover $26.95 (256pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Glaciologist Jemma Wadham’s anguish over her field of study being besieged by climate change underpins Ice Rivers, which introduces seven diverse glaciers. It’s an emotional, masterful science narrative that’s coupled with scenes from Wadham’s personal and professional life.

Wadham’s glaciers are dazzling and distinctive. They have snouts and complex geographies; they creep and slide; they are studded with plant and microbial life that nourishes poles and mountain ranges. Some lie atop huge ancient lakes and methane reservoirs; others are riddled with icy shafts funneling meltwater into rushing underground rivers. Most of all, they are important climate regulators that lock up much of the planet’s freshwater stores––and they are melting at alarming rates.

The book relates the adventures, dangers, and joys of field work at inhospitable wilderness sites. Sleeplessness, monotonous rations, and relentless cold and wind are offset by the “communal mirth” of meals, music, and shared excitement over fresh discoveries and successful experiments. Wadham’s sensual writing about the exquisite beauty of pristine landscapes, intense wildness, and the satisfaction of mastering difficult skills and equipment is punctuated by bits of self-deprecating humor.

There are insights into the challenges of being an expedition leader and a rare women in a “rufty-tufty macho field,” too. Wadham’s exploits rappelling down moulins, chain-sawing ice, and pushing through with a broken kneecap and an undiagnosed brain tumor (not at the same time) display her toughness and dedication, but are balanced by revelations of personal loss and fears about the aftermath of unprecedented, rapid changes in the environment.

Edifying and expressive, Ice Rivers documents how glaciers are integral to their icy ecosystems, to vulnerable human and wildlife populations, and to Earth as a whole. Wadham is an artful storyteller who makes a passionate case for taking bold, swift action on climate issues.

RACHEL JAGARESKI (August 27, 2021)

A Crocodile in the Family

Book Cover
Kitty Black
Daron Parton, illustrator
Happy Fox Books
Hardcover $16.99 (32pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A bright, warm palette streaked with pencil lines and fine brushstrokes enhances this poignant story of looking beyond differences to find unconditional love. When a family of birds adopts an abandoned egg in the forest, they are not expecting a crocodile, but they welcome him regardless. The other animals are confused and speculate why they would keep him—for his beauty? For his strength?—before Croccy’s family explains the simple truth: “Because he belongs with us.”


A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching

Getting to Know the World’s Most Misunderstood Bird

Book Cover
Rosemary Mosco
Softcover $14.95 (240pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Urban bird lovers will love Rosemary Mosco’s Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching, an exuberant, insightful, and enchanting book that shows appreciation for the natural world. It may even appeal to nature-loving teenagers—if they can handle a few juicy pigeon sex scenes.

With breezy chapter titles like “the passion and the poop” and “pigeonatomy,” the book is packed with information on the birds’ history, diet, physiology, genetic variations, and behaviors, all while addressing common misconceptions. Colorful illustrations with whimsical captions explain everything from “a rainbow of plumage possibilities” to “how to speak pigeon.”

These intelligent, resourceful, loyal creatures have been loved and admired throughout history by leaders like Akbar and Queen Victoria. Infatuated, Darwin said that meeting a pigeon is “the greatest treat” that “can be offered.” Heroic passenger pigeons—including the beloved one-legged Cher Ami, Paddy, and Winkie—bravely served their nation and saved countless lives during wartime.

So joyful that it’s almost effervescent, A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching will convert even the grumpiest pigeon skeptics into being, at the very least, pigeon curious. Readers will never hear the cooing in a city park or watch a preening flock of pigeons the same way again.

KRISTEN RABE (August 27, 2021)

Barbara Hodge

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