The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
This captivating novel is filled with wartime suspense, the nuances of friendship, romance, betrayal, and fascinating historical information about The American Library in Paris.
The Library of Paris begins in 1939 when Odile Souchet, a young Parisian, applies and is hired for her dream job as a librarian at The American Library in Paris. With the war underway, Odile, her family, community of colleagues, and friends increasingly face the turmoil of France’s Nazi occupation. Her brother, Remy, enlists in the war and Paris becomes increasingly repressive. The public library is under constant scrutiny. In spite of this authoritarian environment, the librarians commit to the continuation of promoting free ideas by remaining open and even secretly delivering books to Jewish patrons no longer allowed to come to the library.
Throughout The Paris Library, the plot also weaves the reader into another time and place. Lily is a teenager living in Montana in 1983. A French language and culture enthusiast, Lily is fascinated by her widowed French neighbor Mrs. Gustafason, the future Odile. Lily and Odile become fast friends as Lily begins language lessons and Odile’s secret past unravels. The two form an intimate bond that allows Odile to help Lily navigate changing family life and jealousy in friendship. Likewise, Lily encourages Odile to reconnect with her past. Recommended for adults
David Chang’s story is complex, intense, and extraordinarily adventurous. Diagnosed with bipolar, his life has manic highs, and downward spirals of suicidal ideation. A passionate and inventive chef, David uses cooking and ambition as an outlet for coping with his low self-esteem. The memoir shares childhood memories, his culinary background, business relationships, and entrepreneurial drive. David has opened over 14 very successful restaurants around the country under the Momofuku brand.
Chang’s final pages list his 33 guiding principles for becoming a chef or a cook. These rules are practical. Take, for example, his rule #13, Embrace paradox. He challenges us to reconsider our traditional idea of flavor. Food combinations that may seemingly contradict our idea of what tastes good, will often balance each other and create food that is “both delicious and unpredictable”.
Recommended for adults.
Michelle Zauner’s book, Crying in H-Mart is an honest, powerful memoir about the intricate bond Michelle has with her Korean mother, Chongmi. It is also about the self-exploration that she experiences upon learning that her mother is dying of cancer.
Michelle born in Seoul, South Korea relocated to Eugene, Oregon with her parents when she was a year old. As an intensely creative young person, Michelle wrestled with her mixed Korean American identity within the complexities of America’s millennial pop culture. Her memoir explains her acrimonious teenage relationship with her mother, her lively family dynamics during her trips to Seoul, and her journey as a talented musician.
In her memoir Crying in H-Mart, Michelle describes how she struggles to reclaim her loving relationship by caring for her until her mother’s death. While walking through the aisle of the Korean-American supermarket chain H-Mart, Michelle is able to capture wonderful memories of their happier times enjoying Korean food together.
Recommended interest reading age – Upper high school to adult
Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber is a middle school novel about friendship, family love, body image, and self-esteem, but it is also about a young girl’s complicated relationship with food.
Sarah, a talented basketball player, finds her self-esteem is directly linked to how well she plays on the girl’s basketball team. Unfortunately, the changes happening in her developing body cause her to feel awkward and slow on the court. To complicate matters, the ongoing absence of food at home contributes to her feelings of being unloved. As a result, Sarah begins to restrict the food that she consumes in an attempt to gain control over her situation.
Things change, however, when Sarah pairs up with classmate Benny (with whom she has a crush) for a Junior Chef cooking competition. With Benny, Sarah discovers that she not only enjoys cooking, she also realizes that the dishes she prepares are irresistibly delicious! She wrestles between her desire to enjoy food and her fears about eating the wrong food.
Ultimately, Sarah finds success both in basketball and in her personal life. She and Benny’s culinary achievements at the Junior Chef competition help contribute to Sarah’s realization that her strengths go much deeper than just on the court.
Recommended Interest Age – 8 – 12
The Kitchen Front is a novel about four British women, two of them are sisters, who compete in a cooking contest during WWII. During a time when all efforts were diverted for the war, food was rationed and distributed so that everyone had the opportunity to have their fair share. An austere food supply meant that cooks had to use their allocations wisely and sparingly.
The fictionalized cooking contest, sponsored by the real-life BBC radio broadcast program The Kitchen Front, was a form of exciting entertainment during the war. It required that the contestants create their finest dishes using everyday food rations. This contest event, including individual presentations and the judge’s selections, was open to public approval as well as scrutiny. The winner would become the first woman ever to co-host the show, have financial independence, and be incredibly famous.
The depth of the plot is the story behind these four resourceful women whose lives become intertwined and the bond between them. All of them have compelling reasons to triumph and they ultimately do.
Sprinkles of mysterious magic bring warmth to the small Alabama town of Wicklow when an aspiring medical student named Anna Kate Callow arrives. Anna Kate has recently learned of her beloved Granny Zee’s passing and must travel to Wicklow to settle the estate. Anna Kate’s preconceived ideas of Wicklow formed by her mother’s tragic past begin to change as she learns the truth about her family, the Wicklow community, and the details of a car accident that killed her father.
