Friday, March 31, 2017


Books about the restaurant industry have found their way to my nightstand lately. After a short stint as a hostess at an Italian restaurant in college, I decided I wasn’t cut out for restaurant life. I didn’t like the shifts that could start or end at any time, the ice machine flirting, and periods of stress and boredom that could occur on any night. With the right author, that same hectic pace makes for good reading.   

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
Just before Christmas, Red Lobster manager Manny DeLeon finds out his branch of the restaurant is closing. We follow him from his opening checklist to his last task. An impending snow storm, a skeleton crew, and a bus full of seniors show up to ensure his last night is anything but typical. Former wait staff will cringe in recognition at the demanding (and messy) toddler, the tool who always shows up late, and the annoyance of that song that is constantly playing night after night. They will also nod in recognition at the manager who can calm the most demanding customer and the awkward dance working next to past hookups. (This one also counts toward the book challenge of reading a book you've read before.)

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
You’ve read the story before. Girl moves to New York. Girl gets job in a restaurant. Girl parties after work.  However, Sweetbitter tells the story well. Just days after landing in New York, Tess is the girl who manages to find work at a high-end restaurant with only her barista experience. Through perseverance and canny knowledge of who to befriend, she begins to learn the ropes of each station, running food, drinks, and shadowing the more experienced waiters. She also begins educating her palate. Staying after work for a drink leads to later and later nights and an education of a tawdrier sort. Danler intersperses the narrative with snippets of spoken word heard in the restaurant. The flavor is true.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Good Kick

We all have a curmudgeon in our lives. Someone who laments the loose morals of today’s kids. Someone who doesn’t get the Internet. Someone whose jaw twitches when the student driver stalls out when he’s teaching her how to drive a standard. Someone who takes his cat for a walk and gets hamburgers thrown at him from passing cars. Someone who gives his grandkids permission to go swimming, but only if they don’t get wet.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman chronicles the days in the life of one such curmudgeon after his wife has died. Ove is the man who is flabbergasted that the neighbors can’t back up a trailer without knocking over his mail box. On his morning inspection of his neighborhood, he muses, “Can’t a man calmly and quietly stand over a cat-shaped hole in a snowdrift in his own garden anymore?”

Only wanting to reunite with his wife, he finds suicide attempt after suicide attempt thwarted. He’s interrupted by his pregnant neighbor Parvaneh, the cat he’s reluctantly adopted, and the man whose seizure causes him to fall on the very tracks Ove is about to jump onto. This leaves him no choice but to save the man instead.

Eventually, despite his distaste for engaging with others, he begins to see a way to begin living again through small acts of kindness. Begrudgingly he concedes, “Tomorrow’s as good a day as any to kill oneself.”

And those people in your life that make you cringe or cry? They are just as likely to make you smile or even laugh because maybe like Ove’s, their hearts are too big. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

News Break

Sometimes I need to turn off NPR and turn up the song that comes on KISS FM. It helps if the kids are in the car because they actually know the lyrics.

Sometimes I need to set aside The New Yorker and dog-ear the pages of a recipe book. It helps if I don’t check the mail for a while.

Sometimes I need to eat cereal for dinner instead of salad. It helps if my husband has to work late.

Sometimes I need to log out of Facebook. It helps if I hide my phone.

Sometimes I need to close the book club book and open one of these. It helps.

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
For fans of Jenny Han and Nina Lacour

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
For fans of Maria Semple and, well, Jennifer Close

Mystic Summer by Hannah McKinnon
For fans of Emily Giffin and Elin Hilderbrand

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley
For fans of Claire Messud and Emma Straub

When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald
For fans of Maile Meloy and Celeste Ng

Friday, March 3, 2017

Losing Track

This week’s challenge was to read a book set in South America by a South American author.

The Blue Line by Ingrid Betancourt opens on a middle-aged Julia in Connecticut. Blessed, or rather cursed, with the gift of premonition from the time she was a little girl in Uruguay and Argentina, Julia has always been compelled to seek out the scene of her visions in hopes of intervening.

While living in Buenos Aires as a child, she became close to her grandmother, Mama Fina, who also has visions. As Julia grows, Mama Fina helps her to analyze each vision and develop a plan to intercede. Whether it’s protecting a priest, escaping political imprisonment, or later, uncovering an affair, Julia’s experience (and foresight) is harrowing, thrilling, and horrifying to read.

It’s not an easy read. Shifting in time from 2006 America to 1970s Argentina to 2002 France and several times in between, Julia lives with Theo, meets Theo, loses Theo, and finds Theo. The reader must pay attention but is rewarded as the story begins to make sense, the loss understood.

Betancourt, herself, was held by a Colombian guerrilla organization for more than six years. If truth is stronger than fiction, Even Silence Has an End will be a knockout.