Books and bakes #21: The Quiet Zone and butter tarts

The bake

It’s still summer, but fall is in the air, which means I’m about to get serious about baking again (along with making soup and drinking hot apple cider and wearing cardigans). Last week, there were a couple of days when the temperature dropped low enough to wear a light sweater while outside. And, so, I had the urge to bake something–something that didn’t even have a summer fruit in it.

I’ve made these butter tarts from Little Sweet Baker a few times, so I knew the recipe worked well. They are a real treat! I know some people have strong feelings about whether butter tarts should include raisins or nuts, but I prefer them plain. These are so simple to make. A bonus? The recipe makes enough pastry for two batches, so you can stick the leftover dough in the freezer, making it even easier to whip up a dozen of these babies the next time you have a craving.

The book

I’m just over the halfway point in The Quiet Zone: Unraveling the Mystery of a Town Suspended in Silence by Stephen Kurczy. Kurczy is a journalist who spent time in Green Bank, West Virginia–a town that limits radio frequencies that could interfere with technology used by astronomers at the Green Bank Observatory. This quiet zone has attracted people from all over who are looking to live differently, including those wanting to be off the grid and “electrosensitives,” who say technology can make them physically ill. It’s these people who Kurczy spends time with that drew me in. However, I am curious to see what the final conclusion will be. Does technology cause us more harm than it helps us? And how much can we participate in today’s society without it? (Also curious to see if I’ll decide to throw away my smartphone after I finish reading. But I doubt it.)

Books and bakes #20: A Town Called Solace and blueberry peach pie

The bake

I don’t know if it has anything to do with aging, but I find that the older I get, the more excited I am about local produce. In Ontario, blueberries and peaches are both in season. As you may remember from my last post, I’m into peaches in a big way. So I was all set to make a peach pie. But seeing as I had picked up some Ontario blueberries from the market, I thought, why not look for a recipe that uses both blueberries and peaches? That’s how I came to make this blueberry peach pie from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

The pie turned out heavenly–a little taste of Ontario summer in every bite. For the pastry, I used the recipe from Canadian Living that I have used so many times before and that I know I like (both to work with and to eat). The hardest part of making this pie is peeling all the peaches, which really isn’t difficult at all, just a little messy. This is definitely worthy of making again.

The book

I’m about a third of the way through A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson, which I started reading last night. The novel was recently long-listed for the Booker Prize. To be honest, I’d heard of it before it made it to the long list, but it didn’t really catch my interest. However, when I returned The Guest List to my mom last weekend, she lent me this one.

Set in a small town in northern Ontario, the novel alternates between three perspectives: Clara, a seven-year-old girl whose teenage sister has recently run away; Elizabeth, Clara’s elderly neighbour who has gone into the hospital and has asked Clara to look after her cat; and Liam, a stranger to the town of Solace, who has moved into Elizabeth’s home. I’m not quite sure where the story is going to take me, but it has certainly lured me in.

Books and bakes #18: The Wild Laughter and banana chocolate chip muffins

The bake

As I mentioned in my last “books and bakes” post, I haven’t been baking as much since it has gotten hotter. However, I had three overripe bananas sitting on the counter, staring at me. I usually make banana bread when I have overripe bananas, but I decided to do something different this time. OK, who am I kidding? These muffins are just banana bread baked in a muffin tin instead of a loaf pan. It might not be a different flavour, but it’s a different shape! That still counts as changing it up. Plus, I used a recipe that was new to me (favourite banana chip muffins from Taste of Home).

I was a little skeptical of the 1/2 cup of chocolate chips; it seemed a bit stingy. I went with it, though, and I found the ratio between chocolate and banana bread to be on point. These muffins were flavourful, moist, and light–perfect to pair with my afternoon cup of tea.

The book

I just finished The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes. This slim family drama is set in rural Ireland in 2008 and centres around adult brothers Cormac and Hart and their parents. The family farm that Hart is supposed to take over is struggling and his father’s health is rapidly declining. And then Cormac and Hart’s father makes a request of his sons that could have devastating consequences for the entire family.

I enjoyed how Hughes illustrated the complexities of familial relationships, particularly between the parents and sons, and especially between the brothers. Alongside all of this, there is so much humour, making the heavy parts of the story much lighter. To be honest, I wasn’t drawn into the book right away, but when I did get into it, I was very into it. And that almost makes me want to go back to the beginning to see if I might get more out of it now.