Anna Kate is a natural healer. It is a gift that all Callow women possess. The Blackbird Cafe is a magical place where blackbirds exchange spiritual messages at midnight and Blackbird pies deliver answers in dreams. As Anna Kate begins healing others through the Blackbird Cafe of which she now operates, she discovers her true self, love, and a community where she can at last call home.
The story begins with Lili’s enthusiasm for baking Boas with her Nai Nai. Boas are soft swirly dough pillows stuffed with Asian spices and steamed in a traditional bamboo steamer basket. However, in Lily’s world, there is a problem for her Nai Nai. Much to Nai Nai’s dismay, she doesn’t have the much-needed cabbage to line her bamboo steamer! She asks Lili to go up to the 6th floor to borrow cabbage from Babcia. Babcia loans a large cabbage head to Lili only to suddenly discover that her potatoes have sprouted and she needs fresh ones to make her delicious pierogi.
With the elevator out of service, Lili and her dog Kiki, start an adventure traveling up and down the stairwell to locate needed ingredients for all the granmas living on different floors — Babcia’s pierogi, Teta’s fatayer, Abuela’s tamales, Nonna’s ravioli, Granma’s beef patties, and Nai Nai’s Boas! To celebrate the birth of a new baby, we learn that they are all baking for a community dumpling party!
These are two nonfiction books that I referred to in my November 4th post titled, VT Librarian’s Foodie Book Recommendation. These two books are fun books for reading enthusiasts to explore. Bibliophile Diverse Spines was made public this November 2021 and celebrates multiculturalism and diversity.
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Having now read Sourdough I must recommend it as a wonderful foodie novel! Lois Clary is a savvy robotics programmer who discovers sourdough making when The Clement Soup and Sourdough local restaurant owners, Beoreg and Chaiman, leave town due to expiring Visas. In her rather mundane program job, Lois finds great comfort in Clement’s magical spicy soup and sourdough. She becomes their number one customer. On the owner’s way out of town, the owners drop off their mystical sourdough starter with Lois because they want to leave her something special. Special indeed!
Lois’s life takes wonderful adventurous turns as she discovers the power of making sourdough. I found myself laughing throughout and really identifying with the fascination of making sourdough as well as the obsession with it.
An uplifting YA novel about Emoni, a high school senior and mother who loves to cook and aspires to be a chef! It celebrates Spanish and African American culture, families, and romance as it weaves a story of a high school mom living with her infant “Babygirl” and grandmother “Buela” while trying to pursue her dreams. It is a beautiful story that I would highly recommend for high school teenagers — especially those who are interested in strong women role models in the literature. Short two and three-page chapters, make the novel move along quickly. Taste this novel and enjoy! — Carole‘s Review
Cora promises to keep Uncle JB’s Bread Pet alive but didn’t anticipate its exponential growth! She needs to come up with a solution — and fast! This whimsical STEM story of family, creativity, and community will inspire young makers to experiment and share their gifts with others. Includes sourdough starter and sourdough bread recipes.
by Virginia Hamilton
From the national bestselling author of Muffin but Murder, baker Merry Wynter returns with a fresh tray of muffins and a case that has authorities stumped…
They say one’s home is one’s castle, but when it comes to Wynter Castle, Merry would like it to belong to someone else. But until a buyer bites, she could use some extra dough, so she decides to take in renters. The idea pans out, and Merry’s able to find a handful of tenants eager to live in a real castle. The only problem is most of them are crumby, tea-swilling old biddies.
The Legion of Horrible Ladies, as Merry calls them, is led by the terribly nasty–and fabulously wealthy–Cleta Sanson. The abrasive Englishwoman keeps everyone whipped into a frenzy–until she meets an embarrassing end behind a locked door. Evidence reveals that Cleta was murdered, yet no one is privy to how the deed was done. Merry knows she must quickly find the killer before another of her guests gets greased…
INCLUDES DELICIOUS RECIPES!
by Stephen P. Kiernan
From the multiple-award-winning, critically acclaimed author of The Hummingbird and The Curiosity comes a dazzling novel of World War II—a shimmering tale of courage, determination, optimism, and the resilience of the human spirit, set in a small Normandy village on the eve of D-Day.
On June 5, 1944, as dawn rises over a small town on the Normandy coast of France, Emmanuelle is making the bread that has sustained her fellow villagers in the dark days since the Germans invaded her country.
Only twenty-two, Emma learned to bake at the side of a master, Ezra Kuchen, the village baker since before she was born. Apprenticed to Ezra at thirteen, Emma watched with shame and anger as her kind mentor was forced to wear the six-pointed yellow star on his clothing. She was likewise powerless to help when they pulled Ezra from his shop at gunpoint, the first of many villagers stolen away and never seen again.
In the years that her sleepy coastal village has suffered under the enemy, Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves—contraband bread she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, she builds a clandestine network of barter and trade that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers.
But her gift to the village is more than these few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope—the faith that one day the Allies will arrive to save them.