Tag Archives: fiction

Foodie Fiction Finds

I love food. There, I said it. I enjoy the whole process: planning what to eat, shopping for ingredients, cooking and baking dishes and, most of all, eating the labors of my work, as well as the works of others. I also enjoy reading about food. I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before my penchant for reading cookbooks the same way others read novels.

Then there are those books that actually are cookbooks disguised as novels.  Most of them tend to fall into the cozy mystery category, which has everyone from coffeehouse owners to bakers, tea shop ladies to caterers and food writers to food truck operators solving crimes, while cooking great food in the process. Most of these even have recipes at the end of the book, so you can continue your relationship with the story and author after the dastardly perpetrator has been caught.

Recently, I’ve found myself enjoying more of the foodie fiction books that are not specifically mysteries.  Here are just a few:

Chef’s Table by Lynn Charles – Chef Evan Stanford runs a successful New York restaurant, but his passion for his work is gone. And then he meets Patrick, the cook at his neighborhood diner. Patrick’s companionship, in the kitchen and the bedroom, reawaken Evan’s lust for cooking, and for life.

Aftertaste by Meredith Mileti – As if I needed another reason to read this book besides the food, it’s mostly set in Pittsburgh! There are specific references to the Strip District and the Pennsylvania Macaroni Factory and allusions to Enrico Biscotti Company. Follow along as Mira’s career and personal life is completely destroyed, and she builds it back up by returning to her roots.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert – Chef Lou Johnson is about to get an unwelcome surprise. Her fiancé is sleeping with his law firm’s intern, but he never understood why Lou wanted to be a chef anyway. Then she, literally, bumps into a man who could be “the one.” But Al has a secret that threatens to ruin any chance he has of a future with Lou. Can the chef whose restaurant fails forgive the man who wrote the scathing review that shut it down?

Delicious by Ruth Reichl – We’re used to reading Reichl’s books on her foodie upbringing, and her stint as editor in chief of Gourmet confirms that she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to cuisine. But now she’s written a novel? Could it be any good? The answer lies in this tale that’s part chick lit, part foodie fiction, with a dash of romance and a hint of a puzzle to solve. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of the demise of an iconic food magazine and the interesting people it employed. The backdrop of New York City rings true, as only a book written by a New Yorker who loves its food scene could do.

If you’d like to explore these and similar titles, stop by the Main Library and browse the Food Fiction display I put up this week…

Foodie Fiction 1

Happy Reading & Eating!
-Melissa M.

P.S. Ruth Reichl is coming to Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures’ Literary Evenings, Monday Night Lecture Series on October 26th. Get your tickets here. I’ve already got mine!

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Spizzerinctum!

I have a not-really-secret fondness for outdated teen romance novels – the older and cheesier, the better. My most recent find, dredged up with the help of NoveList, is Wedding in the Family by Rosumand du Jardin. Since I’m pretty sure that you’ve never heard of her either, here’s a little background information from Contemporary Authors.

Although author Rosamond du Jardin wrote several novels for adults, she was best known for her novels for teenagers, all of which have gone through numerous printings. Critics consistently praised her ability to write about the teenage years with humor and understanding. Most of her books have been published in other countries, including Japan, Italy, Holland, and Sweden.

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. (accessed 08/24/15)

cover

Will darling Midge ever find true love? Well, probably.

In addition to her teen fiction, she wrote short stories for women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan, Red Book, and Good Housekeeping, and contributed to a variety of radio serials. She attended public school in Chicago, married a bookstore owner, had three children, “played gold and bridge, bowled, and liked to read and hew.” (Well, that’s what Contemporary Authors says. I’m hoping there are some typos in there.)

Anyway, let’s explore the world of Rosamund Du Jardin. It’s a magical place where all skillets are copper-clad, all curtains are crisp and white, no one worries about skin cancer, and young people are full of spizzerinctum.

The book starts off with a bang, with the wedding of Midge’s sister Tobey. Here’s what happens when Midge is introduced to best man Johnnie Randall, a southern charmer who apparently doesn’t care that Midge is only fifteen, while he’s like, at least 23. Reading it just makes you feel icky (page 48).

Randall

I think I need to take a shower now.

Don’t worry too much – with the help of her wise older sister, Midge realizes that Johnnie isn’t the man for her (whew), Learns A Valuable Lesson, and Grows Up A Little.

The morning before the wedding, the bridal party sets out to decorate the soon-to-be newlyweds’ car. But they have to find it first, because newlywed-car-hiding is apparently a thing in Midge’s hometown. Good thing they have spizzerinctum (page 70) and hamburgers to keep them going. (And yes, they find the car.)

Spizzerinctum! And check out the names - Suz, Brose, Jim, Denny, George, Sox, Midge, and Ellen!

Suz! Sox! Brose!

