Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley is a wonderful graphic novel about her lifelong relationship with cooking. Lucy grew up in a household where food was always central. Her mother ran a catering business, grew her own food, and operated a farmer’s market stall. Due to this constant exposure, Lucy based many of her memories on food. Huevos rancheros reminds her of her adventures in Mexico with her best friend. Croissants remind her of the time she backpacked through Europe with a close college friend. Sushi takes her back to her travels in Japan. Hot chocolate, burgers, and fries remind her of traveling Italy with her father. Baking sweets became her way of working through stressful times in her life. Accompanied by these recorded memories are delicious recipes that are fun to make. After reading this graphic novel, you will gain a new appreciation for the importance different types of food can have on impacting people’s lives.

Genre: Non-fiction graphic novel

Setting: Modern-day Mexico, Italy, Japan, New York, and Chicago.

Number of pages: 173

Themes: Family, friendship, travel, growing up, and cooking.

Is this good for a book club? This would be good for book clubs that enjoy books about food.

Objectionable content? There are discussions of alcohol, periods, and pornographic magazines.

Can children read this? Teenagers would enjoy the stories.

Who would like this? Anyone who loves food.

Rating: Five stars

Classic Read: The Ladies of Missalonghi

ladies2I recently revisited an old favorite, a  short novel set in Australia in the early 1900’s. The Ladies of Missalonghi, a tale by Australian author Colleen McCullough, has a rather dismal start. Missy Wright, a thirty-three year old spinster, lives in the town of Byron with her widowed mother and crippled aunt. The three women scrape along in genteel poverty, the victims of manipulative and greedy richer relatives. Their days are always the same: meager meals, chores, and the endless handicrafts that they create to fill the empty hours.

Missy, who believes her lack of beauty and lack of money have doomed her to never marry, has one escape from the dreariness of her life. She borrows novels from the local lending library and imagines the most spectacular adventures in her mind. The librarian, a distant relation named Una, is bright and vivacious and very interested in Missy, who is generally considered a non-entity by her other relatives.

Slowly, as Missy interacts with Una, she begins to change. She stops letting local shopkeepers push her around. She stands up against a rude and condescending cousin. She takes walks alone in the bush, experiencing the beauty of her natural environment, an experience that has always been denied her in the interest of keeping her “safe”.

Missy’s evolution is an unconventional fairy tale. No one rescues her; she saves herself. Una is an example for Missy to follow rather than a fairy godmother who grants requests. There is a prince of sorts–John Smith, a mysterious newcomer to the town of Byron who is not searching for a princess but running from his past.

This short tale can be read in one sitting. Through-out the story, I kept  wondering if Missy’s newfound strength would backfire. Could she possibly stand up to an entire town, not to mention a tradition of systematic discrimination against the poor widows and spinsters in her family? Would those richer relations turn and crush her? Would her mother and aunt, who are so steeped in family tradition, even support her in her quest for freedom? There were a few surprises before I discovered the answers to these questions.

This light yet lovely tale is enjoyable.  A recommended read for those who like light romance with descriptive settings.

Sorting White Trash

indexIt was a hard call, but I’d say White Trash by Nancy Isenberg was my Number 2 Must Read of 2016 (after Chasing the Scream), but oh, have I put off writing about it because it played so much into last year’s politics it seemed as if it were written for it – but it couldn’t, because it was written before last year’s one-of-a-kind election year.

“White Trash” is a term that began just before the Civil War and became entrenched afterward, a term for the poorest white people who were absolutely uneducated, dirty, poorer than slaves – and had no desire to change their ways. They considered themselves perfectly fine and above anyone else. Rich people were to be sneered at, since they considered themselves better. Educated people were sneered at, because they considered themselves better. Yet as a class they were so despised for their lack of morals and work ethic, even slaves considered themselves above Poor White Trash.

Isenberg feels the concept goes back further than that. Who did England send over to1400306193764-cached America to pad out their colonies? Who would not be missed from the overcrowded prisons and cities? Not the landed gentry, but those persons who for whatever reason did not fit into society and were unsuccessful at supporting themselves. The Virginia Colony had to go so far as to set a death sentence for people who did not work and did not attend church on Sundays. Starvation was so bad that people resorted to cannibalism. The people sent over refused to work, preferring to run off to unsettled land (which was “owned” by others) and fend for themselves. Getting people to do the hard labor of setting up a colony was quite difficult.

Further, Isenberg says that as the country expanded, the first to move west were… the folk who refused to work for others, could not function in a society, and would rather starve than work. Each time, the ones who pushed west first were the dregs, seeking escape from prisons, debt collectors, tax men, and others who “infringed” upon them. The wild west was wild because the people who colonized it couldn’t get along with anyone.

“White Trash” has many names, depending on geography – Crackers, Okies, Rednecks, Hillbillies, Trailer Trash, Mud Eaters – all people who shun government, distrust education, live in abject poverty, and have a very flexible moral code. I don’t mean “flexible” as a pejorative but as a term to describe a juxtaposition of ideals: your baby out of wedlock is a sin, but it’s okay for me. Never take charity, but taking free stuff from this agency over here isn’t charity, it’s just free stuff. They have quite the knack for making things acceptable for them but a sin for anyone else.

