Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
(Random House, 2017, 320 pages)
Idaho was the January selection for a book club I’m a part of. Set in (surprise) Idaho we are brought into the world of Wade and Ann Mitchell. They’ve been married a few years, but Wade was married before and that marriage came to a tragic end. Since they’ve been together Ann has been trying to piece together more information about Wade’s life before her, but this grows harder with time since Wade is fighting early-onset dementia and his memory is quickly fading.
Ann’s struggle to uncover more of Wade’s past is only part of the story. Idaho jumps back in forth in both time and perspective. We see things from the point of view of a number of characters, including Wade’s ex-wife Jenny. This book keeps you reading because you want to learn more about what happened to its characters and see how they progress.
Ruskovich is a talented writer and I was always eager to get back to reading her work. Even though I didn’t think I was a fan of the way the book ended, the more I reflect on it the more sense it makes. This is a worthwhile read from a debut author.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
(Grand Central Publishing, 2017, 496 pages)
I’m sure you remember seeing Pachinko on “Best of 2017” lists everywhere this past December. It was primarily because of this that I bumped it up in my reading rotation. I’d previously read Lee’s Free Food for Millionaires and really enjoyed it so I had already planned to grab this at some point. All I can say is that this lived up to the hype and exceeded my expectations. I honestly didn’t want to put it down. I was so invested in the characters and their lives… It was a fantastic read.
Pachinko follows the lives of a Korean family throughout the 20th century. We are introduced to Sunja, our family matriarch, as a child in Korea. Then we go through generations of her family who struggle with holding on to their Korean identity while being exiled and ostracized.
To quote from Goodreads, this is “a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.” It’s a definite recommend.
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
(Random House, 2017, 207 pages)
I was introduced to Ariel Levy through the Longform podcast. That led me to her 2013 essay in The New Yorker, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia.” It’s powerful and devastating. When I started hearing the buzz about The Rules Do Not Apply I immediately added it to my to-read list.
The Rules Do Not Apply is a memoir about Levy’s journey to becoming the woman she is today. In the midst of losing her child, her marriage, and the life she’d previously believed was waiting for her in the future she learns (the hard way) that no one ever really has control over their life. No one knows what might be in store for them. She has to reclaim her sense of self and she takes the reader along with her. You grieve with her for the loss of her marriage and the loss of her child and you end the book wanting to know more about Levy’s life and how things are going for her.
The book ends on a hopeful note, leaving the reader with the notion that her life could have any number of outcomes – who is she to say she knows which one will come to pass?
The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South
by Michael Twitty
(Amistad, 2017, 464 pages)
The premise of Twitty’s book is to explore how African-Americans influenced Southern cooking as we know it today. He uses his own family history to trace this influence. It was interesting to learn about slaves being sent abroad to learn French culinary techniques so they could cook the cuisine their owners wanted. I also appreciated learning a bit about how slaves adapted to their new surroundings by seeing what was comparable to food they had back home or by finding ways to introduce their own culinary traditions to the new world they were a part of.
This book had received such acclaim and it dealt with issues I love reading about (food and race) that I was eager to finally pick it up. But it didn’t deliver for me. There are people that thoroughly enjoyed it, I just think it was billed as a different book than what it actually is. A considerable amount of the book was spent going through Twitty’s genealogy. Unfortunately, it read pretty dry to me and I felt like more time was devoted to figuring out his heritage (valuable, to be sure!) than talking about the culinary component (the whole reason I picked up the book).
Like I said, some people loved this book. I didn’t find the writing particularly compelling. The focus of the book should have been more on the food than on Twitty. I did learn some new things, but it was a slog trying to get through the book.
The Christmas Wish by Richard Siddoway
(Harmony Books, 1998, 203 pages)
Heartwarming Christmas tale, inspiring, mystery
The Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs
(WaterBrook Press, 2012, 224 pages)
Victorian Christmas, novella, love, forgiveness
The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
(Doubleday, 2017, 352 pages)
The Rooster Bar by John Grisham is the story of three friends, Mark, Todd, and Zola, who are about to start their final semester at a low-rated, for-profit law school. The friends realize that they have enormous school loan debts and little prospects for high paying careers after law school. The friends decide that are going to quietly drop out of law school, assume new identities to try to avoid their student loans, and earn some money in sometimes, unethical, illegal ways.
In this novel, Grisham highlights the problem with for-profit law schools and school loans from banks with shady practices. He also deals with immigration issues and suicide. Grisham credits the idea for this story to an article by Paul Campos entitled The Law School Scam that was published in 2014 in the journal, The Atlantic.
The Rooster Bar is an interesting story. At the beginning, I did not find the characters very likeable. As the novel progressed, I did find myself hoping that things would work out for them. The Rooster Bar was a worthwhile read.