The wedding goes off perfectly (it’s super romantic, and we learn that All Good Boys Want To Get Married), but the book’s only half over. Fortunately, that’s just enough time to take a family vacation!

Midge and company set out for a month at the lake, where (surprise) Midge is confronted by two vastly different suitors. But after the aborted Johnnie Randall affair, has Midge finally learned her lesson about love?

Well, duh. Of course she has. This book was written in 1958, after all.

Overall, Wedding in the Family is an unintentionally amusing and fairly (but not painfully) monotonous read. If nothing else, it’s a great romp through the world of 1950s teenager cliches. You’ll see:

  • double dates
  • a soda fountain
  • fashion and hairstyles galore
  • repeated use of the word “golly”
  • punches thrown in defense of a lady
  • a lad with a lawn mowing business
  • an utterance of the phrase “ever so much”
  • a family vacation
  • summer romance
  • a distressing lack of telephones
  • excessive tanning
  • dishonestly bleached hair
  • a midsummer dance
  • and more!

Keep your ponytails high and bouncy,

– Amy

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Summering in Wildwood

This summer, I read the first trilogy I’ve finished since The Hunger Games, and I loved every minute of it. Unlike a lot of recent popular YA series, The Wildwood Chronicles* isn’t a romance, nor a dystopian thriller, it’s the story of an adventurous young girl (and a whole host of secondary characters), set in a magical wilderness in the heart of Portland where multiple interrelated storylines run together to tell one epic tale.  I realize that makes it sound like the perfect book for precocious tweens,(and it pretty much is), but, as an adult reader, I loved it too.

What's this pipe-smoking, eye-patch-wearing wolf up to? You'll have to read Under Wildwood to find out.

What’s this pipe-smoking, eye patch-wearing wolf up to? You’ll have to read Under Wildwood to find out.

Colin Meloy, also known as lead singer and song-writer for English-major favs, The Decemberists, wrote the series, and it features milieus that will be familiar to any Decemberists fan including (but not limited to): bandits, pirates, revenge, crime and punishment, shape-shifting woodland creatures, sea shanties, lost love, dying children, pacts with evil/supernatural forces, political uprisings, nature imagery, orphans, tragic heroes, and magic spells.

If that wasn’t enough for you, here’s a list of  things I loved about this series:

  • Fast-paced, plot-driven story.
  • Imaginative, richly descriptive writing.
  • A focus on friendship, cunning, and courage (Sound familiar, fans of another series?)
  • Humor (Lots of asides for adult readers to pick up on; For example, I loved the nods to Portland’s well-known hipster culture –  in one of the first scenes, our main character Prue rides her bike to shop for vinyl and nosh on veggie tacos.)
  • Beautiful illustrations by Carson Ellis, including several full-color plates in each book (Despite generally being a big fan of audiobooks and ebooks, I think the illustrations make a pretty good case for reading this in traditional print format).
  • One of the heroes is a talking circus bear with hooks for hands.

If you decide to spend some time in Wildwood, I hope you find it as whimsical and gratifying as I did.

-Ginny

*The order of the series is:

  1. Wildwood
  2. Under Wildwood
  3. Wildwood Imperium 

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Help Me Choose: YA Book Club Edition

Before I ever worked for the Library, I was a member of a Young Adult book club. Our book club has gone through a few different iterations, but in the past year or so, we’ve settled into a pretty great rhythm: One person picks the book and the restaurant, and we meet up on a predetermined date to eat tasty food and chat about our book. It’s my turn to pick our title for August, and my deadline to choose just so happens to be tonight. I have so many potential choices I’m having difficulty narrowing it down.  Here’s a look at a few books I’m considering – if you’ve read any of them, please comment and help me decide what my pals and I should read next.

33 Snowfish by Adambookcover (5) Rapp – A gritty-yet-lyrical look at three teenage runaways and their life of crime, this book is sure to be emotional and should inspire some pretty interesting discussions.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills –  Gabe is balancing his transition from female-to-male, his course load at school, and his burgeoning success as a late-night DJ, and he does it all with uncommon humor and honesty.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Written like a journal, this book gives readers a glimpse at the complicated, messy life of Gabi Hernandez as she navigates everything from a drug-addicted parent to her blossoming sexuality during her senior year in high school. Lots of CLP staff have already declared their love for this title, one review I read on GoodReads described this book as “the YA poster child for #WeNeedDiverseBooks“, and it’s the theme book for this year’s Teen Alternative Homecoming, so this one seems like a pretty strong contender.

bookcover (4)Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers – I’m not typically very interested in books about war, but the description of this book sounds really compelling:  it’s told from the perspective of several young soldiers in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with less of a focus on tactics of war and more of a focus on the people grappling with this incredibly difficult situation. It’s easy for us to forget how many members of the armed forces are still teenagers, and I expect this to be a sobering reminder. Also, I think I’ve only ever read one other book by Walter Dean Myers, which seems like a major gap in my reading history.

