2.) The Apprentice - My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin – I was drawn into reading the autobiography of the famous French Chef after eating from menus he either created or supervised on the Marina of Oceania Cruise Lines. The food was superb. Had Pepin not chosen to be a chef he could have been a successful author. Actually he is a very popular author of cookbooks. I expect there is some unfair pretentiousness in not respecting authors of cookbooks. Mystery books get enough condescension from the literary establishment that a blog concentrating on mysteries should be respectful of other genres. What I should have said is that Pepin is a gifted storyteller who could have done well writing about subjects other than cooking. What struck me in the book was his post-WW II intense and lengthy apprenticeship in professional kitchens in France starting at the age of 14. By the time he reached 20 he was already an experienced and accomplished chef.
3.) Jim Henson by Brian Jay Jones – I am not sure if I have met any adult who does not love the Muppets. The question does not even arise with a child under 6 years of age. While I have enjoyed watching the Muppets for over 40 years I knew little about their early years and even less about the life of their creator. Jones provides an excellent narrative of Henson’s life but not much critical information or analysis. Henson, as with Pepin, was a rising star in the world of puppets at a young age. After first appearing with puppets on a T.V. show at 19 in 1954, Henson was within a year starring on his own show with the original Muppets. Henson had a vivid imagination and the technical skills to make his ideas come to life. His ideas for the Muppets were endless. The hardest part of the book to read was the story of his death from an aggressive form of pneumonia. As with every biography I knew it was coming but I dreaded it. Overall the book is fun to read. It was clearly easy to enjoy life around Henson.
1.) Diefenbaker for the Defence by Garrett Wilson and Kevin Wilson – Growing up in rural Saskatchewan in the 1950’s and 1960’s I would hear that John Diefenbaker, before he became Prime Minister in 1957, was a great lawyer in Saskatchewan. At convocation he gave me my law degree as he was the Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan. During and after law school in the 1970’s I would hear mention of his prowess in the courtroom but no particulars. Finally, over three decades into my legal career I found a biography of Dief that focused on his legal career. While the book has a biographical narrative it is at its best in the descriptions of some of his famous cases, especially the trials in courthouses I have conducted trials. Most impressive the Wilson’s, both Saskatchewan lawyers themselves, do not limit the cases discussed to cases won by Diefenbaker.
2.) River in a Dry Land by Trevor Herriot – The Qu’Appelle River slashes through southern Saskatchewan. While never much of a river the valley is the dominant geographical feature of the prairies. In a lyrical book that explores the history of the river, the tributaries that feed it, the people and wildlife living by the river and his family’s connections with the river (his grandfather farmed beside the river) Herriot provides a remarkable word picture of the Qu’Appelle River. A reader could spend a fascinating day or week or month exploring the river with Herriot’s book in hand.
3.) Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong – The Chinese born author, poet and university professor has created a great series with Chief Inspector Chen of the Shanghai police. Each book has a strong mystery set within the political intrigues of a Communist China modernizing its economy while preserving the power of the Communist Party. In Red Mandarin Dress Chen must deal with a killer who is murdering women and placing them in partially mutilated red Mandarin dresses after death. There is a powerful visual image of the women in a beautiful dress from the pre-Communist era in drab Communist China. Even the colour of red has special significance in Chinese culture. Chen realizes the killer cannot be found unless he can decipher the symbolism of the red Mandarin dress.