THANKSGIVING FEAST: GREAT COOKBOOKS

by Edna Lewis

REVIEWED BY MICHELLE GREEN

CRITIC'S CHOICE

COOKBOOK

Born in Freetown, Va., a community populated by descendants of slaves, Edna Lewis (who died this year at 89) was raised in a setting where culinary rituals ran deep. In this fine 30th-anniversary edition of her memoir-style cookbook, the chef, who was a hero to Alice Waters and others, writes, "The year seemed to be broken up by great events such as hog butchering, Christmas, the cutting of ice in winter, springtime with its gathering of the first green vegetables and the stock going away to summer pasture...." Each month brought new delicacies; in autumn, there were stuffed quail and apples fried in bacon fat. Along with recipes, Lewis offers glimpses of daily life in the Depression-era South. "Fall was harvest time for the squirrels as well, and there would be a race between us and the squirrels for the wild hickory nuts. They could carry the crop of a tree away in one afternoon." In every way, Lewis reminds us that the greatest blessings are the simple ones—a caramel layer cake, ham biscuits or even cookies made with hickory nuts plucked ahead of a band of squirrels.

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by Yvette Christiansë

REVIEWED BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

NOVEL

Born under apartheid, South African poet Christiansë (Castaway) dug up a horrific real-life crime in her homeland and used it as the basis for this breathtaking novel. Condemned in 1823 to a notorious African prison colony called Robben Island for the murder of her son, slave Sila van den Kaap refuses to explain her actions. Instead, in rich, lyrical prose, the captive unveils the terrible truth of her life to the spirit of her dead child. Defiant, loving and fierce, van den Kaap recalls her years in bondage and how the brutality she and her family suffered and the lies they were forced to accept—particularly one promising her freedom—eventually shattered them. Christiansë's novel isn't just a stunningly intimate, heart-wrenching history of slave life in Africa. Her protagonist's furious yearning for freedom ("Wishes are sometimes just stories that have nowhere to go") becomes a haunting meditation on love, loss and the stories we choose to tell in order to survive. Gorgeous and tragic, Unconfessed ultimately reveals a confession almost too terrible to bear—and impossible to forget.

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REAL SIMPLE CELEBRATIONS Beyond pinecone turkeys: setting a gorgeous table and a festive mood, all without breaking a sweat.

SAYING GRACE edited by Sarah McElwain Chinese and Yiddish proverbs ("A table is not blessed if it has fed no scholars"), Native American chants, Islamic prayers—all lovely ways to begin the harvest feast.

Baking by Dorie Greenspan A hot-off-the-presses classic: Coauthor with Julia Child and others, Greenspan has written her own authoritative 514-page volume featuring homey goodies as well as soigné holiday desserts (French pear tarts). Perfect late night reading for cookbook addicts.

Chocolate & Vanilla by Gale Gand The executive pastry chef at Chicago's Tru offers sections for Individual Chocolate Pavlova fans and for Vanilla Charlotte lovers. Her informal style and accessible recipes make this ideal for cooking with kids.

Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim Acclaimed cooking teacher and author Malgieri uses butter, sugar, flour and eggs to create fab sweets under 300 calories per serving, Lemon Custard with Raspberry Sauce (below) included. Nothing fake, and the chocolate spice cookies are good enough to fool a classroom of fifth graders.

In a bold new thriller fueled by Jackie, her '69 bio, British author Eve Pollard imagines the worldly widow as a CIA agent under deep cover.

WHY DO YOU CAST THE EX-FIRST LADY AS A SPOOK? Jackie was a very courageous, adventurous woman. I think helping spy for the country would have appealed to her.

YOUR HEROINE WEDS ARI BECAUSE SHE'S A PATRIOT. EXPLAIN. Marrying Onassis was the only time Jackie got critical press. And I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun if she'd done it because the CIA asked her to?" They could've used Ari's island to watch the Russians.

WHAT'S YOUR MESSAGE? My daughter and stepdaughter are 30. To them, Jackie's just a fashion icon. But she was so much more: She had a great sense of history and fascination for what made people tick. If she'd lived longer, who knows what she might've done?

Actress (Strangers with Candy), cupcake-baker, rabbit-lover and sister to writer David, Amy Sedaris has written a wackilicious volume featuring vintage recipes, semi-useless crafts and advice on hip hostessing. Here, hints on fine-tuning a guest list:

"A barnacle is that one person in your life you can never get rid of and no one really likes.... It is not wise to invite them to a dinner for six or less. People might lose their trust in you ... and that puts your party's good reputation on the line."

Specific pairings to avoid?

• Astrologer & astronomer

• Fraternity brother & anyone else

• Psychologist & psychiatrist

• Director & out-of-work actor

• A girl, her boyfriend & his secret girlfriend

• Serial killer & drunken teenager

For more entertaining antics from Amy, check out video at people.com/amy.