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin – We’ve only read one other historical fiction title in my book club, and we all enjoyed it. I’m intrigued by the description of this book’s plot, where the main character tries to break free of gender roles in 1920s America.

So, friends, help me decide: What should my book club read next?

-Ginny

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The Girl and the Goal

bookcover

So, my Summer Reading goal is to read more “adult” books. If you’ve read one of my previous posts, then you know that I mainly read young adult books. One question that the children’s and teen librarians are asking participants when they sign up for the Summer Reading program is: Why are you signing up for the Summer Reading program? One of the answers is “to challenge myself.” That option stuck out to me. I’d like to think that my goal is challenging myself because I’m broadening my horizons. I’m stepping outside of my reading comfort zone.

The book that helped me to get out of this reading comfort zone is The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. One day I was lucky enough to find a best-seller copy and decided to see what the hype was all about. The book is well worth all of the praise. It helped break down the stereotype that I had about adult books being boring. I realize now that I hadn’t come across the right book to crush this stereotype until now. This book was full of twists and turns. I was shocked when I found out who the killer was.

I won’t give away any spoilers. If you’re looking for a good book this is it. I know it’s hard to find an available copy in our system at the moment, so I would recommend looking on OverDrive for an audio or electronic version. Since it’s hard to get a copy in every medium I’m going to suggest some read alikes. They are The Secret Place by Tana French, The First Prophet by Kay Hooper, and Losing You by Nicci French.

Other titles that helped me towards my summer reading goal are God Help the Child by Toni Morrison and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns) by Mindy Kaling. (I can’t wait for her new book to come out in the fall!)

What are your summer reading goals? Let us know in the comments below!

~Kayla

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Unlikeable Characters

I recently read a book that I could barely finish because I hated the characters so much. The only character who seemed even slightly interesting in her dysfunction was a minor character who never felt fully developed. The main characters were all boring or snobbish or outright mean. Despite the fact that I knew going in that this was a book about a dysfunctional family, I couldn’t really find anything of meaning that made me want to keep reading about them.

And maybe the worst thing of all: The characters were boring in their unlikeableness.

Somehow this book just didn’t get the hang of the compelling unlikeable character, but it did make me realize that lots of my favorite novels are about unlikeable characters. In fact, lots of us love novels with characters who aren’t easy to love. So, a short list dedicated to unlikeable protagonists:

The Catcher in the Rye: It’s recently come to my attention that not everyone loves this book as much as I do! It’s hard to believe, I know. Probably a lot of this stems from the fact that Holden Caulfield is kind of a jerk. He is, however, a very sentimental and vulnerable jerk, which is why people like me and the scores of others who love this book find him palatable. And who doesn’t hate phoniness?

Anna Karenina: Another of my favorite books, with a main character who is really pretty awful. To be honest, the things that make me love this have very little to do with the title character, and EVERYTHING to do with Kitty and Levin. Anna really doesn’t have many redeemable qualities aside from being beautiful, but the romance between Kitty and Levin is a wonderful side plot. Also, even though Anna can be pretty awful at times in this book, she’s literally a train wreck, and what can I say—I enjoy melodrama!

Madame Bovary: Like Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary is beautiful and shallow. I’ve read this book a number of times and always find myself rooting for her despite the fact that she continually makes terrible choices. She’s a dreamer, and loves books (like me!); she’s also just so self-sabotaging that it’s hard to sit and watch her downward spiral. The fact that this is one of the most beautifully written novels of all time doesn’t hurt it either.

The StrangerMersault, the main character, doesn’t have much going for him. He doesn’t have much empathy for anyone and winds up killing a man. Like all of these books though, the point of the story isn’t to have a likeable character; it’s to comment on society. This is one of those books that stayed with me, in part because it’s a classic of Existenialism, but maybe a little bit because I’ll always remember struggling through it for the first time as a young French student and suddenly realizing that it was the inspiration for one of my favorite songs.

Lolita: Yep, you don’t get much more unlikeable than Humbert Humbert, the most famous pedophile of all time. It doesn’t stop this book from being one of the most widely-regarded, if controversial, works of 20th century literature.

Do you prefer characters you can relate to, or like me do you like them a little despicable? Who is your favorite unlikeable character?

-Irene

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June 2015 Recap

You’re a busy person with many worthy internet essays to read, so we thought we’d try something new to help keep you in the loop with all things Eleventh Stack: recap posts!

On the last weekday of every month Eleventh Stack will publish  a list, with brief descriptions, of posts you might have missed the first time around. Since it’s never too late to discover a good book, film, or other library item, you’ll get a second chance to make your TBR list even longer. Read on to see the topics we tackled in June!

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Art by MikaylaM on RedBubble.com (click for portfolio!)

If you enjoyed this highlights reel, you’ll love what the Eleventh Stack team has cooked up for July. See you tomorrow with books, movies, and more!

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