Monday, October 27, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of 'Bird in Hand' by Christina Baker Kline Served with Pasta with Watercress Pesto & Fried Egg

The decisions we make, even the ones that seem small, can change our lives in an instant. The decision to attend a party for her semi-estranged friend's book launch, going alone while her husband watches the children, accepting more than one 'blue' martini, driving on a rainy night, and not stopping or turning around when she finds herself lost, contribute to a tragic accident that changes Alison's life forever. As Alison reevaluates her marriage and the life she leads, the fallout of the accident illuminates her decisions and the choices of her husband and their longtime friends and effects them all in Bird in Hand: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline.


Publisher's Blurb:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train comes a novel about the choices we make, how they shape our lives, and how they can change them forever.

Four people, two marriages, one lifelong friendship: Everything is about to change.

It was dark. It was raining.  It was just an accident.  On the drive home from a rare evening out, Alison collides with another car running a stop sign, and—just like that—her life turns upside down.

When she calls her husband from the police station, his accusatory tone reveals cracks in their relationship she’d never noticed were there. Now she notices everything. And she begins to realize that the life she carefully constructed for herself is as tenuous as a house of cards. Exquisitely written, powerful, and thrilling, Bird in Hand is a novel about love and friendship and betrayal, and about the secrets we tell ourselves and each other.

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (October 14, 2014)

Bird in Hand: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline is the fourth and final book in the reissued titles of the author's books on TLC Book Tour this fall. (You can read my reviews and see the recipes inspired by her other books; Sweet Water, Desire Lines, and The Way Life Should Be by following the title links.) Bird in Hand is about the relationships between two couples--Alison and Charlie, and Claire and her husband Ben. Alison and Claire are childhood friends who have had a recent falling out. Ben and Claire befriend Charlie in graduate school and introduce him to Alison. The foursome are close, at least on the surface, until cracks in the relationships occur and deepen from the strain of keeping the affair Charlie and Claire are engaging in a secret. The story goes back and forth from present day to scenes of the 10-years of history the two couples have and shift with the perspectives of each of the four characters.

Alison seemed like she could be anyone I know, a few wrong choices that in a brief moment of time lead to such terrible consequences--the death of a child. Although judged to not be at fault for the accident (the choice of the parents in the other car to hold a fussy child up front instead of safely buckled in their car seat in the back, and for the father to run through a stop sign on a residential street caused the death), Alison's actions did make her a contributing factor and the guilt is overwhelming. I had mixed emotions about the characters--immediately drawn to and sympathetic towards Alison and Ben and strongly disliking Charlie and Claire--for the cheating and their selfish choices. But, as the story unfolded, I felt a bit more understanding for Charlie and Claire--do you remain with someone you care for but the relationship isn't satisfying, or do you reach out for something you truly want at the risk of hurting others? (I didn't end up liking them any better but I felt some understanding). ;-) 

Although I am usually not that interested in novels about marital drama and infidelity, Bird in Hand managed to draw me into the story. I wanted to see what the future held for the characters and the almost 300 pages went quickly. Out of the four re-issue novels, The Way Life Should Be was my favorite--probably due to the foodie aspects, but they were all enjoyable reads and one of these days I will pick up Christina Baker Kline's bestselling Orphan Train. ;-)  Readers of contemporary women's fiction, domestic life and relationships should like this one.

Author Notes: Christina Baker Kline was born in England and raised in Maine. The author of five novels, including the runaway bestseller Orphan Train, Kline has taught literature and creative writing at Yale, New York University, and Fordham. She lives outside of New York City.
Find out more about Kline at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

There was not a lot of inspiration coming from food in the book. I could have made the infamous blue martinis on the cover of Claire's book that proved to be Alison's downfall but that didn't seem right with the consequences of the accident. There is mention of food here and there--banana bread baked by a concerned neighbor, a meal of salad, snails and pan-fried trout in a cornmeal crust in the early days of relationships, a stir-fry of organic veggies, a trip through the gourmet section of the grocery store, Chinese food for a family meal including chow fun and sesame noodles, pancakes in the shape of hearts and dinosaurs, and fish sticks from the toaster oven and microwaved frozen peas--none of it really captured the book for me.  

