Eat a Peach by David Chang, founder of Momofuku, was a wonderful memoir. I really enjoyed reading about the ins and outs of the restaurant business and Chang’s critical role in the world food scene. “In 2004, Momofuku Noodle Bar opened in a tiny, stark space in Manhattan’s East Village. Its young chef-owner, David Chang, worked the line, serving ramen and pork buns to a mix of fellow restaurant cooks and confused diners whose idea of ramen was instant noodles in Styrofoam cups. It would have been impossible to know it at the time—and certainly Chang would have bet against himself—but he, who had failed at almost every endeavor in his life, was about to become one of the most influential chefs of his generation, driven by the question, ‘What if the underground could become the mainstream?'” (Amazon). It’s about so much more, though. I didn’t know Chang had grown up in the DC area. He also suffers from manic depression. It’s a really great read and I highly recommend it.
The “Clear the Bookshelf” project is on haitus due to a bumpercrop of library books coming to my inbox. The first of these is Dear Child by German author Romy Hausmann. You can’t help but fall right into this thriller. “A windowless shack in the woods. A dash to safety. But when a woman finally escapes her captor, the end of the story is only the beginning of her nightmare. She says her name is Lena. Lena, who disappeared without a trace 14 years prior. She fits the profile. She has the distinctive scar. But her family swears that she isn’t their Lena. The little girl who escaped the woods with her knows things she isn’t sharing, and Lena’s devastated father is trying to piece together details that don’t quite fit. Lena is desperate to begin again, but something tells her that her tormentor still wants to get back what belongs to him…and that she may not be able to truly escape until the whole truth about what happened in the woods finally emerges. Twisty, suspenseful, and psychologically clever, Romy Hausmann’s Dear Child is a captivating thriller with all the ingredients of a breakout hit.” (Amazon) I liked this book a lot. There were a few holes and I would have liked a little more information on a few things, but overall, it was a nailbiter in the best way.
I am not usually a mystery reader, but every now and again, I get really into one. Of Books and Bagpipes by Paige Shelton was a gift last Christmas (thanks, Pat) and had been in my TBR stack. As I have mentioned here before, that stack was growing larger and larger due to the library having so many books available during the pandemic. So, as those library books become scarcer in our new world, I have begun the “clear the shelf” project. Of Books and Bagpipes was fun because it takes place in Scotland, a place I love and long to return to, and because it’s centered around a bookshop. “Delaney Nichols has settled so comfortably into her new life in Edinburgh that she truly feels it’s become more home than her once beloved Kansas. Her job at the Cracked Spine, a bookshop that specializes in rare manuscripts as well as other sundry valuable historical objects, is everything she had dreamed, with her new boss, Edwin MacAlister, entrusting her more and more with bigger jobs. Her latest task includes a trip to Castle Doune, a castle not far out of Edinburgh, to retrieve a hard-to-find edition of an old Scottish comic, an “Oor Wullie,” in a cloak and dagger transaction that Edwin has orchestrated. While taking in the sights of the distant Highlands from the castle’s ramparts, Delaney is startled when she spots a sandal-clad foot at the other end of the roof. Unfortunately, the foot’s owner is very much dead and, based on the William Wallace costume he’s wearing, perfectly matches the description of the man who was supposed to bring the Oor Wullie. As Delaney rushes to call off some approaching tourists and find the police, she comes across the Oor Wullie, its pages torn and fluttering around a side wall of the castle. Instinct tells her to take the pages and hide them under her jacket. It’s not until she returns to the Cracked Spine that she realizes just how complicated this story is and endeavors to untangle the tricky plot of why someone wanted this man dead, all before getting herself booked for murder.” (Amazon) This was a good read, though not a favorite, but fun nonetheless. I really enjoyed the Scottish Gaelic thrown in.
I have long thought of reading Ishiguro. Another goal for this year is to clear my shelf, which I keep culling and culling as I read more and more library books. This year, however, with the library closed and Kindle library books getting less frequently available, I aim to read the books I actually own. The first one I grabbed off the shelf was When We Were Orphans. I had low expectations that I would enjoy this one, only because it had sat on the shelf for so long. But, boy was I wrong. It sucked you in from the first page and was such a wonderful read. “Born in early-twentieth-century Shanghai, Banks was orphaned at the age of nine after the separate disappearances of his parents. Now, more than twenty years later, he is a celebrated figure in London society; yet the investigative expertise that has garnered him fame has done little to illuminate the circumstances of his parents’ alleged kidnappings. Banks travels to the seething, labyrinthine city of his memory in hopes of solving the mystery of his own, painful past, only to find that war is ravaging Shanghai beyond recognition-and that his own recollections are proving as difficult to trust as the people around him. Masterful, suspenseful and psychologically acute, When We Were Orphans offers a profound meditation on the shifting quality of memory, and the possibility of avenging one’s past.” (Amazon) Luckily, I was able to get Remains of the Day from the library to enjoy later this month. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
Reese Witherspoon chose The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell’Antonia for her Book Club and I was lucky enough to receive it for Christmas (thanks, Pat!). While on the surface, this is a chick-lit choice, underneath, it is a bit deeper than one might expect. All in all, an enjoyable read to begin the year. “In tiny Merinac, Kansas, Chicken Mimi’s and Chicken Frannie’s have spent a century vying to serve up the best fried chicken in the state–and the legendary feud between their respective owners, the Moores and the Pogociellos, has lasted just as long. No one feels the impact more than thirty-five-year-old widow Amanda Moore, who grew up working for her mom at Mimi’s before scandalously marrying Frank Pogociello and changing sides to work at Frannie’s. Tired of being caught in the middle, Amanda sends an SOS to Food Wars, the reality TV restaurant competition that promises $100,000 to the winner. But in doing so, she launches both families out of the frying pan and directly into the fire. . .The last thing Brooklyn-based organizational guru Mae Moore, Amanda’s sister, wants is to go home to Kansas. But when her career implodes, helping the fading Mimi’s look good on Food Wars becomes Mae’s best chance to reclaim the limelight–even if doing so pits her against Amanda and Frannie’s. Yet when family secrets become public knowledge, the sisters must choose: Will they fight with each other, or for their heritage?” (Amazon) I’d grab this one – it’s fun.