2021 reading: half-time update

We’re halfway through 2021 (which seems wild to me, by the way), so it felt like a good time to reflect on some of my favourite reads so far this year and share some of the books I’m anticipating.

5 books I’ve read and loved this year

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (March 16)

I tore through this novel that made me love a robot more than I’ve loved many human characters (and I don’t typically read science fiction). Several months later, I still think about Klara.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex (March 16)

I relished the different layers in this beautiful novel and in all the characters’ secrets as they were slowly revealed.

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (April 13)

This short novel broke my heart with its examination of race and masculinity and the barriers to maintaining a connection.

The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker (May 18)

Disturbing and dark from the first sentence, this story is told through the first-person perspective of an 8-year-old girl who murders a younger child. It’s difficult subject matter for sure, but the story is gripping and moving.

Animal by Lisa Taddeo (June 8)

A man shoots himself in front of a woman, compelling her to escape New York City and finally confront her traumatic childhood. Gritty, raw, and so engaging.

5 books I’m looking forward to this summer

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin (July 6)

A woman struggling with anxiety is mistaken for a job applicant to replace a recently deceased church receptionist. After getting hired, she becomes fixated on her predecessor’s mysterious death.

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer by Dean Cobb (July 13)

The true story of a Victorian doctor who committed murders in the United States, Canada, and Britain.

We Want What We Want by Alix Ohlin (July 27)

These short stories are described by the publisher as “surprising” and “darkly funny.”

All’s Well by Mona Awad (August 3)

A theatre professor with chronic pain is at the end of her rope when she decides to work on a production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well.

Three Rooms by Jo Hamya (August 31)

A young woman lives in rented rooms and on the sofas of strangers as she searches for her own home and a place in the world.

5 books I’m looking forward to this fall

The Pump by Sydney Warner Brooman (September 7)

A gothic collection of linked short stories set in a southern Ontario town called “The Pump.”

Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance by Jesse Wente (September 21)

A non-fiction work that examines relations between white and Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The Strangers by Katherena Vermette (September 28)

A family saga following generations of the Strangers.

Dog Park by Sofi Oksanen (October 5)

A woman sits on a bench, watching a family play in a dog park. Someone sits next to her, and the woman realizes it is a person whose life she ruined decades ago.

People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami (November 30)

A tiny book of short stories about the different people belonging to a neighbourhood.

A reader’s guilt

Reader’s guilt. That’s a thing, right? Logically I know that the only way guilt is worthwhile is if your conscience is telling you you’ve done something wrong and that you should take steps to fix it. When it comes to reading, I don’t feel like I have done anything wrong. (I mean, how can you do reading wrong?) But I don’t think I’m alone in feeling guilty when it’s not warranted. What I’m not as sure about is if other readers feel guilty about the same things I do. So here I am, coming clean about what I feel guilty about when it comes to reading.

Giving a book fewer than three stars on Goodreads

When I first started using Goodreads, it was just so I could track the books I read. I didn’t use any of the social aspects of the site, and I didn’t think about my ratings contributing to a book’s overall rating. But as time has gone by, I’ve become more aware of this. When I finish reading a book that I didn’t particularly enjoy, I struggle with how to rate it. This isn’t so much the case for classics or extremely successful writers, but it’s certainly true for new books and even more so for debuts. I don’t want to deter others from picking up the book (tastes are so subjective). On the other hand, I want to keep an honest record of how I felt about what I’ve read.

Not finishing books

I’ve been getting better with this one, but there’s still some guilt when I put a book aside before reaching the end. But I’ve realized that sometimes you just can’t get into it. Maybe it’s the particular time you picked up that book, or maybe it really is that that particular book isn’t for you. But if you’re not enjoying reading a book, you don’t have to keep reading it. What a concept! I think the pandemic helped me finally learn this. Read the book you want to read in that moment. (Unless you are a student, or an academic, or a book reviewer, or–okay, I’ll just clarify that I’m talking about reading for pleasure here.) Why does it sound like l I am trying to convince myself?

Not being able to read all the books

This is a common feeling amongst avid readers. And it can be stressful, too. There are so many books out there and new ones coming out all the time. And this is actually great! This is wonderful! Let’s surround ourselves with books and never run out of stories to choose from and new voices to hear from. But it’s just impossible to get to all the books we want to read. The TBR pile is always going be teetering. I will always regret that I can’t get to all the books I want to. But never running out of things to read? It seems like a pretty good trade-off.