Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Mapmaker's Children" by Sarah McCoy, Served with a Fried Egg-Topped Wheat Berry, Leek & Herb Risotto

On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am reviewing the historical fiction novel The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy and along with the review, I am serving up a comforting dinner in a bowl with a Fried Egg-Topped Wheat Berry, Leek & Herb Risotto inspired by the book.  

Publisher's Notes:

When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.

Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.

Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

Hardcover: 320 pages Publisher: Crown (May 5, 2015)

My Review: 

I became a big fan of Sarah McCoy from her first book, The Baker's Daughter. (You can see my review and the scrumptious Milk & Honey Reisbrei Rice Pudding it inspired here.) I love her ability to weave the past and present through the dual perspectives of strong female characters, as well as the way her writing entertains while still making me feel like I am learning something along the way. The Mapmaker's Children tells the story of Eden Anderson, recently moved to an old house in the small town of New Charleston, West Virginia, and the story of Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, who spent time in New Charleston 150 years earlier--at the start of the Civil War. I remember learning about John Brown and the raid he led on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry in history classes, but I knew little about his daughter Sarah and I found McCoy's imagining of what her life might have been like to be fascinating. Sarah's experiences and the story of the mapmakers for the Underground Railroad were what pulled me into the story. It took me longer to warm up to Eden, struggling with her marriage and inability to have a child and full of anger that she wallows in and takes out on her husband Jack. The dog Jack brings home and her ten-year-old precocious neighbor Cleo begin to soften Eden and I began to like her more as the book went on but, I found Sarah's sections to be the stronger parts of the book and she was definitely the stronger and more inspiring character. The book had a slow build and meandered somewhat, but I liked the way the stories intersected and finding the connections between the two characters. I would have liked more pages at the end, or would gladly read a followup novel that went into more detail of the lives of the next generations. 

To me one of the marks of a great historical novel is if it makes me want to know more and if I take action on that desire. The Mapmaker's Children had me googling for more information on Sarah Brown, John Brown, and the Underground Railroad during, and after reading the book. If you loved The Baker's Daughter, enjoy women's fiction, historical fiction and the Civil War era, you should enjoy this one.  


Author Notes: Sarah McCoy is the  New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; The Time It Snowed in Puerto Ricoand The Mapmaker’s Children (Crown, May 5, 2015).
Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas. Sarah enjoys connecting with her readers on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.


There was certainly food to be found in The Mapmaker's Children--even if some of it was from "The Holistic Hound" cookbook from Eden's story. There was plenty of southern cooking--simpler fare for the Brown family--struggling to keep food on the table--and more abundantly at Preacher Hill's house. Eggs played into both stories--present day with "Milton's Devilishly Divine Eggs" from the local market, and in the past when Sarah and Freddy Hill have a conversation about eggs, then find them on the menu of the oyster house they dine at with Freddy's aunt. The eggs on the menu could be "boiled, fried, dropped, and served on toast, grits, wheat berries, or alone." I kept thinking about the fried egg on top of wheat berries and decided to make a version for my dish inspired by the book.
I love risotto and playing around with alternatives to rice like farro and barley, so I thought it would be fun to turn my wheat berries into a risotto dish. I had some leeks sitting in the vegetable drawer and fresh herbs on the patio--a nod to Sarah Brown's sister, Annie, who liked to work with herbs and flowers. Wheat berries make for a chewier risotto, full of fiber and the egg (and the butter I snuck in) adds creaminess to the dish--although you could also throw in some cheese. Nigel Slater has taught me to drizzle a little sherry vinegar on eggs and here, I splashed some into the risotto for a bit of bright acidity.

Fried Egg-Topped Wheat Berry, Leek & Herb Risotto
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2-3

2 Tbsp butter, separated
2 medium leeks, white & light green parts, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 cups vegetable stock (low-sodium preferred)
1 cup white wheat berries
1/2 cup white wine of choice 
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh herbs of choice (I used thyme, rosemary, oregano parsley)
salt and black pepper to taste
splash of sherry vinegar (optional)

For Eggs:
olive oil for frying eggs
2-3 fresh eggs--one per serving
smoked paprika to garnish eggs

In a large pot or saucepan, heat one tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and garlic and saute for 5 minutes until leeks are soft and the white parts translucent. Meanwhile, heat the broth in a separate pot until just to a soft boil. 

Add the wheat berries to the pan with the leeks and garlic, reduce the heat to medium, and saute for a few minutes. Pour in the white wine and stir, letting it cook until mostly absorbed. Slowly add the hot broth, a ladle at a time, stirring and letting each ladle absorb before adding the next. (Note: This took me about 70 minutes and 5 1/2 cups of broth but timing may vary.) Wheat berries should be cooked through, tender but still chewy and the liquid absorbed and a lightly coating the wheat berries. Taste and add salt and black pepper to taste.

As risotto is finishing up cooking to your liking, stir in the fresh herbs and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Add a splash of sherry vinegar for acidity if desired. 

For eggs--fry in olive oil until done to your liking. I prefer sunny-side-up with set whites and deliciously runny yolks. 

To serve, place risotto into individual bowls. Top with a fried egg. Sprinkle with a little black pepper, some extra chopped herbs, and a little smoked paprika to garnish. 

Notes/Results: I have not spent much time in the kitchen this past month beyond the simplicity of a sandwich, salad, or bowl of popcorn dinner, as I'm just not feeling the cooking urge (and my cooking mojo) since my mom passed away. This risotto is a good balance of healthy and comfort and it felt pretty good to be in the kitchen putting it together. Although It took over an hour to cook to the chewy-yet-tender consistency I wanted, it isn't as fussy as rice and needs less stirring although you will want to keep an eye on it. I hung out in the kitchen, straightening it, putting together some notes from a call, and reading a few chapters from my current book while it cooked. Between the leeks, garlic, butter, herbs, and the sherry vinegar, it has excellent flavor and of course, a runny-yolked egg makes everything a bit more wonderful. An excellent comfort food dinner that I will happily make again.

Note: A review copy of "The Mapmaker's Children" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.



  1. Eventually your mojo will come back but it is nice to see your eats regardless. :)

  2. I totally agree - a great historical fiction book leads me right to the internet to do my own research. I love that kind of book!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  3. I love feeling like I am learning along with enjoying the book Heather. This is a great book for that. ;-)

  4. Thanks Janet. ;-)


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