I loved and hated Luster by Raven Leilani. On the one hand, it just seemed so implausible and I hated the character’s actions. On the other, I liked the characters and many of the descriptions. So, while I wanted to hate the book, I couldn’t. “Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties―sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage―with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and invited into Eric’s home―though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only Black woman young Akila knows…Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life―her hunger, her anger―in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent, and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.” At any given moment while reading, I might have given you a different star rating. So, in the end, it earns four…because I had to merge my conflicting feelings.
2020 has been a terrible year, as everyone is well aware. From a self-preservation perspective, I read more than ever. And, as those of you know who have read this blog for a while, every year, at the end of the year, I look back on all the books I have read the year before and list my favorites overall. This year, I again topped my 100 books in a year goal and made it to 130. The added bonus of this post is that you don’t have to bother to read any of my other posts over the course of the year.
Usually, I post about 4.5 and 5-star books. This year, though, there were so many 5-star books (14), that I only listed those in this best of review.
Links to buy the books below:
Good Morning, Midnight
Born a Crime
Hidden Valley Road
So You Want to Talk About Race
To Obama, with Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope
The Vanishing Half
The Beauty in the Breaking
Notes from a Young Black Chef
No One Will Tell You This But Me
The Only Plane in the Sky
Such a Fun Age
2019’s best books are here.
2018’s best books are here.
2017’s best books are here.
2016’s best books are here.
2015’s best books are here.
2014’s best books are here.
2013’s paltry selection of best books are here.
Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby was a surprise. I thought it was going to be non-fiction, but it turned out to be a rocketing novel, exciting from start to end. I’m gunning for a few last great books in 2020, and this was a great choice. “A husband, a father, a son, a business owner…And the best getaway driver east of the Mississippi. Beauregard “Bug” Montage is an honest mechanic, a loving husband, and a hard-working dad. Bug knows there’s no future in the man he used to be: known from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida as the best wheelman on the East Coast. He thought he’d left all that behind him, but as his carefully built new life begins to crumble, he finds himself drawn inexorably back into a world of blood and bullets. When a smooth-talking former associate comes calling with a can’t-miss jewelry store heist, Bug feels he has no choice but to get back in the driver’s seat. And Bug is at his best where the scent of gasoline mixes with the smell of fear. Haunted by the ghost of who he used to be and the father who disappeared when he needed him most, Bug must find a way to navigate this blacktop wasteland…or die trying.” (Amazon) This is a great read – grab it!!
I normally like David Nicholls. Sweet Sorrow was good, but not as good as One Day (though I can’t find my review, so maybe I really only remember it with fondness). Apparently, I didn’t like Us either, so maybe I don’t actually like David Nicholls. Anyway, Sweet Sorrow was OK, but not great. “Now: On the verge of marriage and a fresh start, thirty-eight year old Charlie Lewis finds that he can’t stop thinking about the past, and the events of one particular summer. Then: Sixteen-year-old Charlie Lewis is the kind of boy you don’t remember in the school photograph. He’s failing his classes. At home he looks after his depressed father—when surely it should be the other way round—and if he thinks about the future at all, it is with a kind of dread. But when Fran Fisher bursts into his life and despite himself, Charlie begins to hope. In order to spend time with Fran, Charlie must take on a challenge that could lose him the respect of his friends and require him to become a different person. He must join the Company. And if the Company sounds like a cult, the truth is even more appalling: The price of hope, it seems, is Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet learned and performed in a theater troupe over the course of a summer. Now: Charlie can’t go the altar without coming to terms with his relationship with Fran, his friends, and his former self. Poignant, funny, enchanting, devastating, Sweet Sorrow is a tragicomedy about the rocky path to adulthood and the confusion of family life, a celebration of the reviving power of friendship and that brief, searing explosion of first love that can only be looked at directly after it has burned out.” (Amazon). I’d skip this one, unless you ADORE Nicholls.
Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa was a good read, but not amazing, as I had been led to believe from all the positive reviews it has received. “As Nahr sits, locked away in solitary confinement, she spends her days reflecting on the dramatic events that landed her in prison in a country she barely knows. Born in Kuwait in the 70s to Palestinian refugees, she dreamed of falling in love with the perfect man, raising children, and possibly opening her own beauty salon. Instead, the man she thinks she loves jilts her after a brief marriage, her family teeters on the brink of poverty, she’s forced to prostitute herself, and the US invasion of Iraq makes her a refugee, as her parents had been. After trekking through another temporary home in Jordan, she lands in Palestine, where she finally makes a home, falls in love, and her destiny unfolds under Israeli occupation.” (Amazon) It’s certainly worth a read, but not a year’s best.