Favorite Books of 2014

Favorite Books of 2014I had a really difficult time picking my favorite books this year, so I eventually settled on picking the books I most highly recommend to others, or the ones wish I could still experience for the first time. And because picking was so difficult, I added some runner-ups.

(Links go to my reviews if I’ve written one, Amazon if I haven’t yet)

Velma Still Cooks in LeewayVelma Still Cooks in Leeway by Vinita Hampton Wright

If I had to pick one single favorite book of the year, it would probably be this one. I think I need to reread this one next year, just so I can more fully appreciate the way she wove this story together.

A Tree Grows in BrooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I was convinced this book would be boring. I was wrong.

Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Surprised myself by liking this one as much as I did, and describing it does not do it justice. Wonderful characters who stay with you long after you’ve finished reading the book.

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing GoodBurnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn

I’ve loved Flinn’s other books, and loved how this one brought to life her family’s stories, and led into the events in her first book. Did I like it more because I now live in the Midwest? Possibly, but I don’t think that was the only appeal.

Mastering the Art of French EatingMastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah

Armchair traveling at its best. Mah allowed me to come along with her as she spent a year in Paris and traveled throughout France experiencing it’s most iconic food. Prepare to be hungry as you read it.

Buried in the SkyBuried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2′s Deadliest Day by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan

The focus on the Sherpas is what makes this book so wonderfully fascinating. If you’ve liked other Everest accounts, don’t miss this one, with its unique perspective on the events of that deadly climbing season.

The Queen of AttoliaThe Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, from The Queen’s Thief series

I’ve been holding off on reading book #4, because then I won’t have another one to look forward to for the forseeable future. And that’s a very sad thing.

CressCress by Marissa Meyer, from the Lunar Chronicles series

Can’t wait to read the final two in this series!

Etiquette and EspionageEtiquette &Espionage, Curtsies & ConspiraciesCurtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School Book 2) by Gail Carriger, and Waistcoats & WeaponryWaistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3) by Gail Carriger by Gail Carriger, from the Finishing School series

Super fun series, although book #3 took a more serious turn that I wasn’t completely expecting. The final book come out next year.

The Runner-Ups

Parnassus on WheelsParnassus On WheelsParnassus On Wheels by Christopher Morley by Christopher Morley

Another one where the descriptions don’t convey how enjoyable the book is. Sweet and gentle and very easy to read. I only just read it last week, which is why I hesitate to say that it would have the staying power to be a favorite for the year. I may regret not including it.

The Mislaid MagicianThe Mislaid Magician by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer, from the Cecelia and Kate series

Epistolary + fantasy + historical fiction = my kind of fun.

Women Heroes of World War IWomen Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics and Women Heroes of WWII: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue both by Kathryn Atwood

If you like one you’ll like the other, and if you’re at all interested in brief biographical accounts of fascinating individuals, you should give these a try.

Eiffel's TowerEiffel’s Tower: The Thrilling Story Behind Paris’s Beloved Monument and the Extraordinary World’s Fair That Introduced It by Jill Jonnes

I’m already second-guessing myself for not including it above, but I think it just misses out on being a “must recommend to everyone I know” type book. It really was a great book though.

The Professor and the MadmanThe Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

Like the Eiffel’s Tower book, this is another fascinating look at a small slice of history. I loved it.

The Night Circus
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Another one I may need to reread, to see what clues the author drops throughout the text as to what will be happening later.

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Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing GoodBurnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn

Most of my books come from the library and I often end up reading popular new titles long after they’ve been released. And then there are a handful of times when I’m offered a review book and I get to read it in advance and share a review the day the book releases. Today is one of those days. 🙂

Sometimes I wonder if when I gush about a book if it seems unbelievable. Especially when I’m gushing over a book I was sent to review – does it seem like I’m only doing that because I was sent the book? In support of my feelings towards about this book I’ll point out my raves over her previous books The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. Clearly, I like her writing.

As much as I liked the other books, I just might like this one more. I adored the focus on her family, and how she wove together the family stories and multiple generations. I felt like I knew them all, and found myself wishing I really did.

It’s somewhat of a food memoir, but not as focused on that as some food memoirs can be. Each chapter ends with a recipe for a dish that’s been mentioned in the chapter at least in passing, but the emphasis is not on the food, but on the family.

I don’t remember there being much humor in her previous books, but there were several times while reading this one that I found myself laughing at a description or comment. There were also times where the stories had me getting teary.

Highly recommended. I loved it.

