Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

August 27, 2021 by

[Tricia]

What a beautiful book! This is a gorgeously written memoir about grief and identity and food and love. Michelle Zauner is the lead singer of the band Japanese Breakfast, and the only child of a Korean mother and an American father. When Zauner was 25 years old her mother died of cancer, and this book explores the complicated relationship she had with her mother throughout her life, and the tremendous impact of losing her at this young age. Zauner weaves into the story her struggles growing up Korean American in a small town in Oregon, her fraught relationship with both of her parents, and her attempt to forge her own identity and life as an artist away from home. But the heart of the book is her relationship with her mother, who she couldn’t bear to be away from as a young child,and couldn’t stand to be around as a teenager and young adult. She writes honestly about almost manically throwing herself into the role of caregiver when her mother gets sick, desperately trying to make up for the years of trying to separate herself from the intensity of her mother’s attention and criticism. Food plays a huge role in this book, as it was the one thing that she and her mother really bonded over. One of the most moving aspects of the book is her panicky realization that she doesn’t know how to cook Korean food, fearing that she will lose what makes her Korean when she loses her mother and her mother’s cooking.

While I had heard wonderful things about this book, I had put off reading it fearing that it would be too sad. But I found it to be a lovely, tender, and oddly comforting book.

You can find Crying in H Mart at the Library and as an ebook and audiobook on Libby/Overdrive (I listened to the audiobook which was read by the author and was wonderful).

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

August 18, 2021 by

[Tricia]

I came to this book knowing little about it, other than hearing that it is going to be adapted into a TV series by Mindy Kaling. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this fascinating, genre-blurring, coming-of-age story infused with magical realism, a heist, an exploration of the role of gold in American and Indian culture, and a meditation on the expectations and pressures placed on second generation Indian Americans. Neil Narayan is a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta. He is an average student surrounded by high-achieving Indian American classmates and high expectations for academic success from his immigrant parents. He accidentally discovers that his neighbor and secret crush, Anita Dayal and her mother – also an immigrant from India – have been distilling gold taken from Indian American families around them into a drinkable form. Anita’s mother grew up with this alchemical practice in which drinking gold (mixed with lemonade) instills in you the ambitions and determination of the person you took it from. Neil joins them in procuring and drinking the gold, leading to far reaching, and often painful consequences for all of them.

I found the exploration of the toll that the high expectations of success take on the mental health of Neil and Anita, and those around them, to be particularly powerful. These are complicated and flawed characters trying to understand what success means, and to navigate the intersections of their identities as children of Indian American immigrants, and as young people of color in America. There is so much going on in this book that it can be a little overwhelming at times, but it is a fascinating book that I can’t stop thinking about. A surprising and engaging read.

You can find Gold Diggers at the Library.

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

Movie Time with Scott: The Dig

August 16, 2021 by

[Scott]

The Dig (Netflix)

PG-13

1h 52m

Rotten Tomatoes: 87% Fresh (Critics) | 78% (Audiences)

Can’t say I dig the title, but fans of British period films will love “The Dig.” Set in the beautiful English countryside in 1939, this based-on-a-true-story unfolds slowly and delicately as it reveals its hidden treasures. Chief among the movie’s treasures are the brilliant members of its professional cast, who expertly carry the weight of the film. The wealthy widow (Carey Mulligan) has hired an “excavator” (Ralph Fiennes) to explore the ancient mounds on her property, on a hunch that something special lies underneath. The digging is tedious (as is sometimes the pace of the film) but as they dig deeper, the tension builds – personal troubles are uncovered and museum mucky-mucks vie for whatever is hiding under the dirt, all the while World War II bubbles under the surface. Archeology nerds may be disappointed when the story diverts from “The Dig,” but the movie is ultimately rewarding due to its lovely cinematography and the subtly powerful performances of Mulligan, Fiennes, Lily James, and its fine ensemble cast.

This movie is only available on Netflix, but if you want to dig deeper into its mysteries, you can read our copy of the book it was based on! Or you can explore the history of the Anglo-Saxons with this book on Hoopla.

Memorial Drive, by Natasha Trethewey

August 3, 2021 by

[Lesley]

Former U.S. Poet Laureate (appointed 2012) Natasha Trethewey has achieved a beautiful, dreamlike memoir – truly a memory – about her mother and their relationship. As adults we begin to see our parents in new ways, as people who are separate from us, or not only our mother or father, but a person in their own right. Not only with a history that doesn’t include us, but also parts of their day to day lives that don’t include us.