Instead I chose a dish consisting of a nest of peppery watercress pesto-covered pasta with a fried egg nestled gently on top--in a reference to the book's title. The author notes that she chose Bird in Hand because of the quote; "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"--thinking of the choices her characters had to make--sticking with what you have and playing it safe, or reaching for something more that may escape you. I suppose there should have been two eggs on top of the pasta, but you get the idea. The recipe is a variation of a kale pesto in Change of Appetite by Diana Henry. Henry had a poached egg on top in her recipe but I find fried eggs quicker and less fuss to make.

Watercress Pesto with Whole Wheat Linguine & Fried Egg
Adapted from Change of Appetite by Diana Henry
(Serves 4)

1 lb whole wheat linguine or pasta of choice
sea salt
2 cups watercress 
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley or basil leaves
1/4 cup grated pecorino
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or sweeter cashews)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes (optional) to taste
4 eggs

Cook pasta according to package instructions--until cooked but still al dente. (Reserve some of the cooking water.)

Wash watercress well and remove larger stems. Place watercress in food processor with other ingredients and pulse blend until pureed but still slightly chunky. Taste for seasoning.

Poach (or fry) 4 eggs so whites are set and yolks are runny.

Place drain, still warm pasta back in pan with a little of its cooking water. Mix in pesto.

Place in individual pasta bowls or on plates and serve immediately with an egg on top.

Notes/Results: A very simple dish that is full of flavor. I am a fan of the slightly bitter, peppery bite of watercress which is still present, although mellowed by the pine nuts and cheese in the pesto. The whole grain fettuccine stands up well to the strongly-flavored pesto sauce, and the egg with its runny yolk gives it all a sweet creaminess. If you aren't a watercress fan or it is hard to get where you live, I imagine any dark green would work in this recipe. A bowl of this for dinner made me happy and satisfied and I will happily made it again. 

This pasta and egg dish is linking up to "What Came First? ... The Chicken or the Egg?" --this week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs. You can see the chicken or egg dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

Note: A review copy of "Bird in Hand" was provided 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 the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.



  1. Pesto made out of watercress is new to me! But definitely something i need to try.

  2. Hi Deb,
    When I read the name of the book, Bird In Hand, for a moment I thought that was the new book of Diana Henry which is to yet to be released! :)
    That is a delicious looking pasta dish. I have not tried water watercress pesto before and it sounds really good. I, too have made a pasta dish, and will be sharing that soon. Have a great weekend!

  3. That looks good! Love how you've paired it with a book review!

    ...I hope you're doing fine in Hawaii, hopefully you and your loved ones are far from any current problems.

  4. Thanks Lora. I am well--the lava flow is on another island. But I'm very sorry for those who have lost or are in danger of losing their homes.

  5. It would be a great Diana Henry cookbook title wouldn't it? ;-) Looking forward to seeing your pasta dish Joyce! ;-)

  6. With your love of greens Joanne, I think you would really like it. ;-)

  7. "do you remain with someone you care for but the relationship isn't satisfying, or do you reach out for something you truly want at the risk of hurting others?" This is such a huge and heavy issue to deal with. I'm interested to see how Kline handles it in this book.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  8. I love watercress, but it's hard to find in Germany. I tried to grow it in my garden, but the slugs also love it. I bookmark the recipe in case I'll find some watercress ...

  9. You can't really go wrong putting a nice runny egg on top of noodles, in my opinion! The pesto just makes it even more delicious.

  10. that watercress pesto looks amazing

  11. Couscous & ConsciousnessNovember 2, 2014 at 8:28 PM

    Well chosen dish, Deb. I love using watercress and rocket in a pesto, and this simple way to serve it seems very satisfying, especially with the egg on top. I love poached eggs, but you are right - fried eggs are often a lot less fuss to make.

  12. I love the idea idea of watercress pesto....looks delicious especially topped with the egg.

  13. This sounds like a book that is right up my alley. Amazing how one simple choice can change so much for so many. I also think it was really witty how you combined your review for this book along with our theme for the week.

    A fried egg is much more inviting than a poached egg. Beautiful dish!


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