I've changed a lot as a reader over the last year. I rarely read new Young Adult literature anymore. I read so much of it during college and as I became a middle school teacher that it all started to feel like the same generic story line. Perhaps because of that, I've developed a strong preference for good Nonfiction. I needed a change and I certainly found it in a genre many might consider the antithesis of YA Lit. I still read my fair share of novels, but there is nothing like a true story well told. Most recently I've started reading cookbooks- really reading them. Instead of just perusing them for recipes, I've found well-written cookbooks are almost as satisfying as the recipes they offer. Almost.
My all-time favorite restaurant growing up in California was a Japanese place called Akios and I miss it SO MUCH. Sometimes Matt will ask where I want to go for dinner and I still can't help but say, "Akios." So for Christmas he got me Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking by Morimoto. It's a life changer. First of all, he has so much personality in his writing and his passion for food is infectious. I laugh out loud when I read and even find myself wanting to try recipes I never would have considered. With his voice in my head, we went to our first Asian Market and bought foods way out of our comfort zone- but the food has been delicious! I'm glad to have a way to satisfy my Akios cravings and even more grateful that Morimoto makes it so easy to branch out in our kitchen.
Muffins and Biscuits by Heidi Gibson caught my eye because I do judge books by their covers. And after spending weeks trying to perfect a biscuit recipe for a family reunion last summer, I had immediate respect for anyone who could create such a perfect biscuit.
And then there's Franklin Barbecue. We almost didn't get this one because the cover was too delicious and we thought it would just make us sad to be gone from Texas. And it does. But this book has inspired us get a smoker and bring a little bit of Texas to out little corner of the Midwest. The book is really more of a how-to book on smoking and meat as opposed to a cookbook, but that's perfect for Matt. Plus, the author also has a YouTube channel: BBQwithFranklin. It's torture, but come summer 2018 we'll be ready for the meat!
Novels & Nonfiction
I read my first Dan Brown book in high school and introduced Matt to his books by reading Angels and Demons aloud on a road trip back in college (I'm shaking my head now remembering how tired my voice got, but I didn't even think to check the library for the audiobook!). Needless to say, we were both excited for Origin to come out last fall. We put the book on hold at the library and waited our turn, finally taking turns sharing the same copy during the 3-week period that we had it... And I'm sorry to say that it was a HUGE disappointment. His writing is very formulaic, but this was plain redundant! The hero, Robert Langdon, gets wrongly accused of something, he has a female sidekick, there is an assassin being controlled by a greater and unknown evil person or organization, and religion is under attack. Check, check, and check. But this time, the story took forever to get going and was missing a key element essential to the Robert Langdon series- he doesn't actually do anything! Usually he's evading danger, and using his background knowledge to find and solve clues. This time he has the help of technology that makes everything tediously convenient. I found it boring and Matt didn't even finish the book.
But I had much better luck with two novels from the Goodreads Choice Awards 2017. Based on true events, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate brought to life the forgotten stories of poor children who were essentially kidnapped from their homes and sold to desperate wealthy families through a notorious adoption program in Memphis. The story was dramatic and terrible while still capable of a happily ever after and the author wrote so well from the point of view of a helpless and vulnerable child. Trusting the results of the Choice Awards after such a great recommendation, I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng next. I had read a book by this author before and hadn't particularly enjoyed it, so I was skeptical. But it was a thought-provoking story with real characters and relatable conflict. The author did lean enough toward an agenda that it may have taken away from the overall message though.
Hate List by Jennifer Brown marked my renewed efforts at finding good Young Adult Literature. As a fictional account about a school shooting, it ended up being a timely choice. I appreciated that it was appropriate even for younger YA audiences, avoiding almost all language and violence, and I enjoyed the point of view and the author's understanding of adolescent psyche. Also, the author was not trying to assign sole responsibility, and thereby did a good job of showing that there are many factors that lead to this type of tragedy. It would be a very interesting book to discuss with youth in conjunction with current events or nonfiction on the same topic, especially with the help of a school psychologist and/or survivors.
And finally, another long awaited library hold recommended by the Goodreads Choice Awards: Queen Victoria's Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe by Deborah Cadbury. Understanding these marriages that took place long before Franz Ferdinand was assassinated is foundational to understanding how the world ultimately fell into WWI. It's just my kind of nonfiction- well-written, true stories and real characters, love and loyalty and, in the words of Queen Victoria, "the most fearful tragedies one can imagine. It would sound unnatural and overdrawn if it was put into a novel" (174).
It's been a good stretch... but now what? It think it's time for a classic to round things out. And meanwhile, Matt is reading a textbook on how to grow apple trees :)