Trethewey’s writing is like looking back through sepia and black and white (faded to gray, even) photos without someone to fill in all of the information behind them. The images are beautiful even if the context might not have been; or the images are plain and don’t illuminate the importance or happiness of the moment. I expect the language to be lush and evocative given the poetic success of Trethewey, and it is; it doesn’t call attention to itself while you are reading, you are just soaking up the essential beauty of words perfectly chosen.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

A poem by Natasha Trethewey:

History Lesson

I am four in this photograph, standing   
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,   
my hands on the flowered hips

of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,   
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts   
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each   

tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side   

of the camera, telling me how to pose.   
It is 1970, two years after they opened   
the rest of this beach to us,   

forty years since the photograph   
where she stood on a narrow plot   
of sand marked colored, smiling,

her hands on the flowered hips   
of a cotton meal-sack dress.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47538/history-lesson-56d2280d442a7
Natasha Trethewey, “History Lesson” from Domestic Work. 
Copyright © 2000 by Natasha Tretheway.
Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, http://www.graywolfpress.org.
Source: Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000)

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

July 30, 2021 by

[Tricia]

While I don’t generally like scary books, I have a soft spot for gothic novels. From Dracula to Rebecca to The Thirteenth Tale, I can’t resist a story with a big dark, decaying estate shrouded in mystery. Add to the mix a smart and interesting heroine, as this book does, and I am a happy reader. Fair warning, this book leans pretty heavily into the horror aspect of gothic novels, so if you are squeamish (as I am) there are some parts you might want to skim.

Set in 1950 in Mexico, it tells the story of Noemi, a smart, independent, somewhat bored young socialite who is sent by her father to check up on her beloved, newly married cousin Catalina. Catalina has sent a troubling letter saying that she is in danger, and asking for help. Noemi travels to the Mexican countryside to High Place, where Catalina lives with her English husband, Virgil Doyle, and his family. High Place is cold, dark, damp, and seemingly haunted – a quintessential English gothic estate on a mountain where the family’s silver mine had been. The Doyle family matches the mansion – they are cold, remote, and disturbingly quiet, with the exception of when the patriarch of the family spouts his disturbing opinions on eugenics during dinner. While the family claims Catalina has tuberculosis and is simply hallucinating, Noemi suspects that there is something very wrong here.

I particularly liked the layers that this book brings to the genre. It speaks to the legacy of colonialism, which has a complicated history in gothic novels, in really interesting ways, and it subverts the gender roles and the typical gothic romance storylines. If you’re a gothic novel fan, you definitely want to read this.

Mexican Gothic is available at the Library and as an audiobook and an ebook on Libby/Overdrive.

Mexican Gothic - ebook

Movie Review: Nobody

July 28, 2021 by

[Scott]

“Nobody” Rated R Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 84% fresh (critics) / 94% fresh (audience)

Bob Odenkirk is not just anybody — you know him as Saul Goodman from and “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” – but in this film, he is “Nobody.” He’s a mild-mannered family man who punches at spreadsheets every day at work, then comes home to a cold wife and a surly teenager. (His little daughter still loves him, though, so thank god for small blessings!) Anyway, he’s in your basic middle-aged suburban sleepwalking nightmare. This all changes, however, when the house is broken into by would-be burglars. Now, he’s mad. A sleeping giant inside him has been awakened, and we find out he’s a man with, shall we say, a “particular set of skills.” Now, if you recognize that reference, then you’ve seen Liam Neeson in “Taken.” And if you’ve seen “Taken,” or “RED,” or “John Wick,” you’ve basically seen “Nobody” — plot-wise anyway. In fact, it’s written by the same guy who wrote “John Wick,” so the similarities aren’t coincidental. But do you care? So what if the plot is thin and/or familiar? It’s only there to string the action scenes together anyway, and the once the action starts, boy howdy, it never lets up. “Nobody” is hyper-violent and gory, with a staggering body count, but Odenkirk brings just enough wry humor to lighten the mood. He plays his dour milquetoast side and his newly-developed action-hero side with equal aplomb, easily carrying the role of retired-but-still-got-it protagonist. This film is definitely not for those with delicate sensibilities, but for those with strong constitutions, it is well worth your 92 minutes! “Nobody” is available for a $5.99 rental or $19.99 purchase on most streaming services, and it is free to borrow from your public library on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Nobody [DVD]

Yellow Wife, by Sadeqa Johnson

July 26, 2021 by

[Lesley]

This was a well-written, fairly quick read about a strong and relentless heroine, Pheby Brown, a young slave who has been promised her freedom by her father (who is also the Master of the plantation), but is imprisoned instead after her father dies unexpectedly. Pheby’s mother gives her daughter a solid foundation of srength, pride, and self-sufficiency that will keep her alive and trying to maintain her mind’s freedom even as she moves from one type of prison to another.

