Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser
(W.W. Norton and Company, 2012, 272 pages)
I finished this book in two days – primarily because the nature of the writing is easy to breeze through, but also because the book takes place in the area where I grew up in Michigan so it was fun to read about. The story revolves around a man named David who moved away from Detroit to live in Colorado. His father reaches out to him because David’s mother is battling dementia and his father needs him around to help. Around the same time David comes home he sees in the newspaper that his former high school girlfriend, Natalie, and her half-brother, Dirk, were murdered in Detroit. He feels compelled to reach out to her family and reconnects with her younger sister, Carolyn. They surprise each other when they realize there’s a mutual attraction.
David eventually commits to moving back to Detroit – he feels good about starting over where he came from. Things are complicated with Carolyn because she’s married and lives with her husband and child in California. The death of Dirk and Natalie remains a mystery and the book has chapters that offer flashbacks from 12 years ago when Dirk worked as an undercover FBI agent who was trying to clean up Detroit’s drug problem. There are some obvious connections but the story held my interest in spite of them.
This was an enjoyable mystery that I think would be a great travel/beach read. You’ll especially appreciate the book if you’re from around the Detroit area – you want to see this city reconnect with its former glory. It’s already made considerably progress…
Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell by Anne Edwards
(Ticknor & Fields, 1983, 369 pages)
Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell by Anne Edwards is the biography of Margaret “Peggy” Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1900. Mitchell grew up on stories about Atlanta before, during, and after the Civil War. Mitchell loved listening to and telling the stories about the War. These stories along with extensive research allowed her to write her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gone with the Wind.
In Road to Tara, Anne Edwards follows Mitchell’s life from her birth in 1900 until her death in 1949. Along the way, Edwards details facts in Mitchell’s life that probably provided the characters and plots in Gone with the Wind. For example, Margaret Mitchell was married twice. Her first husband had many similarities to one of the main characters of her book, Rhett Butler. The plantation, Tara, was modeled after her grandmother’s Fitzgerald plantation.
Road to Tara is an interesting look at the beginning of the 19th century as well as the story of Margaret Mitchell. Anne Edwards was inspired to write about Margaret Mitchell because she had previously written a biography about Vivien Leigh, the actress who played Scarlett in the movie version of Gone with the Wind. I recommend this book to those who like to read biographies or who are fans of Gone with the Wind.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
(Penguin, 2007, 450 pages)
I’d been wanting to read this book for ages and I’m so glad I finally picked it up! This was such an informative and engaging read – I’ll definitely read more of Pollan in the future. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma Pollan follows three different routes for food to make it to the table for dinner. The routes are: industrial, pastoral, and personal. These can otherwise be read as: factory farming, organic food, and hunting/gathering. The depth in which Pollan addresses the way we go about acquiring the food we eat is pretty impressive. It’s amazing to think of the lengths we go not to think about where our food comes from…
I think my favorite section was the pastoral/organic one – it resonated with me the most. I appreciated that Pollan didn’t spend too much time looking at the dark side of factory farms – the goal wasn’t to horrify, but rather inform the reader on what’s going on from a natural/scientific perspective. I think about food in a different light now and while I haven’t made any drastic changes yet (some are a little pricey) I have made a few small ones that I feel good about.
If you’re interested in food, quality nonfiction writing, and/or are interested in learning more about how your food gets to your plate I highly recommend this book. It was the winner of the James Beard Award and was selected by the New York Times Book Review as one of their ten best books of the year.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
(Katherine Tegen Books, 2011, 576 pages)
Beatrice is a part of a futuristic society set in Chicago were everyone is divided into five different factions depending on their values and since Beatrice is 16-years-old, she must choose the faction she will dedicate her life to. The factions, Candor (honest), Dauntless (brave), Amity (peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent), and Beatrice’s faction she grew up with Abnegation (selfless), all live different lifestyles and have different jobs to keep the society working and peaceful. Beatrice is torn on which faction to choose because if she leaves Abnegation, she will most likely never be welcomed into her family again. But Beatrice has never felt fully a part of Abnegation. Before the choosing ceremony Beatrice learns a dangerous secret about herself that she must keep hidden, but if used in the right way she might save everyone.
I don’t want to give too much about the plot line away but I thought this was a great read. The story line reminded me of a mix between The Hunger Games and The Giver. It was a really interesting idea and I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the trilogy and see how the story turns out.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
(Crown, 2012, 432 pages)
Amy and Nick are supposed to be celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary in a small Missouri town. But instead, Amy goes missing in what seems like a violent struggle in their own home. As the police dig deeper into Amy’s case, Nick’s actions get stranger and his lies start surfacing. Every day turns up with another clue that incriminates Nick and people quickly turn against him. Nick claims his innocence, but isn’t it always the husband?