Isenberg digs into both politics and popularism, citing Andrew Jack110932-004-3f4811e2son (the first person running for President who lost despite getting the most popular votes the first time he ran) as an uneducated, crass boor who appealed to the lowest masses and yet was elected President, and how he loved to flaunt that boorishness, to the distress of the American Gentry. She cites the 1970’s as a time when White Trash became hip – from Smokey and the Bandit, to the Dukes of Hazzard, to Tammy Faye Bakker and the  whole Televangelist craze. Today’s exploitainment shows like Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, and 16 and Pregnant continue to flaunt poverty, lawlessness, and lack of education as something chic and desirable.

Of course race and politics play into it. Much of the divide still stems from the Civil War, with Southern States blaming Northern States for the outcomes, and the Northern States holding the South in utter contempt. Isenberg shows how that all translates into votes, and political forums, and how those in turn affect our elections – including the recent one.

indexIsenberg is not alone in her observations. Numerous authors have also written similar observations, making her research more plausible. One is Deer Hunting With Jesus, by Joe Bageant, in which he talks about going home to rural Virginia, and why such places are becoming  a permanent underclass.  Lee Smith touches on a little of it in her dreamy autobiography Dimestore, about growing up in rural Appalachia.  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance does a fantastic job presenting the issues from the first-hand experience of growing up in 1980’s Kentucky.

No matter what your political leanings, White Trash815bv15ciol will open your eyes to why current politics are playing out the way they are and how people are being exploited in the process, why you can’t seem to educate people out of poverty, and how that poverty persists generation after generation – and no, it’s not due to Welfare. How do we change it? How do we shape it? Or should we allow an uneducated underclass to dictate policies it knows nothing about – and chooses not to learn?  There’s no easy answer to be had, but this book is a must read and will open your eyes to a lot of things you never learned in school.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

chocolatIn Chocolat, Vianne is trying to break  away from her mother’s nomadic way of life. Determined to make a new life for herself and her daughter Anouk, Vianne settles down in a French village and opens a chocolate shop. However, the villagers and priest are less than thrilled with her presence since she has very different ideas on life. She does not attend the local church, she was never married to Anouk’s father, and she seems set on bringing about changes that will affect everyone’s lives.

This book was well-written and very enjoyable. It mostly takes place from  Vianne’s point of view as she becomes a driving force in the changes that come to the town. The writing style keeps you involved from the beginning, and the characters are fully developed. As you progress through the book, you delve into the pasts of the characters, learning how they came to the positions they currently occupy. You learn why Vianne wants to settle down, why Jacqueline is trapped in her marriage, and why the priest is against everything Vianne stands for. In addition, the protagonist is an intelligent woman who is very independent and strong-willed, which is part of what makes this book so interesting. Note: You will crave chocolate while reading this.

Genre: Fiction, but it is not truly a romance, despite the cover.

Setting: Twentieth-century French village called Lansquenet.

Is this good for a book club? Yes. It is a good length and allows for plenty of discussion, including character analysis, recurring themes, and what could potentially happen to everyone after the book ends.

Is there a movie version? Yes, but it is different enough from the book that it would provide a good comparison. Personally, I did not enjoy the movie because I felt that it took the characters and overall tone in directions that the author did not intend. However, you should watch it to see what you think. Click here for the movie version.

Themes: Including, but not limited to, letting go and moving on with life, overcoming feelings of powerlessness, retaining one’s morality, religion, and friction between people of different classes and walks of life.

Objectionable content? Very little, and nothing explicit. Some people may not like that the antagonist is a Catholic priest. However, despite being the antagonist, he is not a villainous character.

Can children read this? Teens would enjoy this.

 Who would like this? Anyone who enjoys reading fiction that involves good character development and a non-traditional protagonist.

Rating: Five stars. I highly recommend Chocolat.

A Beautiful Ending To A Wonderful Romantic Series

Back in August 2016, I introduced you to a new series, Wild Aces, by Chanel Cleeton.   on-broken-wingsYou can read about it here.  Available now is the third and final book in the series, On Broken Wings.   Here’s the official summary:

A year after losing her husband, Joker, the squadron commander of the Wild Aces, Dani Peterson gets an offer from his best friend, Alex “Easy” Rogers, to help fix up her house. Dani accepts, and their friendship grows—along with an undeniable attraction.

Racked by guilt for loving his best friend’s widow, Easy’s caught between what he wants and can’t have. Until one night everything changes, and the woman who’s always held his heart ends up in his arms. Yet as Easy leaves for his next deployment, he and Dani are torn between their feelings and their loyalty to Joker’s memory.

But when Dani discovers something that sends them both into a spin, the conflicted lovers must overcome the past to navigate a future together…

I can’t remember when I have ever been so moved by a fictional book.  When I finished reading it, I just sat in my chair stunned, only able to think “wow”.  The three books in the series can stand on their own, but On Broken Wings ties all the books together with a genuinely authentic military love story full of emotion, humor, love, passion, heartache and triumph.

What a way to end a series.  This book was completely captivating and everything a romance should be.