From one ship to another: reading Cinnamon and Gunpowder, and The Last Cruise

Cinnamon and Gunpowder is exactly as I imagined it. A rollicking good fun on the seas adventure, with a bit of a twist as we venture along with the cook of the Flying Rose.

He’s a bit of a reluctant cook at first, as he’s been taken prisoner by “the Shark of the Ocean, Mad Hannah Mabbot, Back-from-the-Dead Red” and ordered to cook for her, just her, on Sundays, never repeating a dish nor serving anything mundane.

“Quail eggs and basil shirred in ramekins with sun-dried tomato puttanesca, braised pheasant with dandelion greens and jus de l’ile over pan-fried banana, and a confetti of pickled hominy a la mer.”

The descriptions of the food will leave you swooning as will the dire conditions in which they’re cooked – sourdough starter kept warm by wearing it on the body.

And of course being on a pirate ship all kinds of exciting adventures and bloody hijinks on the high seas ensues. Best of all is Hannah Mabbot herself, fearless, mysterious and charming.

An absolute delight!

I didn’t realise that The Last Cruise also featured a ship’s cook. Of course this is modern times and he’s on a well-equipped and well-stocked ship kitchen, with plenty of staff to manage but also some very discerning palates of the many guests on this historic final cruise, including the cruise line owner himself.

Warning: Do not, I repeat, do not read this book on a cruise.

However if you’re not planning to be on a cruise this is a great read.

The story takes place on the final voyage of the Queen Isabella, a 1950s ocean liner, from Long Beach to Hawaii and back. It’s meant to be a return to luxury cruising – no internet, no one under the age of 16, and instead fine dining, cocktails, and a string quartet.

The story unfolds from three perspectives.

Christine, a former journalist now farmer, is on board with her friend Valerie, who’s writing an expose about hidden workers like the crew members of the ship.

Miriam is a member of the Sabra Quartet, who are from Israel and who have been performing together since 1975. The owners of the cruise line are their friends and benefactors.

Mick is the sous chef, a last minute substitute, working in the galley as things get tense among the crew, whose contracts are being canceled after the cruise ends. And so they’re going on strike.

The ship itself mirrored the people on it, oversized, out of proportion, expelling ground-up food waste and treated sewage into the ocean, spewing colossal clouds of exhaust into the sea air, a giant pissing, shitting, farting beast.

I loved how the author brought us into the lives of these different characters. And she cleverly takes away the internet and their access to the outside world to bring the focus on to this microcosm on board.

An entertaining thoughtful read. One that makes me think twice about going on a cruise.

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  1. I *loved* Cinnamon and Gunpowder — and I’m so glad you did too. I didn’t realize the Last Cruise featured a chef … hum. I’ll have to explore.


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