Book- At the beginning of the book, Plum Kettle feels like a very familiar type of protagonist: a ghost writer for the advice column of a preteen girls’ magazine, Plum Kettle is a meek, neurotic fat woman who aspirationally buys beautiful clothes in a size she has never been and is waiting for her ‘real’ life to begin after she has her much-desired weight loss surgery. Plum’s plans are derailed, though, when she notices a mysterious woman following her and gets embroiled in an underground community of feminist women who live life on their own terms. Plum agrees to run a gauntlet of challenges set by the mysterious woman, designed to expose the darker side of becoming desirable according to mainstream standards and to dissuade Plum from weight loss surgery.
Plum’s personal growth story occurs against the backdrop of a world beset by the machinations of a fictional home-grown terrorist group known as “Jennifer,” which targets those who dehumanize women in a series of violent vigilante strikes. Naturally, this story intersects with Plum’s and the roots of the terrorist group are eventually revealed.
This satirical novel will appeal to feminists, dystopian enthusiasts, and fans of dark humor. With a premise like this, it would have been easy to be too didactic and moralizing, but Dietland keeps the tone refreshingly breezy, though with a very strong bite.
Book – About Joy Bergman: “Oh, they broke the mold when they made that one. People who loved her said it, people who did not love her said it, too, for the same reason.” I fall into the former category. Joy is in her eighties and caring for her beloved husband Aaron, who has dementia along with other serious health issues. They are New Yorkers and Joy misses their daughter, Molly, who is living in California with her wife. Their son, Daniel, still lives close by, with his wife and their two young daughters. This story is about family and the ties that bind us during good times and bad. It highlights the issues we are forced to confront as we age, both from the perspective of the parents and their children. Schine, who also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport, explores these themes as she relates and finds humor in the most ordinary conundrums and routines. Joy laments about her physical deterioration, defends her take-out order meals and is determined to remain independent and upbeat. Molly feels guilty about living far away and she and Daniel search for ways (with sometimes hilarious results) to reassure Joy about her importance in their lives. Joy enjoys a special bond with her grandchildren and acknowledges that although she loves being in the midst of her family, she also finds them exhausting. This book reminded me that despite the differences in our individual circumstances, there is a shared commonality in our experiences as we face life’s transitions.
Book – Britt-Marie is in her 60’s, socially awkward and incapable of tolerating a mess. She has just left her husband, Kent, and is looking for a job. After haranguing the young unemployment officer, she lands a temporary position in the tiny, down-on-its-luck town of Borg as a caretaker of the recreation center. As she arrives into town, she is surprised to discover that the residents, particularly the children, are fixated on soccer. The children practice without a coach and proper playing field. Britt-Marie compulsively cleans their uniforms, as well as the recreation center and adjoining shop. Despite her very definite views on proper conduct (and correcting everyone’s lack of it), Britt-Marie finds that she is accepted and understood for the first time in her life. The story unfolds with hilarious antics and heart-rending moments. I loved these characters and their town. As stated in the book, “At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks him or herself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?” Britt-Marie is finally able to figure out the answer for herself, as she learns to live life on her own terms.
Movies – I enjoy a good film about cooking, food adventures, and or anything that features cooking. Food and movies go hand in hand. Here are couple of films without fail always make me hungry.
The first one always makes me crave brie with pears, and fried egg sandwiches with a good beer. Spanglish, star Adam Sandler as a chef of a small restaurant. The movie is about boundaries and relationships, where they should start and end. Cultural and family dynamic differences are the major cause of drama in the movie. But it’s his fried egg sandwich that gets me every time.
Next on the list is Chef. It stars Jon Favreau as a chef who loses it after a bad review and his rant goes viral causing him to rethink his career and family responsibilities. This sends him from LA to Miami with his ex-wife and son, and into a new venture, the food truck business. While driving the truck back to LA, various stops are made and include beignets from New Orleans and brisket from Austin. Brisket looks amazing and this film makes me want tostones (pressed fried plantains with garlic sauce) and yuca with garlic and vinegar! Mmm!!!
Tortilla Soup stars Hector Elizondo as a chef and father of three women. Hector has lost his taste and needs others to taste the food as he preps. The food shots of the films are gorgeous and tempting. His red snapper and nopales (cactus) make me crave breakfast by the ocean in Puerto Vallarta, MX. It also reminds me of my aunt in Mexico making fresh flour tortillas and huevos con chorizo (eggs and sausage). It always takes me back to when I was a kid!
For dessert I give you Chocolat starring Juliette Binoche. A movie about a wandering women and her young daughter who come to a small French village to open up a chocolate shop on the eve of lent. Her hot chocolate drink is rich and thick the way it is traditional made in Spain. She uses her chocolate to change the lives of the citizens of this small village. It is only right for them to change hers as well. She also makes a chocolate with a kick from chili peppers. It’s a good thing I know a place that sells chocolate jalapeno ice cream. Hope I didn’t make you too hungry.
Movie – The reporting on the narco-wars in Mexico in the recent years has caused the rise of interest in narcotics trafficking. Maria Full of Grace came out in 2004 and will give the viewer a story of someone who is a drug mule. Mules are people who traffic drugs for the cartels into the US.
Maria Full of Grace is set in Colombia. Maria needs a new job now that she has discovered she is pregnant. She receives an offer to traffic drugs to New York. Maria decides the risk is worth it. The film follows what happens when Maria and a group of other women trafficking the drugs by swallowing huge pills (small balloons filled with cocaine) into the US. I feel the film does not try to persuade viewers to side with any of the characters. It is merely telling a story and presenting the outcomes of decisions the characters make. The decisions Maria makes are her own. It is her actions that will ultimately decide which way her life will proceed.