The story is told through both Nick and Amy’s viewpoints, Nick’s is present day and Amy’s is told by a journal she left behind. Through Amy’s journal, the reader learns more and more about Nick and their relationship that Nick isn’t telling you. This story hooked me from the very beginning and then once I hit the second part I just couldn’t put it down. I honestly was surprised with every twist that Flynn accomplished and loved how strange and complicated both Nick and Amy’s characters were. I loved this read and can’t wait to read more from her.
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn
(Viking Adult, 2011, 304 pages)
I read Flinn’s other book, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t wowed by it. I loved The Kitchen Counter Cooking School! I feel like I took so much away from reading this book, and I have to admit it surprised me. Flinn takes it upon herself to start an impromptu cooking school with cooking novices and cooking-phobics. She ends up with 9 women of various ages and economic situations and she takes it upon herself to teach them the basics of learning how to feel comfortable in the kitchen.
Each chapter guides us through a certain lesson, whether it’s about making soup, learning cuts of meat, or figuring out how to take advantage of all those leftovers that eventually get thrown away. A lot of stuff seems like basic common sense, and yet so many people find the kitchen intimidating that they don’t realize how easy it would be to simply open their fridge and cupboards and see what they can do. People end up wasting money on fast food and boxed meals in an effort to save time and money, when in reality they’ll end up eating more and wasting money.
I learned so much reading this book and it was very motivating. All I wanted to do was cook the whole time I was reading! If you’re into cooking and food books, or if you think cooking is beyond you, this book will be a wonderful read.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
(Harcourt, 2003, 288 pages)
I read The Color Purple when I was younger but thought I’d revisit a classic. This audiobook version was read by Alice Walker which was a pleasant surprise. More often than not having the author read their own work is ideal because you can best hear the book as they intended it to be read.
Celie has had a rough go at life. She was abused by her stepfather as a young girl and she took it upon herself to step in and assure that her younger sister didn’t suffer the same fate. The abuse continues as she is married off to “Mister,” a man who wants her only to care for his children and work his land. He beats her regularly and emotionally abuses her when he keeps her from being in touch with her younger sister. Celie finds out that her sister had been writing to her for years and “Mister” had been hiding all the letters from her. She went through most of her life feeling unloved and thinking she could do no better in life because of this. Fortunately, Shug enters Celie’s life. A former lover of “Mister”s she and Celie form an incredibly close relationship and support one another through life.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
(Little, Brown, 2007, 229 pages)
I read this young adult book because it is a National Book Award Winner, and it is also on the American Libraries Association’s challenged list. I found this book to be a fabulous read about a young adolescent Native American, Junior, on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Readers learn that Junior was born with hydrocephalus and is picked on by others on the reservation. The book details daily life for Junior and what it means to live on the reservation. One day at school he realizes that his math book is the same book that his mother used when she was his age. Out of anger for the lack of education he’s receiving, Junior throws the book at his teacher hitting him on the nose. This, of course, results in him being suspended. During this time his teacher visits him and encourages him to go to the all-white school in the town closest to the reservation. Junior decides to pursue his education there and readers once again learn what it is like for him to be shunned by those on the reservation and not readily accepted at his new school. If you are interested in young adult literature, definitely put this one on your list.
The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks
(Grand Central Publishing, 2011, 292 pages)
This is a story about star crossed lovers who fell in love at first glance during their senior year of high school, but did not let the relationship develop because Dawson was from the wrong side of the tracks and Amanda was from rich and gentle upbringing. Both met in the small town of Oriental, North Carolina and kept in touch with Tuck Hosterler, the ranch owner that gave Dawson a job during his youth. Dawson let Amanda go off to the Duke University where she met and married future dentist and drunkard Frank. Upon Tuck’s death they both returned to Oriental to pay their respects only to find that the love they once had simmered beneath the surface. Amanda now married and the mother of three children decided that her maternal duties were more important than her selfish desires. Before she could return to her normal life, her eldest son was involved in a serious car accident after driving his father home after a bender. Amanda cannot bear to lose another child and stands by his side until he miraculously received a heart transplant in the eleventh hour. This is a gripping story about love and fate.
Another Piece of My Heart by Jane Green
(St. Martin’s Press, 2012, 400 pages)
Andi’s lifelong dream of becoming a mother seems to be moving further and further away from her. She married her husband, Ethan, when she was 37 and he is reluctant to have a baby, especially since he has two daughters from a previous marriage. Andi loves to be a motherly figure to his youngest daughter, Sophia, who is sweet, kind, and accepting of Andi’s new role in her life. But Ethan’s oldest daughter, Emily, has everyone walking on eggshells trying to avoid one of her tantrums. Andi loves her husband but the constant hate being thrown at her by Emily is almost too much to handle. Now Emily has raised the stakes in her teenage drama but is this the final straw for Andi or a blessing in disguise?
I wasn’t expecting to read this book as fast I as did but I couldn’t seem to put it down. I just wanted to know what was going to happen next in this family saga. The book was mostly told from Andi’s point of view, especially in the beginning, which was nice to have a nice background story set up without any conflicting views. Then more family member’s points of view were exposed as the story evolved. I thought the story was very entertaining and a great light read.