Publisher’s Description:
A delicious memoir from the author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry

In this family history interwoven with recipes, Kathleen Flinn returns readers to the mix of food and memoir beloved by readers of her bestselling The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good explores the very beginnings of her love affair with food and its connection to home. It is the story of her midwestern childhood, its memorable home cooks, and the delicious recipes she grew up with. Flinn shares tales of her parents’ pizza parlor in San Francisco, where they sold Uncle Clarence’s popular oven-fried chicken, as well as recipes for the vats of chili made by her former army cook Grandpa Charles, fluffy Swedish pancakes from Grandma Inez, and cinnamon rolls for birthday breakfasts. Through these dishes, Flinn came to understand how meals can be memories, and how cooking can be a form of communication. Brimming with warmth and wit, this book is sure to appeal to Flinn’s many fans as well as readers of Marcus Samuelsson, Ruth Reichl, and Julie Powell.

Book Details

Title: Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family
Author: Kathleen Flinn
Category: Nonfiction / Memoir
My Rating: 5 Stars

Disclosure: I was given an advance copy of the book to review, but all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Read This, Not That: Culinary School Accounts

Beaten, Seared, and SaucedThe Making of a ChefThe Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry

So, you’re interested in culinary school? Want to experience it vicariously, or just enjoy the accounts of what happens there?

There are plenty of books on the topic available: Under the TableUnder the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School by Katherine Darling, White Jacket RequiredWhite Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story by Jenna Weber, and my most recent read: Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of AmericaBeaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America by Jonathan Dixon.

Instead of those though, I’d suggest you read Michael Ruhlman’s book The Making of a Chef, if you want a more general look at the Culinary Institute of America, or read Kathleen Flinn’s memoir The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry, about her experiences at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I’ve shared about both Ruhlman’s and Flinn’s books before, but they’re so much stronger and more enjoyable than the other ones I’ve read that I can’t allow that to stop me from highlighting them again.

In Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of AmericaBeaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America by Jonathan Dixon author Jonathan Dixon came across more that he didn’t want to grow up and figure out what he wanted to do with his life, and cooking school was a way to delay that for a little longer. He’s 38 though, and ends up relying on his girlfriend to pay most of their bills as all of his savings have gone towards tuition.

The best parts of Dixon’s book are the descriptions of his classes, but it’s not enough to recommend this book over the other stronger options that are available. I think if Dixon had explored what it was like to be significantly older than his classmates a bit more, and the ramifications of that on a future culinary career, it would have made for a stronger book. As it was though, that was a wasted opportunity to make his book shine among all the other accounts that have been published.

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The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

Nonfiction book review of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen FlinnThe Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home CooksBook Review: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School - by Kathleen Flinn. by Kathleen Flinn

I came thisclose to including Flinn’s latest book as part of the 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads series (despite already including her book The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry on day 19 of the series).

The only reason I decided against it is because I only just read it last month; all of the other books in the series I’ve read from at least six months earlier to many many years earlier. I was confident that they’d stand the test of time because they have; I’m still excited about them no matter how long ago it was I read them. Can I guarantee that in a year or five I’ll feel as enthusiastic about this book? No, so I skipped it and went with The Ice Master instead. None of that should take away from this book however; I really really enjoyed it.

Flinn is a trained chef, but she’s also a gifted writer, and, as is apparent from her latest book, a talented teacher.

Inspired by a random stranger’s grocery cart, Flinn ends up teaching a group of 9 kitchen-challenged students the basics of cooking. Sounds simple, but Flinn details how she works to unlock the mysteries of food and meal preparation, and the emotional component behind many seemingly straight-forward and obvious situations. The book made me appreciate how food preparation and grocery shopping doesn’t come with any baggage for me, and it’s not a power struggle in my home.

The book is very inspiring and empowering – it made me want to go to the kitchen and make a pot of soup and bake some bread to accompany it. It made me want to improve my knife skills. It made me want to get better about how I use leftovers and random bits from the fridge (my culinary nemesis). It made me want to form a cooking group to have fun and improve our cooking. It made me want to be brave in the kitchen and try something new. It made me want to have tastings of salt and mustard and pasta and other basic ingredients that I buy without thinking or wondering if another brand would just taste better.

It made me sad when I finished it, and that’s always a good sign of a great book.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
The author of The Sharper Your Knife tells the inspiring story of how she helped nine others find their inner cook.

After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, writer Kathleen Flinn returned with no idea what to do next, until one day at a supermarket she watched a woman loading her cart with ultraprocessed foods. Flinn’s “chefternal” instinct kicked in: she persuaded the stranger to reload with fresh foods, offering her simple recipes for healthy, easy meals.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School includes practical, healthy tips that boost readers’ culinary self-confidence, and strategies to get the most from their grocery dollar, and simple recipes that get readers cooking.

Book Details

Title: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks
Author: Kathleen Flinn
Category: Nonfiction / Food
My Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!