With the summer winding down, I hope you've found some awesome reads for your vacations or every day reading! Here's what I've recently enjoyed:
OK, so American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, The Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best Loved Cakes From Past to Present wasn't really on my agenda when I was looking for interesting and healthy cookbooks. However, food history is endlessly fascinating to (and any kind of domestic history), so I knew I had to read it! Anne Byrn presents each recipe with tantalizing information about the cake's origin, significance, and small changes she's made to recipes in order to make it feasible for the modern baker. If you're super into food/homelife history, you'll also love the information about changes in measurements, ovens, ingredients, and more. It's probably no surprise that American cakes and tastes have grown sweeter in recent centuries; white refined sugar was quite expensive and out of reach for most home bakers (as with most modern wedding "traditions," Queen Victoria popularized the white wedding cake; a cake made with white sugar and completely covered in white icing showed to your guests that you were quite well off). In fact, chocolate cakes weren't really a thing until the 1860s, while Americans were unfamiliar with brownies until the 1890s; gingerbread, fruitcake, and spices were popular cakes with colonial and frontier families. While some cakes are still quite common (angel food cake, pineapple upside down cake), some cakes have faded from popular memory (I'm totally making an election cake in November! If you're familiar with early American history or have read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Virginia Barbecue, you know that Americans used to party down on Election Day; for various reasons, including Christmas and Thanskgiving becoming public holidays and laws against politicans throwing public parties for their constituents, Election Day partying for the masses is no more). Tons of sidebars add tremendous detail, including one on presidential cake favorites (and pie choices for the presidents that preferred pie, such as Lincoln and Obama; you can also see the gradual sweetening of American cake preference through their choices). I do have some quibbles with her assertions, and she spells Culpeper incorrectly; overall, it's still a fun read.
Kate & Jim McMullan continue their very popular vehicles series with I'm Smart!, just in time for the new school year! Like their other picture books, the story is narrated by the vehicle in question--in this case, a school bus. This school bus's smarts are put into play when navigating roads in all sorts of weather and traffic in order to bring the students safely to school.
The late Anna Dewdney's Little Excavator is a sweet addition to her work; Little Excavator wants to help with the new park project, but he's not big enough for such an important project. However, Little Excavator (and the big rigs) learn that there's no job too small! This is a great choice for little construction fans, as well as anyone who loves a good underdog story.
A Cinderella story about a gifted mechanic? Mechanica has some similarities to Cinder, but it's a fun and engrossing story on its own (and there's fewer catastrophic illnesses to boot). The happily-ever-after ending with the prince has a twist; if you enjoy Mechanica, its sequel, Venturess, will be here next month.
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers has received a ton of buzz, including six starred reviews and early predictions for Newbery 2018 consideration (I think it's a tad too old for the Newbery, but I think it would be a strong choice for the Printz). Deborah Heiligman tenderly, joyfully, and sorrowfully captures the deep and tumultuous relationship between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, Theo. This YA novel is a sophisticated and literary read for mature readers, as aspects of the Van Gogh's behavior led to irreversible medical and psychological issues. It's not a fast read by any means, but definitely a rewarding and memorable reading experience.
You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is an extraordinary memoir by Sherman Alexie, who writes painfully and even lovingly at times about his childhood on the Spokane reservation. Alcoholic parents, bullying from other students, and long-standing poverty made childhood rather harsh; Alexie writes openly about the abuse he suffered and its effect. Poems about his mother and life in general are inserted throughout the book, as well as his thoughts on his Spokane/Coeur d'Alene heritage and his siblings, who continue to struggle. This can be emotionally difficult to read at times, but it's a must read for those who are drawn to powerful and intimate memoirs.
Looking for another new read? Check out Wowbrary for current and recent issues!
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library