The film is in Spanish with subtitles and those with interest in a more real side of narcotics trafficking should find the movie appealing. It falls in line with the film Traffic, and the series Breaking Bad, where the story becomes more real because of the minor details the directors pay attention to and include in the film. If you are looking for an action packed, guns blazing, and/or US drug agencies versus drug cartels I would suggest American Gangster and/or Sicario. Those looking for a film about the cause and effects decisions have on the life of someone involved in this world will find it eye-opening.
Book – Kate Mulgrew, best known for playing the first female Star Trek captain on Voyager and as Red on Netflix’s series Orange is the New Black, has not published a typical celebrity memoir. It has no co-writer, no gossip, and very few references to any costars. She does not dwell on those who helped her, or how lucky she is. The emotional center of Mulgrew’s story is the difficult choice she made at the age of 22, at a crucial stage in her career, to give up a daughter for adoption, and her successful attempt to get in touch with her daughter many years later. Despite having many lovers (sometimes simultaneously), a successful career, and two sons, Mulgrew always felt a regret for this loss that haunted her. Mulgrew’s story ends before the present, just as she has reconnected with her daughter and come to an agreement with the man she (currently) loved, but I hope she will write another chronicling the rest of her career and providing closure that I felt this memoir lacked.
Those reading for insider details of her career on Voyager, as I initially was, will be disappointed, as only a chapter covered this entire time in her life, but fortunately, the details of Mulgrew’s personal life are just as satisfying. Born With Teeth is an entertaining and poignant read even if you’ve never heard of her before.
Book – Circling the Sun is based on the true life story of Beryl Markham. In the early 1900’s, Beryl, her parents and brother arrive from England to farm 1500 acres of untouched bush in Kenya. Two years later, when Beryl turns five, her mother and brother return to England, unable to handle the primitive conditions. Beryl remains on the farm with her father, running wild in the stable and with the nearby Kipsigis children, particulary her best friend Ruta. As Beryl grows up, she resists conventions and finds herself most comfortable training horses. After a disastrous marriage, she builds a life for herself among the decadent expats living in Kenya. Her circle of friends includes Karen Blixen and Karen’s lover, Denys Finch Hatton. (Blixen wrote her memoir Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen). Beryl also discovers the joy of flying, becoming a bush pilot and record-setting aviator. I was inspired by Beryl’s determination to follow her own path, despite many roadblocks and much hardship. Paula McClain also wrote a novel based on Hemingway’s early married life titled The Paris Wife.
Book- Thursday Next is a SpecOps (Special Operations) agent in an alternate universe Britain where literature is at the center of people’s lives, dodos are not extinct, and the Crimean War is ongoing. The story revolves around Thursday’s attempt to capture wanted criminal Acheron Hades, who just happens to be her former English professor. Acheron, the third most wanted criminal in the world (if you don’t know the first two, you don’t want to know), has found a way to enter the world of books and starts holding various book characters for ransom. Thursday must find a way to follow him and rescue Jane Eyre before Bronte’s masterpiece is ruined.
This book is enormous fun, but if it has a flaw, it’s that it tries to go in too many directions at once. Various diverse subplots include Thursday’s reconnecting with her former fiance, fighting vampires, and her father’s excursions through time. Never fear, though: this book begins an ongoing series where most of these plot threads get resolved and more elements introduced along the way. We own the first book in audio and paper copies, and the rest of the series in paper copies, here at the library. The Eyre Affair will appeal to fans of other British authors specializing in the zany and fantastical, such as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.
Book– Munchausen by proxy is a rare form of child abuse characterized by faking or exaggerating symptoms of illness in a child, usually to gain attention from the medical community. Gregory recounts a harrowing childhood spent in hospital rooms, performing illness (or actually being made ill) to satisfy her mother’s craving for attention. Her mother alternates between deliberately starving and abusing her, turning the rest of the family against her, including her helpless father, and cossetting her with attention. Gregory focuses on the strategies she used to survive, such as stealing food from other students’ lunches and from convenience stores.
The writing is at its best when Gregory is understating her situation; like most works of this kind, overly dramatic language can often actually take away from the impact of the story. She includes scans of her own medical records from the time and it is chilling to see how willing some doctors were to believe her mother’s stories. While Gregory obviously escapes her mother’s orbit, as of Gregory’s memoir, there are still children in Gregory’s mother’s care.
Sickened will appeal to fans of memoirs chronicling mental illness, complicated family relationships, and difficult upbringings.
Book – Best friends and college roommates at UC Santa Cruz in the early 1990’s, Anna, Kate and Georgianna share adventures, life-stories and secrets. Anna is the ringleader, who makes up games for every party they attend. A risk-taker and at odds with her austere, wealthy family, her life begins to spiral out of control. Kate is reserved and follows Anna’s lead. She hides herself in obsessive research about various and random topics, including mushrooms, redwoods and planets. George loves nature and becomes a forest ranger. A beauty, she easily attracts the attention of men, but often settles for unsatisfying relationships.
Twenty years after college, the women find themselves retracing the paths their lives have taken. The story alternates between their viewpoints and bounces back and forth from the past to the present. I slowly discovered that one evening in particular influenced the lives of all three. I liked getting to know these characters and how their interests, talents and personalities threaded through their friendship. Lisa Lutz also wrote the popular Spellman Files series.