When I read the description of Lorna Landvik’s Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes), I couldn’t resist picking it up. Not only did it sound chock-full of the small town charm I loved in Virgil Wander, it focused on a small-town newspaper columnist, Haze Evans. For those of you who don’t know me personally, my first job out of college was working at a newspaper — not as a writer, but as an advertising salesperson, and unofficially, a community events organizer. My time at the newspaper was a wonderful learning experience, and I was sort of hoping to get lost in a similar world again.
Haze’s column has been running for 50 years when she suffers a stroke and falls into a coma. In an attempt to fill the now vacant column space, the newspaper’s publisher, Susan, decides to run some of her past columns and reader responses, good and bad. Soon, the whole town finds itself swept up in Haze’s wise, witty and controversial words.
Welcome to the third feature focusing on the women within What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro. This time I’m talking about Eleanor Roosevelt, who was one of the reasons I was so excited to pick this book up in the first place.
Eleanor Roosevelt was longest serving First Lady of the United States, living in the White House with her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the Great Depression and World War II. She is remembered as an activist, a champion of women’s and African-American rights. Eleanor was a feminist who embraced domesticity, and in fact, a huge part of her legacy was the incorporation of home economics into education (though she herself didn’t do chores or cook meals).
Joanne Ramos’ novel The Farm comes out on May 7, and I’m so excited that I was able to get an advance readers’ copy from NetGalley. Golden Oaks Farm, or the titular “Farm,” is a blissful paradise where women live during pregnancy to ensure they they deliver the healthiest baby in the safest environment. For nine months, the women are pampered with spa treatments, custom menus, and the best medical care. But these women are not allowed to leave the grounds, and they not even allows to keep the babies they carry.
These women are “hosts,” chosen and paid for by super-wealthy patrons who can’t or won’t have their babies themselves. For the hosts — mostly immigrants, becoming a surrogate opens up a world of possibility, but it’s not always an easy choice. Jane, a Filipina host, makes the decision to be able to better support her family, a daughter of her own and an elderly cousin, Ate. But it also means she will be leaving her newborn behind so she can bring someone else’s into the world.
Miriam Toews’ latest novel Women Talking was one of my most anticipated reads of 2019, and though it wasn’t exactly what I expected going in, I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint. It was a bit slow to start but ended up being a powerful read. I probably should’ve expected nothing less from Toews, who I discovered later, was raised in a Mennonite community until the age of 18. She has been working on telling this important story for years.
The majority of the novel is exactly what the title describes, or as one character puts it, “just women talking.” Eight Mennonite women sit in a hayloft to discuss a series of sustained attacks on the females in their closed community. The women have learned that men within their own community drugged and attacked the women in their sleep, and they must decide how best to protect themselves and their daughters moving forward.
While I’m feeling a little crunched by my self-selected Goodreads challenge goal of 100 books, I’m doing my best to keep on pace without stressing myself out. I had a good weekend of catch-up — finishing two books in two days — and I’m mostly just hoping that the quality of books continues. My last 4 books in a row were all 4-star reads. Nothing makes reading easier than a good book!
Here’s a look at what I read over the past month and what I’m reading right now:
For those of you who have been with me since the beginning, you may recall my love of Karen Thompson Walker’s previous novel, The Age of Miracles. Because of that, I have been anxiously awaiting her follow-up The Dreamers since I first heard about it months ago. I was lucky enough to get it from the library on its release day, and I wasted no time getting right to it!
Like The Age of Miracles, The Dreamers starts with a seemingly innocuous anomaly. This time, a college girl falls asleep and doesn’t wake up. Her roommate, Mei, is unable to wake her, and the girl is brought to the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep and then another, people begin to worry. The dorm is put on lockdown. As the mysterious illness spreads, the entire college town is quarantined, doctors are flown in to investigate and the National Guard summoned to keep order.
Many of you may know Kristin Hannah through her WWII historical fiction novel, The Nightingale, which was a huge hit when it was released a few years ago. It was the first of her novels that I’d read, despite her deep catalog. I found her storytelling to be powerful yet heart-wrenching, and though I loved it, I wasn’t exactly rushing to read another book that would wreck me. Yet, here I am.
In 1974, Ernt Allbright is adrift. After returning home from Vietnam, where he was a POW, he has become increasingly volatile and can’t hold down a job. He decides to pack up his small family — his wife Cora, and their teenage daughter Leni — and explore the wild frontier; they will become homesteaders in Alaska. Leni finds herself in a one-room schoolhouse with only one other person her age, a boy named Matthew.
Welcome to the second feature focusing on the women within What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro. (If you missed the introduction and first feature, you can find it here.)
This time we’ll meet Rosa Lewis, a prominent English caterer. She was born in Essex in 1867, left school at the age of 12, and after starting in domestic service worked her way up to cook. Rosa had a strong Cockney accent, which she retained despite it being considered “insufferably vulgar” and offensive. Instead, it became her trademark. She commanded respect and her cooking even caught the attention of King Edward VII, which pushed her catering services into high demand.
When The Map of Salt and Stars was released last May, there was a lot of buzz around it. It’s captivating cover meant it was all over bookstagram. But, aside from judging the book by its cover, the “what” of the story sounded captivating as well. Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar weaves together two coming-of-age stories to create her novel.
Jade Chang’s debut novel The Wangs vs. the World first came to my attention a couple of years ago when I won a signed copy in a giveaway from a fellow blogger. It’s been on my shelf ever since. This year, I’m trying to do a better job of reading my shelves — though I’m only doing an okay job due to the many new releases I just can’t stop requesting from the library — and so recently, while waiting for some holds to come in, I decided to give this one a try.
The blurb promises hilarity, and I was looking forward to some laughs. And, in full disclosure, I thought it might contain some interesting food I could make for a post. It didn’t quite deliver on the laughs, but it certainly did make for an interesting food experience (but more on that later).