Here’s what I brought to WBRC Fox 6 on March 5: Two of these books—one fiction and one not—are about spies. Then there’s a cookbook of sweets by a local author and a literary thriller—perfect for vacation reading.
Transcription is by Kate Atkinson, one of my favorite authors who wrote Life After Life (one of my favorite books ever; I also loved her Case Histories). Transcription is set mostly in 1940 when 18-year-old Juliette Armstrong is working—somewhat reluctantly—as a spy for an obscure department of MI5. Now, 10 years later, she’s a radio producer at the BBC and she thinks her days as a spy are long gone. That is a mistake because mysterious figures from her shadowy past begin showing up, and Juliette realizes that most actions do, in fact, have consequences.
Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel, by Matti Friedman, grew out of a single conversation. The award-winning journalist and author writes about four young men who were recruited into a small, amateur, ragtag group of Arab-speaking Jewish spies in 1948. This unit was the beginning of what would become Israel’s intelligence service and a precursor to the Mossad. Here’s how this book came about: “In 2011, I happened to meet an Israeli man in his late 80s, a retired spy, who told me an incredible story about how he and a few of his friends experienced the birth of the state of Israel in 1948,” Friedman says. “He was originally from Aleppo, Syria, and had been recruited by the Jewish pre-state underground in 1945 because he had native Arabic and could pass for Arab. His story was strange and gripping on its own, but what was especially striking to me was that it was an entirely Middle Eastern story. Israel usually speaks about itself as part of the story of Europe … but this old spy’s story was very different.”
Hello, Sugar! by Beth Branch, a local food blogger and test-kitchen chef, is a delicious collection of classic Southern sweets—cakes, cheesecakes, pies, tarts, no-bake goodies and other Southern favorites like lavender-lemon bars, red velvet moon pies and a truly impressive giant orange sweet roll. It’s also quite lovely. Some of these recipes are best suited for experienced bakers, I think, but lots more of them are easier to follow even if the results look complicated (caramel apple rose tarts, I’m thinking of you!). The tropical key lime pie, in particular, looks like something I can do (and Branch offers a delightful way to decorate it with “palm trees” made of lime slices and toasted coconut). Branch is a Birmingham native who began her first food blog—The Collegiate Baker—in 2011 when she was a student at the University of Alabama. Her early baking adventures included creating over-the-top birthday cakes for her friends and family, but she also spent a lot of time cooking from old family recipes and finding treasures in her grandmother’s recipe box.
The Current by Tim Johnston (the author of the New York Times bestselling debut novel Descent) is a tightly woven, literary psychological thriller about the impact of crime on innocent people. Outside a small Minnesota town, in the dead of winter, police pull two young women and their car from the icy Black Root River. One woman is found drowned downriver, the other is half-frozen but alive at the scene. Turns out, this was no accident. Another young woman died in the same river a decade earlier, and the killer might still be living in the town. The surviving woman begins her own investigation and soon realizes that she’s connected to the earlier unsolved case in ways she never expected.