Kicking and Burning

Booking time in Bellingham

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Despite being dragged into the 21st century whining and bellowing, I’ve recently become a Kindle addict who blows through ebooks with alacrity.  Recently, however, I found myself in possession of two “real”  books—you know, the kind with pages that actually make a noise when they turn. In addition to the solid heft they added to my reading experience, both authors will also visit Bellingham in the near future, making the experience that much more, well, real.

First in the queue was a new book by former Bellingham resident Chelsea Cain, who I’ve decided is most definitely twisted—in a delightful way. The former humor writer turned thriller maven proves her mettle for mystery once again with her latest tome, One Kick.

Much like serial killer Gretchen Lowell—the star psychopath of Cain’s bestselling Archie Sheridan series—her new female protagonist is a real doozy. Kathleen “Kick” Lannigan was kidnapped when she was six years old, and her rescue five years later, long after she was presumed to be dead, made her a household name. It also made her resilient as hell, and in her adulthood she’s vowed to never, ever be a victim again. In addition to skills her kidnapper/pornographer taught her (picking locks, making bombs, jimmying handcuffs, etc.), Kick has picked up martial arts, boxing and knife-throwing. (In other words, she’s a badass.) But, after two kids are kidnapped and the 21-year-old is called upon to help find out whodunnit, it soon becomes clear her demons from the past aren’t dead—they’ve just been napping.

Although One Kick has a satisfying conclusion, the ending also leaves room for sequels. In fact, if you read the first book as quickly and voraciously as I did, you’ll be wishing the second one was already written so you can find out what Kick does next.

Unlike the main character in Cain’s novel, Kathleen Flinn’s childhood was a mostly happy one. In Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food & Love from an American Midwest Family, the author jumps fork-first into a story that merges her lifelong passion for cooking with her familial history.

“Toast was a great example of how Grandma Inez approached life,” Flinn writes a few chapters into the book. She then goes on to explain that her grandmother wasn’t one to embrace “emerging technologies” such as toasters, and instead invariably burned at least half of the homemade, hand-sliced bread when toasting it in the oven.

“Sometimes she made the effort to scrape off the blackened portions with a knife,” Flinn continues. “Other times she didn’t. The most blackened pieces went to the youngest kids. When they protested, she had a simple retort.

“‘Eat it. Burnt toast makes you sing good’, she’d tell them. ‘Everyone knows that.’ When the queen of Mancelona told you to do something, you didn’t argue.”

This is only one of the stories about the ups and downs of Flinn’s childhood in Michigan that will resonate with readers. While much of the book takes place after she was born, Flinn also recounts the financial and career struggles and successes her parents experienced early in their marriage, and tells fascinating tales of her cadre of relatives.

The “food” factor is the thread that really ties the book together. Even at their poorest, Flinn’s family was rarely lacking for items to put on the dinner table—whether it was produce and eggs sourced from their backyard, meat from hunting trips or berry jam made by Grandma Inez.

Many of the mouthwatering recipes Flinn focuses on—like Grandma Inez’s pancakes, Grandpa Charles’ Beef or Venison Stew, Uncle Clarence’s Oven-Fried Chicken, and Aunt Myrtle’s No-Knead Yeast Rolls—can be found at the end of most chapters of the book. Trust me, you’re going to want to use them.

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