Books of the Week:

  • Blood and Silk, Carol McKay
  • House Rules, Chloe Neill
  • Appalachian Overthrow, E.E. Knight

Carol McKay’s Blood and Silk is a thoroughly-researched novel published by a very small press. If the premise of the book (that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus of Nazareth and had a child by him) is off-putting for you, this may not be your book. And there have been other books written on this topic. But art historian McKay has done a tremendous amount of research, and this first-person narrative (written from Mary’s point of view after Jesus’s death) is colorful and challenging in its voice and detail. The picture of life in Mary’s time is really eye-opening.


House Rules is another Chicagoland vampire novel by Chloe Neill, and for those of us who’ve gotten hooked on finding out what happens to attacked-and-turned vampire Merit it’s a must-read. Merit, now the significant other of the head of her house, Ethan, is faced with an array of challenges. Cadogan House is seceding from the vampire hierarchal system, she is about to be inducted into the secret vampire society Red Guard, and Ethan’s former lover is arriving to “help Ethan” get through the transition from company man to independent. To add to this bag of troubles, an absolute vampire hater has just been appointed to the mayor’s staff. And two rogue vampires, unaffiliated with any house, have disappeared. This is a passle of trouble for any vampire Sentinel, but if anyone can handle it, it’s Merit.


When I opened Appalachian Overthrow, I was temporarily disappointed to find it wasn’t a David Valentine book; David’s voice and adventures have grown so familiar through Knight’s Vampire Earth series. But after the first few pages I was absolutely caught up in Knight’s story, this time from the point of view of Ahn-Kah, a Golden One and a good friend of David’s. He’s been captured by the enemy, and he’s forced to serve as the driver of a drunken and dissolute member of a prominent collaboration family; and from there, he’s sent to the coal mines. This book has all the adventure and excellent plotting of previous books, and Knight’s fictitious history is as fully-realized and chocked with detail as a book set in our own past . . . or future. If you haven’t read the Vampire Earth books, I highly recommend starting at the beginning and continuing on.


Here’s another weird trip down memory lane. Old cookbooks. Since I’ve been planning the menu for a large family event, I’ve been leafing through my modest collection of cookbooks in search of inspiration. My home-town cookbook, which was not new when I was a girl, is a port of first call when I’m searching. I was looking at salad recipes, and one of the first things I noticed was that in the older cookbooks, all the salad recipes which contained fruit also contained Jell-O. No one in those days (late fifties, early sixties) seemed interested in serving fresh fruit; it was all supposed to be encased in Jell-O. I suppose that was at least partially because not everyone’s house was air-conditioned then, and Jell-O dishes got to stay in the refrigerator. And superior food distribution now ensures that most grocery stores have a much wider range of fresh produce than forty or fifty years ago.


I’ve also noticed terms in the older cookbooks that younger people don’t seem to understand. Lard, drippings, bacon grease cans, crackling, fritters – those don’t seem to be in common use today, and I guess I can understand why! No one seems to sift flour twice, either, which in my mother’s day was a rule. You sifted it before you put it in the canister, and you sifted it again before it went into the recipe.


I’ve come to feel that the overwhelming amount of preserved foods listed in the older recipes was a kind of backlash against a previous era, when ingredients might be limited, but they were fresh as a matter of necessity. Of course, fresh means a certain amount of prep work is in order. I’m sure housewives then thought, “Oh, great! Canned! I don’t have to snap them or preserve them. I can just open a can!” Now the emphasis on “fresh” has swung back the other way.


I have one reproduction of one small community cookbook, with such offerings as Pea Pod Wine, Scripture Cake, and a homemade cream for chapped hands. This is a British cookbook, I believe. The recipes range from 1881 to 2009; something for everyone!


Do you have old family recipes you treasure, or do your mother’s favorites start with, “Open a can of Cream of Mushroom soup”?


Charlaine Harris