Book recommendations: February picks


You know how there’s “porn” for everything? Usually found on instagram – fashion porn, book porn, food porn, just regular porn porn I guess – the photos of lifestyle stuff that gets you hot. Well, I think I’ve topped all of this with grocery porn. Has #groceryporn become a thing yet? Are the hipsters all over it? I’ll have to ask my sister.

I wanted to take a photo of my grocery bag the other day. Since moving to Europe, the ideal grocery bag looks like this: some delicious cheeses, a bottle of red wine, a bit of chocolate, strawberries and of course the ubiquitous baguette peeking out of the top. And I had every single one of those things in my bag. It made me inordinately happy. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy the small things. Of course, I didn’t take a picture of my groceries because that would be insane. Also, the look was slightly marred by the baking ingredients, stovetop cleaner and box of baby food I had also purchased. And instead of a cute little brown bag you’re supposed to have to carry your groceries in when your life is perfect, I forget to bring cloth bags literally every time I go out shopping and have to ask for a plastic one, prompting glares and environmental guilt. Also, to complete the whole lifestyle porn image, I would pop the small bag into the basket of my bike, where my two adoring children would cheerfully wave and smile at everyone we passed as we promenaded through the village on our way home. I swear I have seen this happen here. #lifestylegoals Sigh. My screaming kids were bundled into my giant stroller and hauled onto the bus, where one was distracted by pain au chocolat and the other one I kept a soother in her mouth with my hand as she grunted at me angrily.

But still. It was really exciting to get some European-lifestyle-worthy groceries. And the best part is the strawberries were on sale! That means that spring is on its way. I know I’ve become a grownup when I’m watching produce prices and judge the seasons accordingly. Strawberries are a quarter of the price they were last week. Once asparagus stops selling at 10 francs a bunch, I’ll know for certain winter is over. It’s my own farmer’s almanac.

So here I go with my stack of good books I’ll recommend this month. My last picks were pretty dark – either apocalyptic, or just amazing but sad/scary WWII stuff. Btw, have you read Code Name Verity yet? Go read it!

But, this month things aren’t really that much lighter but they are more domestic. You need to find balance in everything, right? If you only read scary apocalypse novels, you are probably going to end up pretty screwed up. These books will soften things out for you.

Dollbaby, by Laura Lane McNeil

Ibby Bell’s father dies when she is 12, and her not-so-loving mother sends her to live with her eccentric grandmother, Fanny, in New Orleans in the 1960s. Ibby has known nothing of this side of her family, but comes to love her grandmother as well as the staff who are more like family then anything Ibby has ever known. This takes place throughout the ’60s and deals with a lot of issues in the civil rights movement and racial discrimination.

I loved the warm feeling McNeil created in this book, even as she exposed the underside of New Orleans and the dark secrets found behind the elegant facades of genteel upper class homes. Ibby grows up to be a free thinker and I love all that she’s going to become, but it’s really cook Queenie and her daughter, Dollbaby, that give this book life. It’s a little bit like The Help, but less funny and in some places certainly sadder. Also – New Orleans! One of my favourite cities. McNeil recreated the jubilant and slightly sordid atmosphere perfectly here.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

This is a perfect Jane Austenian (is that a word?) comedy of manners set in small town England, which delighted me. It was such a sweet story, but I don’t want to sound condescending. The main story is about Major Ernest Pettigrew, coming to terms with his advancing age and widowed for many years, finds his world seems to be shrinking. He is shocked when his brother unexpectedly and finds himself turning to the elegant Pakistani shopkeeper, Mrs. Jasmina Ali.

It is a sweet book and a very romantic story. But it also deals with some pretty serious issues of endemic racism and prejudice that still exist in contemporary society. This is really well put together. And kind of hilarious. I am definitely going to check out Simonson’s other novel, The Summer Before the War. And am excited about it. I am excited for you if you haven’t yet read this, which you should definitely do.

The Friday Night Knitting Club, by Kate Jacobs

I was a little reluctant to add this book, but I think a lot of people will enjoy it. The reasons for my reluctance were because I didn’t like the ending, at all. I thought it kind of cheapened things, but I know not everybody is going to agree with me on that. I really liked the story up until then. My other reason is that I was reluctant to read the book in the first place. It was really packaged as “chick lit,” which I find so insulting. It says so right on the cover in a quote, a “… moving portrait about female friendships …”  How about just friendship? I suspect if this book were about men, it would just be a book about friendship, rather than having to spell out that it’s about women, so men should definitely not read it (as if the knitting thing hadn’t already done that). Or actually, now stories about male friendship might have the word bromance all over the cover, which I think is equally insulting, so maybe I’m being over sensitive.

Okay, rant over. Once you get over the fact that yes, horrors, it’s a book about women, and knitting at that, it is a really good story. It is moving. It is about women coming together and creating a community of support for one another, and that is very beautiful no matter what your gender. Also, it’s about knitting and it will make you want to knit, lots. I’m thinking of picking up the needles again, and I haven’t made anything in over a year, since the baby blanket I made for E. It makes me want to browse yarn stores and pick out patterns of projects way beyond me, then make a scarf or something. If this sounds like your thing, then I think you’ll like the book. I’m actually curious about what other people think of the ending, so let me know if you read it!


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