Fast moving, sharp, and a story that makes you want to keep reading.

A note: there are graphic descriptions of violence, torture, and abuse in this book.

Yellow Wife: (Library catalog), (Libby/OverDrive)

Some read-alikes in the library catalog:
The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates [on Libby/OverDrive]
The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom [on Libby/OverDrive]
The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd [on Libby/OverDrive]

The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell’Antonia

July 23, 2021 by
The Chicken Sisters: Dell'Antonia, KJ: 9780593085141: Amazon.com: Books

[SAM]

I have mentioned this in a previous review, but let me state here again, I am not a person known for my culinary skills. I am also not a person who watches a lot of cooking TV shows. That being said, for reasons unknown even to myself, if you set a novel around a competitive cooking show I am all about it. I am in. No further details required. And the Chicken Sisters is very much one of those novels.

Set in the small town of Merinac, Kansas The Chicken Sisters details the long running feud between the Moores and the Pogociellos, owners of two of the best friend chicken restaurants in the state, Chicken Mimi’s and Chicken Frannie’s. In the middle of this century old fight sits Amanda Moore. She had worked for her mom at Mimi’s before marrying Frank Pogociello and working for Frannie’s.

In an effort to save Chicken Frannie’s from financial ruin, Amanda convinces Food Wars, a reality-TV competition, to come to town and cover the feud. But reality shows rarely lessen anyone’s family drama, and this is no exception. The ensuing circus brings Amanda’s celebrity sister Mae back to town, causes her mother to act out in phenomenal fashion, and generally creates major chaos in all directions.

This book has a lot going on, but its super enjoyable. The characters are both generally likeable and deeply imperfect humans. But so aren’t we all. Give this one a shot.

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

July 23, 2021 by

[Tricia]

This big-hearted, nostalgia-filled, coming of age novel is a perfect summer read. Set in Baltimore in the summer of 1975, it tells the story of 14 year old Mary Jane Dillard, who comes from a very traditional, reserved, conservative family. Mary Jane is a kind, responsible, sincere, sheltered kid who loves Broadway showtunes and singing in her Church choir. She takes a summer job babysitting the 5 year old daughter of the Cones at their cool, chaotic, bohemian home where Dr. Cone is treating a well-known rock star for his heroin addiction. Jimmy, the rock star, and his wife Sheba (think Cher), are secretly living with the Cones for the summer during his treatment. Of course Mary Jane is wowed by the glamour and celebrity and freedom she encounters for the first time. But what I really liked about the book is that Mary Jane never tries to change herself to impress them all (as Mrs. Cone sometimes does). She only becomes more herself — more confident in her ability to cook and clean and organize the house, to sing and share her favorite songs, to talk about her feelings (and allow herself to feel them), and to see Izzy through the challenges of that summer. And I loved how sincerely they all see and appreciate Mary Jane for who she is. If you’ve ever been a babysitter, the book will bring you back to that feeling of entering another family’s life, and seeing other possible ways of living. And if you grew up in the 1970s, you’ll feel yourself transported back. Thanks to Karen for recommending this light-hearted, enjoyable book!

Mary Jane is available at the Library and as an ebook and audiobook on Libby/Overdrive. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was terrific!

Title details for Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau - Wait list

The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich

July 21, 2021 by

[Courtney]

I have finally found some time to read books written for grown ups, and I’m so glad this one came across my path.

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows Thomas Wazhashk, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in Minnesota (a fictionalized version of Erdrich’s own grandfather), as he forms a delegation to go to Washington, D.C. to fight House Concurrent Resolution 108. The resolution is framed by the federal government as “emancipation” of the Native Americans from their reservations, from their separation from the rest of the United States. The goal is complete assimilation. The tribe sees it as a “termination” act, with the government destroying their way of life, forcing them to relocate, then selling their land for profit.

If it sounds dry, I promise it isn’t! There are, of course, many other wonderful characters (even a ghost!) who all feel very real and at home in this novel that is really about family, and about the lengths people go to protect and honor their families and homes. I wish I could meet some of these characters, they feel that rich. And because it is historical fiction, many of the details are true, which really amplifies the stakes.

Highly recommend. I listened to the audiobook, read by Erdrich herself, and I found it wonderful (and a great help in learning the pronunciation of Chippewa words).

The Night Watchman is available at the Library, as an audiobook on Hoopla, and as an ebook and audiobook on Libby/Overdrive.