Mindy's approach to picking books is like that song lyric that is all, 'I know a little bit about a lot of things, but I don't know enough about YOU'. And 'you' being history, or sci-fi/fantasy, or cookbooks, or memoirs, or mysteries...
A melancholy but fiercely resilient story of how the old ways can dissipate under the pressure of "modernity" but endure in the most unexpected ways, and how "progress" can both devastate the familiar, and yield new opportunity.
Tense, melancholy and compelling-- Lasley's memoir tracks the way her research into the lives of offshore oil riggers goes wildly awry when she falls into a relationship with one of her subjects. Lasley charts the way the boundaries between professional and personal can thin and slip, and the consequences that emerge when they collapse entirely.
I'll admit I wasn't expecting too much-- mostly I was looking for light and casual to pass the time, and instead ended up clutching this in my hands, crying laughing through the whole of it. It's a straight-forward fake-dating, disaster-meets-upright personality romcom, but Hall's writing is seamlessly funny and goes down easy. The cast of characters buffeting the central couple are also unusually delightful-- there's a certain benignly chaotic character named Alex Twaddle that I'd like to bottle up and use as a pick-me-up for hard times.
I could reread this classic collection of... essays? Stories? Whimsies? a hundred times and not get sick of it. The disorientation of Palm Springs! The giddy joys of the Santa Ana winds! Love, and all the ways it can arrive and depart your life! Babitz writes about Los Angeles, but with a light-hearted, true-sighted observation about its quirks of geography and people that rings sincere with humor and affection. Babitz, as much a character in these sketches as any of the figures she writes of, is a funny and keen narrator that takes you through the particularly weird and wonderful world of 1960s Los Angeles.
A spare and tender glimpse into the world of high school basketball as experienced on a Navajo reservation. It goes beyond the highs and lows of sports, and introduces you to an entire community, their worries and triumphs, sorrows and moments of joy.
"If you like clever (and math-y) world-building, big bombastic space battles, resilient protagonists who are just Doing Their Best to Survive Difficult and Politically Complex Situations, and also dead military geniuses who aren't quite dead, check this out."
"This story brings does such a great job of portraying the many anxieties of a high school teen, from gender identity to grades to family relationships to first love. The author has a lovely sense of empathy and compassion for the characters, which is really lovely to read."
"Searing, electrifying, and devastating at times, Mailhot's memoir is brief but packs a punch. And though reading about her difficult coming of age and her struggles with motherhood and mental health is painful, there's also a sense of defiance and triumph that rings through her writing."
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"Hughes' tale of two Irish brothers and their ailing father is brilliantly written, with scenes that slide seamlessly between hilarity and heartbreak, profanity and poetry, hope and devastation. This is a story about willing and unwilling sacrifices, and making choices in the face of society, family, and your own best interests, set against a spare but evocative rural Ireland in the early 2000s. I laughed, I cried, and I will never look at magnets in the same way ever again."
"A proper, juicy gothic tale with the requisite decrepit manor full of rot and creepy inhabitants, a sharp heroine, and a good thick layer of supernatural horror, all set against 1950s rural Mexico. Straightforward and solidly written, there's a sprinkle of sweet romance, a dash of social commentary, and a whole lot of unsettling fungi. Settle yourself in for a slow-building unease that mounts to a wildly raucous crescendo. This book gave me nightmares, in the best way."
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"Reading this is a visceral experience-- in Chang's story, the body and all its changes and functions are as key to the narrative as the complex family relationships depicted. At times bewildering and hilarious, and other times fierce and bittersweet, this is a story that shows you all the complex love and rage, resentment, and hope that form the bonds between mothers and daughters."
"If you've ever thought about the bureaucracy cranking away behind the superheroic/villainous world, here it is. Anna's day-to-day is not so different from ours-- she's just trying to pay the bills, crunch some data in her Excel sheets, and maybe lock down a date or two. Except, her boss is a supervillain, and the data she's crunching is all about knocking down those pesky superheroes a peg or two-- via social media. Naturally, things get out of hand. This is fun and fast, and is an entertaining counternarrative to the more common superpowered stories out there."
"One of my favorite mysteries ever-- when you begin reading, it's unclear whether this is even a mystery. The pages are filled with tense character drama and office intrigue, all while the central mystery lingers and haunts the background. Compelling and immersive, this book is so much more than a straightforward mystery. Trust in Yokoyama's storytelling; it is absolutely worth it."
"While hunkering down the past year, I found myself facing a dilemma-- no longer could we take a casual jaunt into Flushing or Chinatown for a taste of Taiwan, but man did I want black pepper buns, oyster noodles, and three-cup chicken with a vengeance. Cathy Erway's book came to the rescue with recipes that were easy to follow alongside beautiful photos of the island itself. Best of all, the dishes tasted right! This cookbook might be the one that's gotten the most use in my kitchen this past year."
"Zauner's memoir about her mother and coming to terms with her passing is painful, illuminating, poignant, and relatable on so many levels. It's equally resonant as a testimonial of the Asian American and immigrant experience and the power of food as a bridge between generations and distances, as nourishing for the soul as it is for the body. I read this in one sitting late 2020, and immediately called my mom to tell her I loved her, and ask for her braised pork recipe."
"Weird, meditative, a little wry, this collection of essays highlights the journey that open-ended questions send you on, rather than the ultimate answer. The mix of local history with urban legends, of facts and rumors evokes such a nostalgia, in a way, for one's hometown-- for the stories that we tell one another in the school yards and parking lots of our youths. It just feels like a book meant to be read in moments of quiet solitude, under cover of a wide open sky."
"This isn't "just a book about war", but an incredible feat of meticulous research and insight on war, violence, and foreign soldiers abroad. Set in Colombia, this book attempts the daunting task of tracing the intricate balances of power in that region, and then the fallout that occurs when outside forces attempt to take action in a world they don't understand. Klay's writing, clear-eyed, sober, empathetic, and immersive, carries this book to its grim and tragic conclusion."
"Forget the movie-- this book is just as magical and wonderful, but also sharper, wittier, and a touch darker. Sophie is my favorite type of fantasy heroine: blunt, cranky, and ruthlessly practical, or so she likes to believe, while the wizard Howl is ridiculous, melodramatic, and only competent through extreme lack of trying. It's a madcap adventure that both embraces the fairytale tropes and lovingly sends them up. Absolutely one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors."
"Based on the true events leading up to the trial and execution of Fernand Iveton, Andras dives deep into the complex, contradicting, and entangled issues of colonialism and identity. At times brutal and spare, and others vivid and tender, this brief but resonant book lingers in your mind after you've turned the last pages."
In. has that gentle melancholy cut and balanced with a very relatable contemporary sensibility. The themes surrounding loneliness and trying to make connections to those around you are grounded by McPhail's exquisite sense of humor and his wonderfully understated yet expressive artwork. Simple, funny, and touching.