Two book reviews: Defending the Line: The David Luiz Story and Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook: Recipes and Stories to Celebrate the Bounty of the Moment

(If you’re looking for Saturday Spankings, Weekend Writing Warriors, or Snippet Sunday, please click here for Kat’s birthday celebration)

Today, I’m posting two reviews at once in order not to flood email subscribers with three posts in one day. 🙂 I’m also writing these reviews free-form, but they were both provided as a review copy from BookLook, a subsidiary of HarperCollins Publishing.

Gourmet Southern-influenced recipes based on seasonal produce

Content: 4.5 gingersnaps

Craft: 4.5 gingersnaps

Presentation (photos, layout, organization): 5 gingersnaps

Combined score: 4.5 gingersnaps

I ordered Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook: Recipes and Stories to Celebrate the Bounty of the Moment planning to give it to one of my cook friends. However, I was so impressed with this book that I’m keeping it for myself. What other recommendation do you need? 🙂

The book is not without flaws, nor is it for everyone. While it may have been cost prohibitive to provide a photo for all of the 150 recipes, I would have preferred photos for the more unusual dishes. Most people, for example, have an idea what a watermelon bowl would look like (or can search for it on the internet). Instead of a photo of the watermelon bowl salad, I wish the book provided a photo of, say, glazed lemon-rosemary shortbread cookies. They sound divine, and I can’t wait to try making them. I’d love to have a photo for reference.

Second, this cookbook is absolutely not for a beginner or for someone who wants a quick and easy recipe. The directions are minimal and expect knowledge and familiarity with cooking fundamentals. Vienneau’s career as a professional caterer, coupled with her disdain for canned ingredients and store-bought dip, make these recipes both expensive and intimidating for someone who would rather throw together a Jell-O salad or a casserole.

Still with me? If you are, this cookbook will be a treat. The layout is wonderful, the recipes are organized by month (and which produce is in season), and the staggering wealth and variety of recipes guarantees that you should find at least one recipe you can’t wait to try. The backstory of how the author founded her Third Thursday potluck continues with a short narrative to introduce each month’s chapter of recipes. Some recipes have a little history about the person who contributed it. The book offers recipes for everything from flourless cayenne chocolate cake to Indian curry to garden margaritas to gourmet homemade ice cream. I put post-it flags on the recipes I want to try, and here’s my list:

  • Cooling cantaloupe soup (p. 5)
  • Fresh dill-feta quick bread (p. 21)
  • “Posh squash” souffle casserole (p. 39)
  • Blueberry-peach coffee cake (p. 43)
  • Glazed lemon-rosemary shortbread cookies (p. 69)
  • Jessi’s German pretzels with spicy old-world mustard (p. 103)
  • Not your ’70s green bean casserole (p. 133)
  • Sweet potato quesadillas with lime zest crema (p. 173)
  • Indian potato and onion curry (p. 193)
  • Garam masala kitchen sink cookies (p. 205)

I can’t wait for cantaloupe and peaches to come into season! I always run out of ideas how to use fresh produce, and this book will be a good resource for anyone in the same situation. One caution, though: if, like me, you’re more of a hands-on cook than one with fancy machines (ice cream maker, stand mixer, pasta maker, etc.), you’re out of luck for many of the recipes. When I give recipes, I always give alternatives in case someone doesn’t have the same equipment. I wish that the authors had done the same thing, but Vienneau may have decided that her target audience would be likely to have fancy equipment. With some creative adaptation, such as rolling and cutting the pasta by hand, these recipes are potentially adaptable–but without any guidance from the chefs.

This book makes a terrific gift for the cook in your family, but it should only be used by those with cooking experience.

Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook will be available for sale starting June 17th.

Poorly organized and written

Content: 3 gingersnaps

Craft: 2 gingersnaps

Presentation (photos, layout, organization): 2 gingersnaps

Combined score:  2.5 gingersnaps

Defending the Line by Alex Carpenter earned the distinction as the second review book to put me to sleep. Literally. At only 98 (small) pages with large print, this is quite a feat. No, it’s not because I don’t know a lot about soccer (football) or didn’t who David Luiz was before reading the book (both true). I don’t know much about soccer, but I would love to be able to talk intelligently about the sport with my many friends who do. I’d love to watch a game and be able to cheer/groan for the right reasons (and not because I heard the commentary or a knowledgeable friend explained it to me). Or, considering how high emotions run during the World Cup, scream/cry. 🙂

The main problem with Defending the Line is that the book can’t decide its target audience. The “Aligns with Common Core standards for informational reading for grades 6-8” endorsement on the back cover suggests this may be used in classroom reading instruction. In that case, I would expect basic background knowledge in soccer and competitive play. Nope. The heavy use of sports jargon without any contextualization suggests the book is intended for diehard soccer fans, presumably boys, who adore soccer and/or David Luiz. Nope. At every turn, the author makes clumsy attempts to compare soccer events to major basketball and football events, as if expecting the reader to need an explanation. Who could possibly be a fan of soccer and need to be told about the World Cup? Yet none of the jargon about the game (scoring, positions, rulings, etc.) are explained, so the book ends up being a poor fit for everyone. The book begins with a glossary of a few Portuguese key soccer terms, but every term is translated immediately after its use in the book. It’s a waste of a glossary. Instead, the reader could have used a glossary of basic soccer jargon that the author expects readers to know.

To contribute to the confusion, the book contains only one visual representation of information: a list of cities hosting the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The list of cities is not key to understanding the information of the book. Again, it’s a waste of resources. For a non-fiction book geared toward children (I question the 6-8 grade rating, unless it’s for remedial reading instruction), we should instead see a geographical map of the places David has lived and played, a timeline of major events in his life and career, a flowchart depicting how tournament play occurs and how David worked his way to his current position, etc.

The written information is not presented in an organized way, either. While the later part of the book does follow a loosely chronological order, the narrative jumps around in such an erratic fashion that the story is hard to follow. To make it worse, the passive-laden writing lacks technique, clarity, and focus. Typically, children’s nonfiction books are the best resources (better than adult resources) for learning about a subject, for a simple reason: only good writing will hold a child’s attention. The author’s biography lists a MFA in creative writing, but the writing does not reflect this level of expertise. After finishing this book, I found the Wikipedia article on David Luiz and found more comprehensive and interesting information.

Defending the Line is suitable for fans of David Luiz or for reluctant readers who want soccer-themed books, but a thorough Google search would most likely turn up more interesting and better-written information for those who want to learn about soccer.